If you’ve unexpectedly lost your job there are several things you can do to soften the immediate impact. Following are some helpful tips to identify and pursue the benefits, direction, and attitude you’ll need to move toward finding a new job and taking care of yourself and your family financially during the transition.
Finding out that you’ve suddenly lost your job is a huge shock. But no matter how shocked, angry, embarrassed, confused or worried you are upon getting the news, remember that there is one thing you still have control over – your response. How you respond to finding out that you’re out of work can affect your relationship with your soon-to-be-former employer and what sort of support you’re able to get as you exit your position. You don’t have much control over the situation, but you do have control over yourself and you can try to choose how you deal with it, to try and act rather than only react. When people lost jobs suddenly or unexpectedly, they often have little time to make decisions and that compounds the stress.
Think about what you might need during your transitional period while you’re looking for another position. For example, if your employer offers a severance package, review it before signing it. You may be in a position to negotiate with your employer about possible benefits before you leave. Even if your company uses a pre-determined formula to set severance payouts, given the sudden nature of your circumstances, think about whether or not you may be able to negotiate for additional benefits such as:
- Giving you a longer transition period – for example, asking to be kept on with the organization for an additional period of time to finish or find a better stopping point for any key projects, to organize your work and pack, with the understanding that you’re beginning the process of disengaging from your employer;
- Allowing you to use your office (in an unpaid capacity) for a certain period of time while you look for another job;
- Permission to apply for other jobs within the company, or, if circumstances make that impossible, ask if your boss will consider you for future positions, temporary assignments, or consulting opportunities in your area of expertise;
- A letter of recommendation or reference you could take with you to use in your job search (if you have a good relationship with the organization and with the person you’re asking to be a reference), particularly since many companies are only willing to confirm that you worked there for a specific period of time;
- Use of office equipment such as fax machine, copier, Internet access, etc. while you look for a job; and
- Outplacement services that might include career counseling or coaching, training, and job search support including resume writing and interviewing techniques, paid for by your company. As part of your exit process, the Human Resources department should provide you with information on your benefits, but in case they don’t, ask for:
- Information on any financial benefits such as stock options, pension benefits, and your 401(k) plan and rollover options
- Paperwork to COBRA your health insurance if you choose. You may also want to inquire whether such policies as life insurance, long term disability insurance or anything else you may have had as an employee can be converted into individual policies and get information on how that could be done and at what cost, should you choose to.
- Information on how to access your credit union funds (if you had opened an account through your company) As you close out your work and pack up, make sure to take or make copies of any performance evaluations, samples of work you’ve done, and any awards of letters of commendation.
Although this is an awkward time for both you and your former colleagues, remember that with some time and a well-planned job search strategy you’ll be working again. Also remember, you’re not alone! Other people have lost jobs suddenly, unexpectedly, and successfully made the transition to a new position!
The Emotional Aftereffects of Job Loss
Losing a job is a major life change. It’s natural to experience a wide range of emotions when you’ve unexpectedly lost your job. Many people experience grief-like symptoms including shock, confusion, anger, denial, and depression. It can help to remember that just as looking for a new job is a process so is absorbing and adjusting to the loss of your old job. As much as you can, try to take a few days or weeks to grieve and resolve emotional issues before you look for a new job. If you are overwhelmed by these feelings, talk them through with a trusted friend or counselor. Journaling can be helpful in working through powerful emotions. Check out your library or local bookstore for resources on processing grief and moving forward after experiencing such a significant loss. Look for local job networking support groups. If your former employer provided you with outplacement, consider taking advantage of services they provide to deal with job loss, and then begin focusing on what they provide to help you get to what’s next such as workshops on resume preparation, access to equipment such as computers and fax machines, and even career development strategies. Keeping physically active, eating well, and getting enough rest will also help reduce the stress you’re experiencing. Take small steps. Caring for yourself physically and emotionally both while you are working through the sudden shock of losing your job and when you begin taking steps toward your next job will improve your approach to finding a new job and how you interview.
Try to see this as a period of transition. Because unemployment can feel isolating, stay connected by intentionally spending time with close friends and family. This is a unique time in which you can do things you haven’t had time to do before – like see your kids’ plays or soccer games, volunteer at church or for a community cause, make some needed home repairs, learn some new skills.
Realize that your sudden unemployment affects your entire family, kids included. Children pick up on their parents’ stress and anxiety. Do what you can to reassure them, and try to keep to predictable rhythms. Don’t pretend everything is the same; don’t hide the event from them or your anxiety. As much as you love to provide your family or dependents with what they want, explain to them that you as a family will need to harness your spending so that you can weather well the time between jobs. Encourage your family to brainstorm together about ways you can save money. Assure children that the job loss is nobody’s fault. Consider letting your child’s school guidance counselor know about your situation so that he/she can be attuned to any change in your child’s behavior. Take care of yourself and each other as much as you can. Get the outside support you need to manage your job/career and worklife transitions. For example, there are great websites such as www.familiesandwork.org;www.nww.org; www.womenconnect.com; www.workfamily.com;www.ncoa.org; www.shrm.org that can help you cope.
As you go through this process, you will have to establish a new set of routines and rhythms. Set goals and schedules for various aspects of your job search. Even small things can help provide you with a sense of accomplishment. As difficult as this time may be, by choosing to make some lifestyle and attitude adjustments, you’ll be well on your way to landing a new job.
Filing for Unemployment
Many people feel ashamed at the thought of claiming unemployment. It’s important to remember that unemployment compensation is not a government handout. Your employer paid money toward unemployment insurance while you were working. You have a right to receive those benefits. You can file for benefits by phone and should begin the process once you’ve formally left your job. You’ll receive your first compensation check approximately two weeks after losing your job, depending on whether or not you received any severance. You’ll need to call in once a week thereafter to keep your account active and to keep receiving benefits. You’ll receive your first claim check 2-3 weeks after filing.
To get your benefits, you’ll need to provide your Social Security number, address, phone number you can be reached at, and pay stub, and names and addresses for all employers within the past 18 months. The amount you’ll be paid is calculated based on your salary prior to job loss. The amount you’ll receive, and for how long you’ll receive benefits, varies state by state. Remember that tax isn’t withheld from unemployment checks, but it is taxable income so you’ll need to put money aside so you don’t end up having to unexpectedly pay taxes at year-end.
Maintaining Health Insurance Coverage
Even though you’re out of work and money may be tight, you don’t want to risk being uninsured. You are legally entitled to maintain your health insurance under your company’s health insurance plan under something called COBRA (the Consolidated Budget Reconciliation Act). Although you’ll be able to maintain your insurance, you’ll now need to pick up the full tab for the policy. You may also be charged an additional 2% for administrative costs. You’re allowed to continue your coverage for up to 18 months.
You might find that the premiums are too costly for you and that you can find a cheaper plan by shopping around. If you belong to any professional organizations or clubs ask if they provide member discounts on insurance.
It’s important to maintain your health insurance not only in the event of a medical emergency, but also to maintain what’s referred to as “credible coverage” that may help make you eligible for your spouse’s plan if necessary.
Managing The Transition To A New Job
Looking for work is an intimidating process for most people. Looking for work when you¹ve just suddenly lost a job can seem even harder. But in some ways, you should consider yourself ahead of the curve. This period of transition can be a time of discovery that opens up new doors and maybe an entirely new career path for you. Maximize this time of transition by reflecting on what you liked and disliked about your former position; taking time to identify what benefits you¹d like from a job; and finding the resources and tools you need to prepare yourself for the job-hunting process. With a smart strategy you¹ll be well on your way to finding the job that¹s right for you.