We can’t control whether we’re laid off, when it happens, or how the other person will deliver the news. But there’s one thing we can control: our reaction. It’s advice nobody wants to hear—we’d rather pretend we’re too invaluable for our team to ever let us go—but a layoff is something most people will go through at least once in their life. And, as businesses adjust to the new post-pandemic landscape and economic adjustment, it’s as good a time as ever to prepare yourself.
So, how should you respond to a reduction in force (RIF)? Funny enough, we don’t recommend throwing a tantrum and storming off. Here’s what you should do instead.
IN THE MOMENT
We all know what the moments leading up to a RIF look like, but that rarely helps us feel more prepared when the event actually comes around. Maybe your manager will look at you apologetically and tell you this is the most difficult thing they’ve ever had to do or that certain things are outside their control. At that point, you know what’s going to follow.
Everyone will be hit with a different kind of emotion—some will take it personally, others will become hungry for revenge, and others still will feel in despair. But if you can, try to channel whatever feelings you have into empathy for the person standing in front of you in anticipation for whatever your next opportunity will be.
You know that whoever is letting you go was probably faced with an impossible decision and forced to do something they didn’t want to do. And you also know you won’t remain unemployed forever. So why miss out on the opportunity to be remembered for maintaining a professional demeanor and exiting with style?
Of course, this is the ideal situation and not always attainable. Having complete control over your reaction in the heat of the moment is too much to ask for many people, especially if the job meant a lot to them or they’re heavily reliant on the income source. But most people should be able to gain back some control in the part that follows.
AFTER THE MOMENT
Your reaction to a RIF isn’t just about what you do and say in the moment of the initial layoff—it’s also about what you do in the days, weeks, and even months afterward. Do you suffer from a confidence crisis and spend your time wallowing in bitterness, or use it as motivation to up your game and apply for the role you really wanted all along?
This doesn’t mean you have to latch onto a kind of “toxic positivity” and deny yourself the opportunity to feel sad or angry. You don’t have to become a robot or psychopath to respond well to a RIF. But after feeling whatever emotion you feel, the time will come to move on to more productive thoughts and actions.
When you react vengefully instead of respectfully, you sacrifice the opportunity to be remembered favorably in your past company, which could hurt you further down the line. If you continue to feel vengeful for a long time, the stakes are even higher—you’ll become less effective at identifying and searching for the next opportunity. Why would you do that to yourself?
FOCUS ON YOUR CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE
One of the critical principles of stoicism is that there’s no point in wasting your precious mental energy on thinking, worrying, or spending other emotions on circumstances you can’t control.
Instead, we should learn to focus on our circle of influence. What can you control after you’ve been laid off? Here are a handful of ideas:
• The quality of your resume.
• How many other jobs you apply for.
• Whether you reach out to your network for help.
• The way you act around your friends and family.
You get the idea. When there are so many ways you can be proactive and maximize your chances of landing the job of your dreams as your next role, it would be foolish to spend your time indulging in negative emotions that won’t hurt anyone. Easier said than done, but the best thing you can do is try.
REMEMBER SOMEONE’S WATCHING YOU
Let’s tie things up with a final reminder.
Since your company has laid you off, you might think you no longer have any reason to care about what they think of you. But you never know what could be in store for you further down the line—maybe that human resources director will decide to quit this company in a few weeks and end up working for a firm you secure an interview with.
If you have a particularly bad response, maybe the story of your layoff will spread beyond your organization to the friends and family of your ex-coworkers.
This is all the more reason to react with dignity and decorum when you receive a RIF. Your network is essential to your success, so everyone you worked with at your past company is somebody who could potentially advocate for you or be your key to a new opportunity in the future. Don’t sabotage that for a few moments of empty satisfaction you get from making a smart remark.
A RIF DOESN’T DEFINE YOU
When we get caught up in the moment of a RIF, it’s easy to fall into fatalistic thinking and convince ourselves that we’ll never get a job again, rendering professionalism and dignity irrelevant. But above everything else, we want to emphasize that you should be thinking about your future every step of the way.
In a few months, your layoff might be the best thing that ever happened to you—but only if you respond to it the right way.
Tim Madden is an Executive Coach and former Headhunter. Founder of Executive Career Upgrades, he’s on a mission to help accelerate careers.