Layoff to Liftoff: Surviving Downsizing in the Tech Industry

Kodeco’s guide to surviving tech layoffs offers actionable tips on stress management, job search strategies, and staying productive post-layoff to prepare for your comeback. By Joey deVilla.

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Grieve, Then Move On

frustrated woman walking on a country path
Although any layoff is painful, remember that this is just a step in your career pathway. While it’s important to grieve, keep in mind that this setback can be an opportunity for growth and new beginnings.

What to Do After the Layoff Meeting

This is going to sound terribly new age, but I’m going to say it because it’s an important step: At your first opportunity after the layoff meeting, get away from whatever you’re doing, get out and go for a walk. Physical activity is a key part of this step, so don’t get into a motorized vehicle. You want to get moving, and you want to do it outside, preferably in your own neighborhood.

The walk is important because it gets you out of the house and lets you clear your head. It gives you a chance to come down from one of the most stressful experiences you will ever face in your working life and come to terms with what’s happened. This is not the time to figure out what your immediate next steps are; it’s the time to collect yourself so you’ll be able to make those decisions effectively.

Don’t walk in a fugue state. Take note of your surroundings. Chances are you’ll see things that you’ve passed by every day but never noticed before. This is good because it prepares you for what you’re going to be doing for the next little while: seeing things differently.

You’re Facing One of the Top 10 Most Stressful Life Events

The Life Events Inventory (LEI) is a list of stressful events that will probably happen to most people during their lives. It was originally developed in the early 1970s, and an updated version of the LEI is still used today.

The events in the LEI are ordered from most to least stressful, with the ten most stressful ones being:

  • 1. Death of spouse.
  • 2. Jail sentence.
  • 3. Death of immediate family member.
  • 4. Immediate family member attempts suicide.
  • 5. Getting into debt beyond means of repayment.
  • 6. Period of homelessness (hostel or sleeping rough).
  • 7. Unemployment (especially of head of household).
  • 8. Immediate family member seriously ill.
  • 9. Divorce.
  • 10. Breakup of family.

At the number seven position, losing your job is considered more stressful than the death of a close friend (number 13), an immediate family member going to jail (11), and even divorce (9).

The events that rank higher than unemployment are all about life-altering change and catastrophic loss, and we expect people to grieve when they happen. However, when it comes to the loss of a job, the prevailing attitude of business not being personal and our industry’s “Hustle culture” can lead us to think that grieving the loss of your job is unseemly and self-pitying.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Losing your job is also life-altering, and depending on your circumstances, it has the potential to be catastrophic. There’s also the fact that for many of us, our work is part of our identity. Acknowledge the loss, and recognize that you’re going through a major stressor. It’s OK that this is really hard and that you have a lot of emotions about your layoff.

Give Yourself Time to Grieve

Grieving isn’t just a natural response, but a necessary one. According to clinical psychologist Mary-Frances O’Connor, who studies the neurobiology of grief, grief is a form of learning orchestrated by our brains to teach us how to deal with the aftermath of a loss.

I strongly recommend that you “feel your feelings” — but timebox the process. Or, as Microsoft’s VP Developer Community Scott Hanselman put it in his blog, “Freak out fully but put a time limit on it.”

Allowing yourself to acknowledge and feel the emotions tied to your grief provides a crucial release, enabling your mind to adapt to your new circumstances. Setting specific time limits for this process ensures that you remain in control of your emotions, preventing them from overwhelming you.

Whatever you do, don’t suppress those feelings. I know people who always do just that… and it always ends poorly.

“Someday” Could Be Now

You probably have a list of things that you’d like to do someday — but can’t because you’re too busy. With your layoff, you’ve suddenly become a lot less busy. Could “someday” be now?

Take at least a day or two to process what happened before starting your job search. Do those things you wouldn’t have time to do if you still had your job. If there’s a book that you’ve been putting off reading or a nearby place you’ve been meaning to visit, you can get those done now. If you’re the type of person who needs more tangible results from an activity, you have the perfect opportunity to take on that household chore or repair that you’ve been putting off.

As you do these things, your brain will be doing what it does so well: running “background threads” to help you adjust to your new circumstances.

Use this time off to focus on your own well-being and mental health so you’re ready to make the journey from layoff to liftoff.

Watch Out For “Time Travel”

As a techie, you’ve probably developed a set of skills for analysis and problem-solving. They can work against you at this time by causing you to come up with hypothetical scenarios where if only you had done something different, you’d still be employed. Everybody does this; it’s why traveling back in time to fix a mistake is a common science fiction trope.

If you find yourself constantly imagining taking a different action in the past, you can do a couple of things:

  • Write down what you’d do differently. Get them out of your head and onto paper (or an electronic document). Save them for your next job, when those actions will be useful.
  • Think from the point of view of “future you.” As far as your future self is concerned, you’re time-traveling in the past right now. What you do now can “fix” the past for “future you.”

This isn’t the time to look backward, but forward.