7 Ways To Cope With A Layoff

03/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

With company layoffs in the daily news, being laid off is something that is still often unexpected, shocking and can feel like the wind has been knocked out of you. While it's never about a single employee, it doesn't make it feel any less personal. A layoff is out of your control, but how you react to it is not.

1. Keep Your Emotions in Check

Most people are upset, shocked and disappointed when layoffs come, regardless of whether they're expected or not. Don't feel bad if you feel confused and uncertain about your future.

The workplace is not a good place to express this disappointment and upset, because such reactions might be mistaken or misunderstood. It's also best not to burn bridges, no matter how bitter or upset you may feel. You may need references from your manager or supervisor, and want to keep in touch with coworkers you're close to. Ask for personal email addresses and act calmly.

2. Get the Information

Sometimes in our shock and upset at the news of a layoff, we forget to listen or to get all the information we need. Your human resource personnel can answer any follow-up questions you may have via email or phone. The key is to remember that the more details you have, the easier it'll be making future tough decisions.

If your employer offers you nothing, you may be in line at the unemployment office to look into unemployment benefits. Sadly, these benefits are going to be a lot less than what you were making, but can help make ends meet until you can find another job. While most hard-working people hate the idea of accepting "charity," these are benefits you're entitled to because each state taxes employers. In other words -- you earned the benefits you're now receiving while you were working.

3. Regroup and Reframe

Don't let your disappointment and upset turn into a new pessimistic outlook on your life or career, or into a full-blown depressive episode.

Therapists have a technique they call "reframing." It basically means taking a negative situation, thought or feeling and looking at it from a different perspective for some positive aspects. Being laid off is a time to regroup in your life and especially in your career. This is a time to reassess your career path and make sure you're still doing something you have an interest in doing. A layoff may be just the ticket to get you out of the dead-end job you would've stayed in forever had it not occurred.

4. Take Stock in Your Finances and Budget

Take a realistic look at your finances and budget, and see how long a severance package or unemployment benefits are going to last you. While we may not enjoy dealing with our finances, failure to do so could result in a far worse situation down the road.

Be creative in analyzing your budget for places to cut. Most of us assume we need things like digital television and unlimited mobile calling plans. Now's the time to put aside your wants and focus exclusively on your and your family's needs. Keep in mind, too, of your savings, rainy-day funds, and even your 401(k), which may offer you some temporary financial relief.

5. Take Care of Insurance

We often don't think about insurance until we're faced with a layoff and find out just how expensive it really is. You will likely be offered something called COBRA, which allows you to continue your current employer's health benefits with one catch -- you have to pay for them. Be prepared for sticker shock -- a family of four's health insurance on COBRA might be $1,000 to $1,500 a month (for a single or couple, it ranges from $500 to $800). When paying bills is already going to be a challenge, COBRA might be out of reach when the monthly cost exceeds your unemployment benefits.

It pays to shop around. You may find other health insurance coverage for your family that is less expensive and not cut your benefits in any significant way. You may have to pay a higher deductible for inpatient hospital stays to achieve a lower monthly premium, so weigh the costs with what you can afford. Nowadays, there are a lot more plans available to most people at a wide range of costs.

6. Hit the Classifieds

Nearly all job classifieds are now online, so searching through them is far easier than it was 10 years ago. Although it might seem like nobody is hiring (and in your specific profession, that may very well be true), you should keep an eye out anyway. Extend your search somewhat outside your profession as well, just to see what else might be available.

Check out your "dream profession" too, as that may help you make a very different decision. Some people use a layoff as an opportunity to go back to school to learn a new profession, using government grants and subsidized loans to pay for tuition.

Use the unemployment resources available to you, whether through your ex-employer (such as resume writing services) or through your local government. Libraries, too, often offer a great set of employment and career resources.

7. Don't Give Up Hope

In the months to come, as unemployment may stretch out much longer than you had wanted or anticipated, try to remain as optimistic as possible. A pessimistic attitude can easily snowball into full-blown depression when job hunting, especially in a down economy when hundreds of companies are laying off hundreds of thousands of workers.

If you feel especially down on your luck, join a free support group or skills-building group in your local community (or online), and learn from others who're going through similar circumstances. Although it may be hard to remember, try to keep in mind that layoffs aren't a judgment about your own abilities, experience or skills.