Covid layoffs and furloughs

Furloughs and layoffs and RIFs, oh my!

With the job market clawing its way back from the initial impacts of the coronavirus, the September jobs report hints at more challenging times to come. For those left jobless after layoffs, furloughs and RIFs, what’s next?

At the beginning of this month, the U.S. Labor Department released the last jobs report before the election. After months of seeing steady job gains since the economic bloodbath of this spring, September’s report left a distinctly different impression with economists and job seekers alike.

This thing was not over.

Graphic credit: The Wall Street Journal

Job growth slowed significantly in September, as many temporary layoffs and furloughs from the previous months became permanent. This report doesn’t account for new layoff announcements:

Graphic credit: The Wall Street Journal

Add to this the decline in household incomes for the month, and we’re looking at a not-so-pretty economic picture heading into the holidays.

What does this mean for us?

For professional women in corporate positions, it means the distinct possibility of more job losses on the horizon. The first, deepest waves of layoffs and job eliminations have been impacting the sectors you would expect – entertainment, hospitality, and travel.

But the continued decline of household incomes and more job losses in these sectors has an impact on all of us. Less money to spend per household translates into lower profits for consumer goods companies. Tightened belts for small businesses means less revenue for business-to-business companies. By early 2021, I predict that corporate positions in industries not directly and immediately impacted by the virus will start to feel the pressure.

Avoiding the chopping block

If you’re currently in a corporate position and feeling vulnerable, your goal should be indispensability. Is what you’re working on low visibility? Is it more of a nice-to-have category in the eyes of the CFO?

When you’re staring down the barrel of a potential job loss (or even just like to be prepared during times of uncertainty), there are steps you can take to bulletproof yourself.

Now is the time to be looking at a lateral move (NOT a promotion) or a stretch assignment that puts you on a more critical project. When I say critical, I mean CRITICAL. What can your company not function without? What are the projects that the C-suite has prioritized?

When you’re staring down the barrel of a potential job loss (or even if you just like to be prepared during times of uncertainty), there are steps you can take to bulletproof yourself.

Talk to your manager about wanting to grow. Even if that means just taking on more responsibility in addition to what you currently do. This is a way to bump yourself from potential redundancy to critical talent in the event your company starts looking at cost-cutting measures.

Aren’t promotions a good thing? Not if you feel that your company could be vulnerable to layoffs. Here’s a piece of corporate truth that no one really likes to hear: managers and directors are far less valuable than the people with technical skills who are actually doing the work.

Being prepared for the worst

There’s only so much you can control when it comes to layoffs, furloughs and reductions in force (RIFs). In the end, these decisions don’t rest with you in most cases. Even though we don’t like to think along these lines, it makes sense to be ready for your next step.

Dust off your old resume and invest in a career coach who will help you really make it sing. Start looking into companies that you would love to work for and reach out to your counterparts there for informational interviews or virtual coffees. Reach out to former colleagues who have already left your company and find out what their experiences were like. What lessons can you learn from them?

Your next step might not be another corporate job just like this one. Have you been toying with the idea of a career change? It is common for women in their 40s and 50s to undergo a “midlife awakening” when they discover what they’re really passionate about. Maybe you want to ditch your accounting job and go to nursing school.

Or maybe you’re ready to drop the high stress of an executive position to become a social worker – or vice versa. Maybe you’re done with the compassion fatigue of social work and want a more straight-forward corporate job.

Have you always wanted to start your own bakery or Etsy store?

If you do everything right and you still get laid off without any idea what to do next, it will suck, but the world doesn’t end.

While in a steady job, now’s the time to think this through. What is it that you actually WANT to do for the rest of your life? And the great part is if you’re still working from home, as so many corporate workers are, you have a bit more freedom to explore the options available to you without the direct supervision that comes from working in an office.

I know I’m advising you to “prepare for the worst,” but the truth is, discovering your second act and what you’re really passionate about can be one of the greatest things that will ever happen to you.

And what if it all goes wrong?

If you do everything right and still get laid off without any idea what to do next, it will suck, but the world doesn’t end. You’ll likely walk away with some kind of severance and COBRA to tide you over. You may need to take a less-than-stellar job until you nail down what you really want to do. But the key is to keep your eyes on the prize. Know that you are going to make it. You are going to be OK.

It’s okay to feel disappointed, betrayed, embarrassed and straight-up pissed off if you lose your job. You’d be crazy if you didn’t. But be aware of how much your emotions govern your actions. This is a time when, more than ever, you need to persevere through crappy circumstances and exert control over your mindset.

It will be hard, but not impossible.

Being prepared never hurts

What I’m advocating for here is readiness to guard against a negative possible outcome. You may very well come through the ongoing economic fall-out unscathed. Most people will. But for some, there’s the unconscious belief that preparing for something bad brings about the very misfortune you were trying to prevent.

Only good can come out of smart preparation.

This is, I can confidently say, a load of hooey. Preparing for a potential problem eases your anxiety and lets you focus on the more important things in life. It lets you think through options and make decisions proactively.

Only good can come from smart preparation. In fact, if you come through all this with your corporate job intact AND you’ve discovered what your second act should be, now you’re in a position of strength to make it happen. You’ve given yourself the gift of awareness and set yourself up to make your dreams a reality.

I’d say that’s something worth spending some time on.

She Is You
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