Do a quick scroll on LinkedIn—the once most-acceptable-place-to-brag-about-your-promotion platform—and you’ll see something different: Those “I’m so excited to tell you that…” announcements have been overtaken by gaggles of unwelcome job status posts, many as a result of mass company layoffs.
Just this year, dozens of companies have let go hundreds of employees, from (and this is just a snapshot) 450 at Netflix to 800 at Peloton to 1,100 at Coinbase. And while getting laid off at home instead of the office means you’ve avoided the shame of publicly packing up your succulents and notebooks, being let go while working from home—after hearing about it on Zoom or in a mass email or meeting—comes with its own variety of mental torture. For some, that includes bouts of depression after being laid off.
It’s a startling feeling 28-year-old Heather Aleinik experienced after being laid off from Shopify, where she worked as a merchant acceleration team lead with 12 direct reports for more than two years. “During the first few weeks after, I struggled to sort through my confusion, hurt, and rejection when previously I had only felt gratitude and enthusiasm [for my job],” she says.
We tapped psychologists specializing in work life to explain why layoffs at home lead to a very special type of funk. Plus, the best way forward.
As anyone who’s been multitasking over Zoom the past few years can tell you, the lines between work and home have dramatically frayed—one reason why getting laid off now is messier emotionally, says psychologist and leadership coach Jacinta M. Jiménez, PsyD, author of The Burnout Fix.
While Taylor Swift, as she sings in “Closure,” may have been fine moving on with only the help of her spite, beer, and candles, most of us need actual closure. “The physical transition of packing up your things and leaving your workplace serves as a ‘goodbye’ to work,” Dr. Jiménez explains. “It gives you that final closure.”
When you’re waved farewell while working from home, it can take longer to mentally process what a major change just occurred—because, physically, you’re still in the same place. You wake up the next day, your laptop and pink Yeti waiting, but you have no job to do. So much sameness can make you feel restless and unsettled, says Dr. Jiménez, making it tricky to really move forward. (T. Swift: How you do it, girl?)
“A lot of people find themselves languishing; they’re not quite depressed, but they feel a sense of apathy and that they’re just existing but not flourishing,” Dr. Jiménez says.
Others do enter a depression after being laid off. David Blustein, Ph.D., a professor in the department of counseling, developmental, and educational psychology at Boston College and author of The Importance of Work In The Age of Uncertainty, has studied just how important work is to your confidence and sense of self. Suddenly having that taken away can be disorienting—even more so if, as we’ve heard from a number of people, your Slack or other digital access gets nixed immediately.
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When you lose your job, says Dr. Blustein, you also lose the structure and schedule that come with it. Where home was once a place to escape the job, people who’ve been working from their living rooms may now wonder how to fill their days. No wonder, then, that being unemployed can increase your risk of depression, according to a study published in Public Health.
Being laid off can feel traumatic no matter what the circumstances. But when it’s an at-home situation, “with just the click of a button, an employee is instantly disconnected from everything and everyone,” says Aleinik, formerly of Shopify, who found the experience extremely isolating. “I think it is this isolation that has made it so much harder to gain a healthy mindset,” she says.
To be clear, that’s personal isolation on top of general public isolation. It’s no secret that the early stay-at-home COVID orders ramped up another pandemic—of loneliness. And even in these post-vaccine times, those feelings are still alive and well. In fact, according to a 2022 survey by Cigna, 58 percent of U.S. adults are lonely.
The rise in remote work, despite its many benefits, may have contributed to this. One survey conducted by Boston University found that employees who report feeling lonely are more likely to work remotely. And a remote layoff strips away what small virtual connection you did have with colleagues.
“Isolation is one of the more pernicious outcomes of unemployment, and when people are laid off while working remotely, it exacerbates this,” Dr. Blustein says. You might feel like curling up in the fetal position, but it’s so important to reach out to people after being laid off. And while talking to a therapist can also help, one of the “pain points”—to steal a corporate phrase from your old stomping grounds—means losing health benefits that may have covered therapy’s cost. If you can’t afford therapy, maintaining connections with people who make you feel valued is especially important.
While chatting with friends and family is always key, convos with people in your same industry have their own value. According to one LinkedIn survey, 46 percent of professionals believe having work friends contributes to overall happiness. (No one understands just how annoying your manager was quite like those who survived her, too.)
That’s why, if you’re wondering whether to tell your colleagues yourself vs waiting for the company announcement (or gossip)—since, unlike IRL, they don’t physically see you go—Dr. Blustein recommends letting them know on your own. “If you’re friendly with your coworkers, they can be a source of emotional support,” he says.
Still, it’s easier said than done. “While I was receiving texts, emails, and messages across several channels from coworkers and members of my team filled with incredibly kind words about how much I’d impacted them… I found myself desperately wanting to hide,” engagement strategist Betsy Davis—who got the “carefully crafted but impersonal script” as part of company layoffs delivered during a “quick-as-lightning Zoom call”—wrote on LinkedIn. “I wasn’t surprised by the onslaught of feelings that washed over me like sadness, worry, anger. But what did surprise me was the shame.”
Dr. Jiménez explains it this way: “Whether we like it or not, much of our identity is tied to our career and our job. When someone is laid off—especially if they felt the rug was pulled out from under them—they are experiencing a loss. Not just of our routine, but in many ways, our sense of identity.”
This can be particularly disorienting and overwhelming right now, considering all the uncertainty in the world. Mix in remote-work loneliness, then add the financial-strain cherry on top, and—though unwarranted—suddenly feelings of shame start to make sense.
Maintaining social ties with old work buds is beneficial tactically and emotionally. First, it’s good for networking. Aleinik, for one, created a Slack group of laid-off Shopify employees—aptly called the Shopify Layoff Alumni Community—where 900-and-counting are supporting each other and sharing job leads. She’s also set up a channel for qualified, reliable employers to network with ex-Shopify and other ex-tech layoff-ees—and in just a couple months, it’s secured over 25 job offers. (Interested in joining? Fill out this form, then message it to Aleinik on LinkedIn.)
The second reason to keep in touch with old work buds? It’s an important step in processing the change before moving on to your next chapter, says Dr. Jiménez. To wit: A study published in Academy of Management Discoveries found that staying connected to former colleagues plays a key role in integrating into a new workplace.
And On Top of Everything… A Recession!
While there’s not exactly a good time to lose your job, timing right now is particularly not good. “The impending possibility of a recession certainly makes the threat of being laid off scarier, especially since news related to the recession is currently dominating the headlines,” Aleinik says. “For me, the fragile state of our current world economy made the widespread layoffs [at my company] easier to understand, but that did not make the decision any easier to accept.”
Besides a looming economic crisis, the past few years have been a series of catastrophe after catastrophe. So it’s not exactly shocking that the stress and mental health of Americans have nose-dived, according to a recent poll by the American Psychological Association. “Everything that’s happening in the world creates an added layer of stress to getting laid off,” Dr. Jiménez says.
What should you do when it feels like everything is crumbling around you? Find ways to be kind to yourself. “It may sound soft, but there’s a lot of science behind the benefits of practicing self-compassion, such as through a loving kindness meditation,” Dr. Jiménez says.
In this type of meditation—which can be found on many meditation apps, including Headspace and Calm)—you repeat a set of phrases centered around wishing yourself and others peace and happiness. While it may seem a little woo-woo, “this is connected with lowering inflammation, feeling less stressed, and being happier,” says Dr. Jiménez.
So you’re staying connected to others. Practicing self-compassion. There’s one more S that’ll help you regain control, says Dr. Blustein: a schedule. As much as you can avoid ruminating about your current job status (not productive), change out of your sweats and fill your day with to-dos—take steps to finding a new job, learn new skills, reach out to new people who may have insider knowledge about job leads.
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Finally, remember that you’re not alone: Twenty-eight percent of people in the U.S. have been laid off at least once in the past two years. And while we’re not preaching “misery loves company,” life has been pretty rough for virtually everyone lately. Take comfort in the fact that your feelings can be validated by many others—and that this season won’t last forever. In the meantime, connect with as many people as you can. Perhaps, for once, you finally have time.
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