Workers Deserve Better: What Job Seekers Can Learn From the Better.com Layoffs
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If we learned anything from the disastrous Better.com Zoom call made public on December 3rd, during which 900 employees were laid off, it’s that bad leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We learned that Better’s laid-off employees, C-Suite leadership, and its stakeholders experienced more than just a public misjudgment of their CEO. They were victims of a historical blunder. Most readers and listeners on social networks offered empathy and compassion to the now-former employees. Only a few cheered for the other side and offered praise that the CEO had the grit to eliminate “lazy employees.”
Layoffs will never be a thing of the past, even in a job seeker’s market where open positions are plentiful. Nor does the timing matter, although it is not favorable to happen so close to the Christmas holidays. For a company to emerge positively from layoffs, the tone does matter, and so does judgment. Zillow laid off 25% of its workforce but delivered a thoughtful message with the bad news. They were transparent about their failed strategies and business miscalculations before then.
Layoffs Are Inevitable
Layoffs, no matter how thoughtfully delivered, don’t remove the sting, hurt, and disappointment of employees who are the ones without jobs. Nor do they remove the concern of those still working for the company wondering if it might happen to them.
It has become more critical than ever for job seekers to research a company they consider a good employment fit. There will be layoffs in your life as an employee if you work 20-25 jobs during your career. Similarly, if you are a 1099 employee or independent contractor, you’ll experience truncated projects terminated with no reason offered.
To minimize or avoid “Better” and control your career:
- Position yourself to choose and create opportunities
- Find companies who value you and your contributions
- The mind shift change you should make when you get laid off or fired
- Control your career’s narrative when separating from your company
What Not to Do When You’re Fired or Laid Off
Prepared or not, being laid off is a powerful experience for most workers. Emotions often fluctuate, and some may have moments of despair. No one imagines the devastation to find out without warning they are being laid off the next day. Can you imagine being called to a Zoom meeting to hear you’re one of the “unlucky” ones to be laid off near the holidays?
The emotional and physiological effects of a job separation—being fired or laid off—also impact family and friends. Stress, anxiety, depression, and more can result from the separation process and the uncertainty of the future.
The Better.com layoffs are a worst-case scenario: No notice, impersonal, and callously administered. Laid-off employees experienced immediate termination of communication and work channels. Although an experience like this can be traumatizing, if it happens, you must take control of the narrative or lose your way to finding meaningful opportunities.
Coping with a Layoff
After a layoff, you may find yourself internalizing negative self-narratives. Take control of these narratives and reframe them in a more positive way to better cope with your situation.
You doubt your skills, abilities, and character. If you’ve been unemployed for a while, there’s a temptation to make up a narrative that’s not true. Layoffs are often due to a company’s failure to meet goals, not solely based on who you are as a worker.
You’ve stopped upskilling and reskilling. Advancing your career is vital in using your time away from work. During the pandemic, it’s the one thing you control and can show you’re “all-in” to providing an employer value.
You’re unnecessarily taking the walk of shame. In today’s job market, most people have faced the possibility of being fired or laid off. People understand this can happen to anyone, and they will empathize with you more than you think.
It’s hard to get work after getting fired or laid off. Many of us grew up thinking the end is near, especially when fired. The fact is most employers understand separation can happen to anyone at any time.
Holiday blues. A layoff close to the holidays like the Better employees doesn’t mean companies are not hiring. You lack motivation and faith when you’ll have to undo that, even if you can wait until after the holidays to job search.
My old employer is out to get me. It’s rare when your boss has taken it personally enough to ruin your life. You’re not making them look good. More often than not, unless you stole money or time, you self-sabotage your efforts to believe and act on an employer seeking revenge on you.
How to Prepare Yourself for a Layoff or Firing
Many savvy careerists find that they might have upwards of 20 or more jobs over their lifetime. While they may not have started their career trajectory with this many positions in mind, it becomes a reality for many. To control the direction of their work-life, workers need to think of their careers as a business. And like all good business plans, an exit plan is essential. Younger workers especially consider leaving jobs more frequently once the value exchange ends and move on to the next opportunity.
Having an exit plan ready makes leaving for the next opportunity, or bouncing back from an unexpected layoff, that much easier.
In addition to an exit plan, you can control being well-versed in what benefits you have when you leave and your employee rights. If you’re in a union or not, whether you’re looking to stay or go, understand what your rights are. For separation benefits, you want to consult human resources, and it may mean to sit down with them and not rely on a checklist.
Signing Your Separation Employment Agreement
Career expert Damian Birkel is the CEO and Founder of Professionals in Transition, a nationally recognized non-profit that helps job seekers prepare and launch successful job searches. Birkel, who was fired or laid-off five times during his career, and once laid off 5,000 workers from one company, offers these tips:
Birkel says, “Don’t sign your Severance Agreement when you receive it. After you process the initial shock, make an appointment with a labor attorney to review your agreement. By doing this, you’ll ensure that you are making the best out of the worst situation possible.” In some cases, the company may offer you a generous compensation package and have you sign a non-disclosure agreement that states you won’t file a lawsuit for witnessing mistreatment of some sort. Lawyers will say if you plan to sue, don’t take the compensation unless you consult an attorney first.
Birkel also recommends that you “Obtain copies of all of your job performance reviews. They provide a strong base to begin building your resume.” Performance review data and metrics demonstrate your competencies and strengths to future employers.
Recognizing Reality and What Matters
It’s essential you know the narrative Human Resources will offer other employers seeking references from the company. Will they say you’ve been fired or laid off? Or, can they say when you left the company without divulging any other information? Birkel recommends that you “Develop a mutually agreed upon “exit statement.”
An exit statement is a series of neutral sentences to explain your job loss, like: “You might have seen in the media that the XYZ Company eliminated 900 positions. My position was one of them.”
Maintain Positive Connections
Although the company has let you go, Birkel emphasizes, “Do NOT burn bridges. You might need to cross paths with them again.” If you spent significant time with the company and contributed to your career advancement, leaving them on a positive note makes it easier to approach them later. You may need to call your company about rolling over your 401K or other benefits. A peaceful separation makes it easier on you when you need important information from them.
While it’s essential to maintain a relationship with an employer that forces you out, you also must be shrewd in your strategy before, during, and after employment with the company. Better.com employees experienced the worst without warning and no compassion or empathy. They were told they were “the unlucky ones,” but in fact, the company was lucky to have those employees. If you consider that you’re the business, preparing for the worse is good business. Whether employed or not, now is the time to prepare for your next exit and be better off.