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Surviving a Downsizing – Part One

Once upon a time, in a far off land… jobs were easy to come by and careers were secure. A good employee could remain with a company for as long as they wished, which was sometimes from the beginning of a career through retirement.

So much for the fairy tale. The reality within today’s work environment is that getting and keeping a good job, is well, a job in itself. And, unfortunately with our ever-changing global environment, companies need to ebb and flow with the economy and sometimes that leads to workforce reductions.

If you have been on the receiving end of a job reduction, this article is for you.

First, know that you are not alone. There are a number of really great employees that have been casualties of workforce reductions. I have been one of those folks… and more than once.

As part of a military family, I joined the US Navy right out of high school. I signed up for a six-year tour and approximately five years into that tour, the military went through a downsizing activity. My billet (a.k.a. job code) was merged with another job code and the result was that the Navy had more sailors than needed in that particular job. So, at 23 years old, I was impacted by my first downsizing activity.

Throughout my career, there have been other downsizing experiences along with numerous company reorganizations. Each brought with it a job change and even sometimes an industry change. Each change also brought with it an opportunity to learn and to do something else.

As the Greek philosopher, Epictetus said, “It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Within this article, I will share with you five areas to consider on when you are impacted by a downsizing activity… and how you can positively react to the change.

1. Breathe. As I stated earlier, know that you are not alone. There are a lot of us out here that know EXACTLY how you feel and the roller coaster of thoughts you are having. So, your first order of business is to… breathe. Take a deep breath and re-focus your thoughts. It’s been medically proven that deep breathing engages the body’s relaxation response, which lowers blood pressure, decreases heart rate, and creates a feeling of calm. When you are calm, you can focus more clearly and begin the process of healing.

2. Mourn the Loss. That may sound odd, but losing a job is a loss, plain and simple. Just as we mourn the loss of a loved one, we may also mourn the loss of other important parts of life. Our job is generally important to us and it is necessary to grieve for its loss. Swiss-American psychiatrist and pioneer in near-death studies, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined the stages of grief as follows:

  • Denial

  • Anger

  • Bargaining

  • Depression

  • Acceptance

Some people go through all five stages, some people skip a stage or two, and some people get stuck in one stage and can’t seem to move on. (If you don’t recognize what stage you are in, ask someone who knows you well. Most likely, they can determine the stage almost instantly.) For people who have experienced job loss, it is necessary for them to understand where they are in the stages because until one gets through to the Acceptance stage, interviewing for a new job in any other stage is all but pointless. Your actions and comments will give you away. Recruiters and hiring managers will know that you have not truly moved on.

3. Get Focused. You’ve taken a deep breath (or 10 or 20) and you’ve acknowledged and worked through your loss. Now it is time to get it together. You’ve been given an OPPORTUNITY to rethink your career and determine what is the next best step for you (and your family). Now is the time to make a plan. Below are some thoughts you might consider in your plan:

  • What is your financial situation? Do you need to make any reductions in living expenses? Now is a great time to think about simplification and reducing overall costs.

  • How well are you taking care of yourself? You need your energy and stamina during a job search. Eating well, resting enough, maintaining an exercise routine, and getting outdoors are all important.

  • What are your transferable skills? What skills have you gained in your personal and professional life that you can utilize in your next job? These are valuable assets you own and can “sell” to your next employer.

  • What do you want to do next? Think about what your next job must include and make a list. These are your “must-haves” and any job offer that comes your way should get “measured” against this list.

4. Involve Your Personal Network. Let your family and friends know that you are looking for employment. Oftentimes we are embarrassed about being fired or laid off from a job. Remember, many people have been in or are in a similar situation. It is nothing to be embarrassed about. You have moved on and now you are looking for the next great opportunity. Ask people you know to help you find that next move.

5. Engage your Professional Network. If you are a part of a professional association, you likely have a network of people in your profession that may be good resources for employment information. Additionally, a number of non-profit career-search organizations, such as CareerConnectors in the Phoenix, Arizona area provide onsite and online networking connections for job seekers. They are a great source for information on career-related topics, job search support, and moral support. Furthermore, online networking sources like LinkedIn provide a dynamic means for networking specifically to groups, industries, and even to recruiters. Only about 15 – 20 percent of all jobs are publicly advertised. The vast majority of job openings are part of the "hidden" or "closed" job market. Your networks can clue you into those jobs.

You have experienced a loss, but you will emerge with new growth. You are worthy of a great, new job. It is important to grieve your loss, and then plant the seeds that will make new opportunities flourish. You can do this!

In Part Two, I will write about Thriving After a Downsizing. Once the seeds have been planted, the growth truly begins.

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