How to Navigate Being Laid Off: The Ultimate Layoff Playbook
Here's everything you need to know before, during, and after you get laid off from a company.
There’s been lots of news lately about layoffs, particularly at tech companies and startups. We know firsthand and through personal experience how difficult layoffs can be—especially at scale, and especially when they’re sudden. (You can read more on that in this note from our Founder & CEO, Dave Fano.)
Whether or not you anticipated the layoff, it can result in a whirlwind of emotions: shock, grief, relief, exhaustion, shame, fear of not knowing what’s next. It’s normal to experience a wide range of feelings, and it’s ok—important, really—to take time to pause, reflect, and grieve if needed.
This is your reminder that it’s going to be ok. Lots of places are still hiring right now; you’re going to find a new job soon—and one that excites you.
More than anything, know that you’re not alone in this. We’re here to offer support as you begin your job search and to help guide you through every bit of the process, and to curate resources that we hope will help you in this next chapter.
That's why we've created this layoff playbook to be a living, breathing document that we edit over time. We’d love for this to be as collaborative and comprehensive as possible, so if you know of any resources you’d suggest we add, let us know; feedback is always welcomed.
Best of luck with this transition. We’re rooting for you.
Layoffs really begin long before the layoff itself—and particularly at big tech companies, where you may start to hear the murmuring of rumors, either internally or externally, about reductions in workforce. You may see headlines in the news or speculation on social media days (or even months) before anything is officially announced to employees—a cycle that can be both frustrating and exhausting, as it further exacerbates the feelings of uncertainty that already surround a layoff.
If contacted by the press (whether through emails or outreach on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok), it’s a personal decision as to whether or not to speak to them. We won’t make a recommendation one way or another as that’s your choice; however, if you do decline an interview or respond, “No comment” and reports keep pestering you, it’s also acceptable to ignore the reporter’s request and/or block their number.
You may also get inquiries from your family and friends about your work during this stretch—people who last week hadn’t heard of your company or didn’t know what you did suddenly surface with questions and thoughts and opinions. While the outpouring of support likely comes from a good place, it may be necessary to set some boundaries with loved ones or be selective about whom you share your feelings with.
Taking care of your mental health before a layoff—the anxiety, the stress, the toll it all takes—is just as important as it is during and after the layoffs. (More on that below.)
Depending on the nature of the layoff, it may feel like what was once a brand name you were proud to have on your resume is suddenly no longer such a good thing. You can’t help but wonder if the news about the company will reflect poorly on YOU as a soon-to-be-former employee, even if you had no direct involvement with the company’s struggles.
Ultimately, many future employers will know that whatever caused the layoffs at a company was not your fault, and that the layoffs weren’t a result of your professional performance.
Using WeWork as an example (since that’s the lens through which much of our team at Teal is most familiar with layoffs, and since many folks have asked for our thoughts about WeCrashed lately), a future employer would likely not see “WeWork” on your resume and assume that it was your contribution as a product manager or community director or operations associate that impacted the behavior or decisions at the executive level. If anything, having the name “WeWork” on your resume shows that you are capable of delivering high-quality results under intense pressure, working cross-functionally (and often internationally) to find creative solutions to problems, and have experience with the agility required at hyper-growth startups—all good things.
With so many of us dedicating a huge portion of our lives to work, a pending layoff may feel like a huge shock to the system, like your world is being destabilized. Suddenly, your job goes from your “certainty” bucket to your “uncertainty” bucket—and that can feel daunting, to say the least.
Often times it helps to turn your attention inward, to the things you can control. If you have a strong sense that you might be laid off, here are some steps you can take to prepare and feel more in control of an otherwise uncontrolled situation:
Did you get the calendar invite for a group meeting or Zoom call, or maybe a 1:1 with your manager? Layoffs may look and feel entirely different these days depending on whether or not you’re working remotely. Here’s a general idea of what to expect:
For reference, here’s an example of communications that were sent to Carta employees around a 2020 Covid-related layoff.
A note about the following information: We’re not legal professionals, and as such, the following does not constitute legal advice. We suggest consulting with a lawyer or legal professional for further information.
Generally, in the US, a company will want its employees to sign a separation agreement upon termination of employment. Though the document isn’t required by law, companies often utilize these agreements as a way to protect themselves from possible legal trouble down the line, or to keep company information confidential. When signed by both parties, the agreement ensures that the terminated employee won’t take further legal action against the organization.
The bigger the company is, the more important it is to them that they have employees sign a separation agreement—and frankly, can be a liability for them not to offer one.
That said, you don’t technically have to accept the separation agreement provided. And although a uniform separation or severance agreement may be offered to all employees impacted by a layoff, there’s nothing that says you can’t attempt to negotiate certain parts of the agreement if you don’t like the terms being offered and want to try to negotiate for better terms.
If you don’t fully understand what you’re being asked to sign, we strongly suggest speaking to a lawyer or advisor before signing.
Severance pay is compensation that’s paid to an employee when the employer terminates their employment, and is typically calculated based on how long you were employed by the organization. It may be paid as a lump sum or over a longer period of time.
With some exceptions, your employer is likely not required to offer you a severance package. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates that the company pay your usual wages through your last day of employment, but technically the employer usually has no legal obligation to give severance to departing employees.
If you are offered a severance package, you may want to consider reviewing the agreement with a lawyer before agreeing to the terms. As mentioned earlier, severance pay can be incredibly difficult to negotiate—especially if the termination is part of a larger mass layoff—but it can’t hurt to ask to review your package. Even if the company can’t negotiate on the severance pay itself, there’s a chance they may be able to negotiate other benefits, such as paying out unused PTO or continuing contributions to your health insurance premiums.
Again, we’re not employment lawyers, so we’d advise you to speak with a professional before taking action. Below are some excellent supplemental resources for navigating severance, along with a checklist of things you can look out for (or perhaps ask for) in a severance package.
The following things MIGHT be part of a severance package, and are good to be aware of when reviewing your offer:
You’ve separated from your former company. Now what?
First of all, take a beat. If you’re in a position where you have a little bit of runway (or savings) and don’t have to jump into new work immediately, we recommend giving yourself a moment to process what just happened and to grieve as needed.
We suggest taking at least 24 hours to process before jumping back into the job search—ideally, wherever you are in the week, you’re able to give yourself until the following Monday to start your search. (For example, if layoffs occur on a Thursday, give yourself through the weekend to process. If the layoffs are on a Monday, give yourself until the following Monday.)
This recommendation is more art than science, so of course go at your own pace—but this general guideline gives you structured time to reflect and process, plus a tangible “start date” for when you’ll take action.
One of the reasons we started Teal was because we saw the infrastructural disparity that exists between companies and employees. Companies have entire HR teams and tools at their disposal; employees have… well, Google. And some (excellent) online resources, but no department telling them exactly what to do next or how to navigate this chapter.
Below, we’re sharing suggested steps and linking out to recommended resources that may help in the days and weeks following a layoff.
Use our free budget calculator tool to determine when you have to have your next job by. Keep this target date in mind and write it down so it’s front and center.
If you need immediate financial assistance and aren’t in a place to take time off between roles—perhaps the company that just went through layoffs didn’t provide severance or your financial situation requires a more immediate solution—here are places to search for gig or freelance work straight away:
The question of what to do with your retirement account when you leave your company can be stressful. Look into your options, consult a financial professional, and evaluate what the right decision is for you.
Generally speaking, if you have more than $5,000 invested in your 401(k), most plans allow you to leave it where it is after you separate from your employer. If you want to roll it over but don’t yet have a new employer (which, assuming you were laid off, you likely don’t), you can roll over your 401(k) into an individual retirement account (IRA). We’re not financial advisors, so would recommend speaking with a professional before taking action. The below resources can help you navigate next steps.
If you had stock in your company, it’s important to understand what kind of equity you have (e.g., restricted stock units (RSUs), stock options like ISOs, and NSOs), the time frame they have to exercise, the process to exercise, and the tax implications. The standard time frame for employees to exercise their options post-termination is 90 days, but companies may have shorter or longer windows, so it’s important to know the timeframe in which you’ll need to act.
Typically when you’re laid off, you’re no longer part of that group (i.e., company) life insurance policy. Generally speaking, whether or not you need life insurance depends on your individual financial goals; it’s most important if your death would place a financial burden on others.
This is so they can send your final paycheck and any outstanding balances that are due to you. This may include but is not limited to:
If they can’t print a letter on letterhead, an email from the head of HR (with full name and title on the message) should suffice. You may need this letter to claim unemployment benefits.
Check in on your mental health. Get outside if you can. Have a cup of tea. Journal. Go for a walk. Read. Listen to a podcast. Binge a show. Do something that nurtures your soul.
The world can feel really heavy right now; make sure you’re looking out for yourself.
Speaking of looking out for yourself: Job loss ranks as one of life’s most stressful events, and it’s important to let yourself process that change and let things sink in. You won’t wallow forever, but there’s no shame in letting yourself feel how you feel before dusting yourself off and starting the job search process.
Below are recommended tools and resources that can help from a wellness and mental health standpoint following a layoff:
When it comes to soul-searching, give some thought to what you want next: Do you want to be in the same job, but in new place? Pivot to a new career? Your job search will be most efficient if you can get clear on what you want.
In a job search, you’re your own worse enemy. If you’re complacent, unclear, or don’t know what you want to do next, chances are the process will be more cumbersome—but clarity can accelerate the process—and we have free workbooks and resources on the Teal website that can help.
Here are some of our recommendations:
Though you don’t need to worry about your resume just yet, it’s helpful to make sure your LinkedIn is up to date before posting publicly that you’re searching for a new opportunity. When you post, chances are it will (hopefully) get a lot of traction, and you’ll have people looking at your profile for the first time. Since it’s your public presence, you’ll want to be sure it represents the best possible version of YOU. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good—it’s ok if your LinkedIn profile isn’t 100% optimized yet—but use our free LinkedIn Review tool to make sure the basic sections are filled out.
Though it can be difficult, emotional, and often vulnerable to post about the layoffs, we live in a time where there’s no longer the same stigma there once was about being “open to work.” Layoffs were rampant in 2020, and with that, a normalizing of announcing that you were looking for new opportunities.
We suggest that you do so sooner rather than later so that a) you and fellow company alumni can support one another at the same time—there’s power in solidarity, and b) so there are more people looking out for you sooner. It may feel tough to ask for help, but keep in mind that people generally want to be of assistance with your search. There’s also something really special about the way the LinkedIn community can come together to rally and help one another.
If you don’t want to craft a LinkedIn post from scratch, here’s some template language you can copy, paste, and tweak as needed (just be sure to customize it before posting). A few tips to keep in mind:
Unfortunately, I was affected by the recent layoffs at [@COMAPNY NAME]. My past [X MONTHS/YEARS] there were an incredible learning opportunity, and I’m grateful to the talented team members I had the chance to work with. To my former colleagues, [INSERT SOMETHING PERSONAL OR TAG PEOPLE TO THANK THEM AS YOU SEE FIT.]
Though I’m disappointed that my journey with [COMPANY] ended this way, I look forward to leveraging my skills in [X, Y, AND Z] to drive impact at another organization.
I’m looking for a [DETAILS ABOUT THE ROLE: LEVEL, COMPANY SIZE, INDUSTRY, TITLE, ETC.], located in [LOCATION OR REMOTE.] If you or anyone in your network knows of a role that sounds like a good fit, I’d so appreciate an introduction. Thanks in advance for your help.
#opentowork #jobsearch [#ANY HASHTAGS FOR YOUR COMPANY]
Some great examples of these kinds of posts and the impact they can have:
There’s been some controversy lately on whether or not job seekers should turn on the green “Open to Work” profile banner. Some people claim that it looks desperate—but we’d argue the opposite.
Here are three reasons we recommend turning on your #OpenToWork banner (and here's how to activate it):
Of course, if your profile’s optimized with keywords, accomplishments, and metrics, you’ll still pop up in recruiters’ search results—even if your #OpenToWork banner isn’t on. But it can’t hurt to test it out and see what happens. (A 2020 study from LinkedIn found that turning on “Open to Work” increased your likelihood of getting a recruiter message by 2x.)
We recommend changing your settings to “Open to Work” and adding the profile banner image, but not putting “Unemployed” or “Actively Seeking a New Opportunity” in your LinkedIn headline. Here’s why.
LinkedIn gives you 220 characters to work with in your headline, and you want to use that precious space to showcase what you CAN do—using keywords tailored to the specific position you’re targeting. When recruiters search LinkedIn for the best candidate for the job, they often search for skills relevant to the role they’re trying to fill—not “seeking new opportunities”.
Leveraging your LinkedIn headline by including your target title (e.g. “Digital Marketing Manager | SaaS Product Marketing | B2B & B2C Content Strategy”); it’s more likely appear in more relevant search results than “Unemployed – Currently Seeking a New Opportunity.”
One of the most jarring parts about being laid off is that you likely went from having structure in your life—a routine that was more or less consistent day-to-day (coffee, checking emails and Slack messages, meetings, to-dos)—to having the rug pulled out from under you.
Layoffs can feel unsettling—like the anchor in this turbulent world has been taken away—and you immediately feel rudderless. We’re here to help lend structure to a time that can often feel structure-less, giving you tangible daily tasks so you can take charge of your time and get back in the driver’s seat of your career.
Scheduling the daily tasks into your calendar will help you keep yourself accountable and stay on track. Take a few minutes to schedule out blocks of time to make sure you can complete all the tasks within your personal calendar.
It’s tempting to start by refreshing your resume—but before you do that, take time to do some prep work:
There’s no perfect time to start your search; at some point, you’ll just have to rip off the Band-Aid and dive in.
If you want some structure and routine to give your search a framework, you can sign up for our free 10-day job search plan here. Each day, you’ll receive action items in your inbox, and the free workbook will break down daily tasks and to dos, lending guidance to a time that can often feel aimless.Our recommendations for starting your search:
When researching roles and job titles, be sure to expand your search. Here's more from our Founder & CEO Dave on why.
When you find a job you’re ready to apply for, make sure to tailor your resume before applying. Here’s our free class on how to customize your resume.
Review the job description, identify the keywords that are used most frequently (you can do so for free in Teal!), and incorporate those words into the resume you’re customizing for that role.
If you were part of a mass layoff, one of the best things to do is to band together to help one another through the aftermath. You’ve all just gone through something that no one else truly understands the nuances of. We can weigh in based on our experience navigating layoffs at other companies—but your company’s particular layoff experience is unique, and being surrounded by others who can relate can be one of the most helpful ways to power through.
What does that look like?
NOTE: Some companies will also coordinate a database of affected employees to help with outplacement services (example: Peloton), so it may be worth checking to see if your company created something similar.