Money & Career

Layoff first aid: Your recovery checklist

Layoff first aid: Your recovery checklist

© Arcurs Image by: © Arcurs Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

Layoff first aid: Your recovery checklist

Being laid off feels like being sucker punched. Whether it was expected or out of the blue, a layoff can leave you reeling.

Looking for a new job is crucial, but taking the time to dust yourself off, assess your situation and conduct some post-layoff triage is just as important. Here are three things that need your attention -- stat -- from someone who's been there.

1. Assess your cash-flow situation
"Definitely, my number one thought was 'How long will it take to replace my salary?'" says Sarah Barnes*, who was laid off from her ad-agency job in October 2011.

Although she had savings -- as well as income in the form of a rental unit in the basement of her Toronto home -- she knew finding work at the same executive level she was let go from would be a time-consuming challenge.

As a pre-emptive, pocketbook-saving move, Barnes reassessed her monthly budget. She also took on freelance work so that she could earn money (and cultivate contacts) while looking for a new job, and slashed her discretionary spending on restaurant meals, her cellphone plan, and her cable and Internet services.

Your first-aid plan:

• Don't bury your head in the sand. Crunch some numbers, determine how long your savings will last and budget accordingly.

• Think about alternative income sources that can be pursued alongside a job hunt. Can you freelance your expertise or take on a seasonal or part-time job even in an unrelated field? Can you rent a room in your home to an exchange student?

2. Get to know your legal situation and entitlements
How familiar are you with your province's employment standards governing severance packages? If you're like most of us, probably not very familiar.

"I had no idea what's actually legally required in this area. We all think we do, and we say things like 'Oh, that person was there a long time, they have to be compensated at this rate.' But we're not lawyers, so we don't know," says Barnes, who called an employment lawyer right after receiving a copy of her severance package.

Page 1 of 2 -- Find out why you should talk to an employment lawyer on page 2

"I knew I would have one kick at the can in terms of negotiating this exit deal, and I didn't want to have even a faint concern that perhaps I was due more. Yes, the lawyer cost $400 an hour, but having him look at the documents was the only way for me to know I wasn't getting screwed," she explains.

Your first-aid plan:
• Talk to an employment lawyer. Don't sign your severance package until you've had a couple of days to study it with your legal counsel.

• Research Employment Insurance Benefits. You can apply for benefits once you've been without work and pay for seven days (provided you meet the qualification requirements).

3. Take care of your emotional health and self-esteem
Last but not least, take time to take care of yourself. Even when a layoff is expected, you may feel shell-shocked by it.

Barnes says that while her layoff came as no surprise -- "my industry is shrinking and my employer was no exception; there had been many rounds of layoffs in the previous two years" -- she was "disappointed and scared" after getting the news.

She coped by talking with friends, former colleagues and her mother. "I just needed to take some time to discuss my situation with anyone who would listen -- meaning friends -- and to compile their advice, and acknowledge and accept encouraging words," she explains.

Next, Barnes rebounded by reaching out for freelance work from current and former business contacts, and by developing an appreciation for one of the unexpected benefits of being underemployed: time.

"I work as hard at my home office as I did at my employer's office," says Barnes. "But now, when I take a break, I can do things that are good for me. I go shopping for fresh food and cook more often. I also step into my garden and take 10 minutes to breathe it in. Even something as simple as throwing in a load of laundry when it needs it, rather than scrambling on laundry day, feels like it's made my life more manageable. There is less money, absolutely, but there's less stress and more time," she says.

Your first-aid plan:
• Vent to your family and friends. (But not the ones who are still working in your former office.)

• Take care of your health. Use your spare time to protect it by working out at the gym, going for walks and cooking healthier meals (or following free online recipes and tutorials, if your cooking skills are rusty).

• Stay busy while you look for a job. Work a freelance, temporary, seasonal or part-time job. Or take on a volunteer position that can boost your skills -- and your spirits!

Visit Service Canada online for job search tools and support.

*Names have been changed.

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Layoff first aid: Your recovery checklist