If/When It Happens: How To Handle Losing Your Job
I've lost count of how many times I've lost a job — and so have my friends. As I write this post, I'm again unemployed. I recently had a job I really liked then it didn't work out and now I'm back on the job hunt. A routine I know too well.
This second part of my unemployment guide is focused on what you can do in the moment and immediately after you lose your job: When your boss suddenly calls you in for an unexpected meeting; when HR hands you your 'pink slip'; when senior leadership informs you that your position is being terminated.
What to Know When You Lose Your Job
If and when you get the notice that you're being let go, first, don’t panic. Stay calm and professional. More importantly, try your best to listen to what’s being communicated to you, especially the reasoning behind your termination. You deserve to know why you’re losing your job. You'll also need this feedback to share when filing an unemployment claim and in future conversations with prospective employers.
Let me say this though: It’s okay to be emotional! Termination sucks for everyone involved. I've had some people who laid me off get more emotional than me in the moment. Sometimes it's not their choice to let you go, sometimes it's not up to them, sometimes they actually like you as an employee but have to follow commands from higher up's. I myself have also shed a tear while getting news that my job is done for. It's a sensitive matter: people's livelihoods are directly affected, so it's okay to be human in the moment.
Once the bad news meeting is over, take a minute to gather your things and clean up your desk. This part might be the most awkward because you could return to an empty office with no one to talk to or say goodbye to, or you might return to an office with colleagues resuming their day who have no idea what's going on. You might also return to a computer that IT has already erased with all your work or locked out of all your work accounts. I've been in all these situations and it's awful.
To speed up your exit, consider following the “take, leave or donate” tactic: pack up and take what's most important with you, leave the rest behind. I've learned the hard way that I keep way too much stuff on my desk and when it's time to pack up I've got too much to carry out with me. It becomes like those being fired classic TV scenes: me with a cardboard box and a plant trying to juggle a bunch of stationery out of the building. Don't be that person; gather only the most necessary items from your desk and make a swift, clean exit.
Remember on your way out: Don’t sever the ties and ruin relationships with your now former employer. Remain professional, you’re going to need their recommendation for your next gig.
Understanding Severance Packages & Unemployment Benefits
The last bit I'll leave you with when you lose your job is to understand severance packages.
First, don’t sign any paperwork on the spot before thoroughly reading and understanding it! When you are terminated you should receive paperwork such as an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and/or a severance agreement that outlines contractual terms, including the last official date of your employment and pay-out details. Examples of these terms could mean your now former employer offering to pay you your remaining vacation days or provide a two-week 'severance' package where you get paid for an extra two weeks of employment. Every severance agreement is different and you have a legal right to fully understand the terms and conditions by which you are obligated to sign. Consult a mentor or lawyer who you trust to review the terms and conditions with you. Here is a quick overview on your legal rights.
The severance agreement will need to be signed by both you and your employer within a given time frame (could be a few days, could be 21 days which is the norm). Severance packages are completely optional and up to the discretion of the employer to provide. More on that here.
Second, do not sign any severance until you negotiate a severance package! You can negotiate for higher gross pay-out, vacation pay-out, and confirmation of a professional recommendation from your former employer. It is possible to successfully negotiate, here's how I did it.
Once your severance agreement is signed, sealed and delivered, be sure to file an unemployment claim with your state of residence. You are qualified to collect unemployment benefits (reoccurring payments from the government) if you are fired or laid off. You'll need to have information ready such as you and your recent employers' contact information, termination date and severance payment. Follow this handy list for help and here’s an example of how to file an initial claim in Pennsylvania, my state of residence.
Losing your job sucks for lots of reasons but you can set yourself up for professional and financial success if you know how to handle the situation right. Hopefully, these tips will prepare you in the event you suddenly get let go.
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