• Staying Positive Through a Layoff

    Getting Laid Off

    Almost two years ago, a larger firm purchased the company that I worked for. It turned out that when you have two fortune 500 companies merge, there is often quite a bit of overlap between departments. So it didn’t come as too much of a surprise that the department I worked in was completely eliminated.
    We were given some advance notice and a severance package, but in July 2008 we were still getting laid off. I had never been laid off before and it was eye-opening to see how different people responded to the same news. We had some people who were excited about the news, looking forward to the new opportunities that would present themselves, and on the other extreme we had some people who seemed to lose all hope in life.
    Regardless of whether I got laid off or not, just being in that environment and watching people’s response to the news was an invaluable life lesson. I saw fear strike and nearly paralyze some people, I saw people fill themselves up with anger, and I saw some people take the lemons and make lemonade.
    I have to admit that it was probably a bit easier for me to stay positive in that environment. First, I didn’t really like my job that much, so I was interested in the idea of finding something else. Second, I was underpaid for what I did, so taking a paycut was less of a possibility. And third, I was a “young whipper-snapper” who would have an easier time adapting – or so the older workers said.

    Providing New Opportunities

    But the truth of the matter is that while layoffs are often perceived as a negative thing, it really can be an open door of endless possibilities – if we let it! As I watched my entire office process the news and begin job searches, it was amazing the effect that a positive outlook had. Most of the people I would have classified as “optimistic” or “hopeful” quickly found jobs and many of them actually found better jobs paying more!
    And I remember a few co-workers who had a terribly negative outlook and didn’t even try. When they were asked how the job search was going, they responded by complaining about the company and talked about how things used to be. They fed themselves with negativity and I watched as it eliminated more and more options until they were backed into a corner with few choices.
    I tried not to be “that guy” who was always looking at the bright side when everyone else wanted to complain – but secretly I was. Even if I wasn’t overtly making mention of my optimism, they could tell because I didn’t join in complaining. Having been a complainer before, I knew that I needed to keep my mouth shut if I was going to maintain a positive attitude.

    Optimism Affects Actions

    I had always thought it was better to stay positive than to feed on negativity, but after this experience I finally understood why. It is because your outlook affects your actions! The people in the office who walked around with the confidence that they would find an even better job, often did. I don’t really think it happened because they hoped more than the others, but because they had their eyes open and were taking steps to make it happen!
    It reminds me of a middle-aged single woman who is longing to meet the man of her dreams, but never leaves the house! Yes, he could end up knocking on the door, but why not improve your odds by getting out of the house and meeting him halfway
    It really was so sad to watch a few of my co-workers, so bound up with anger and self-pity that it prevented them from taking any action. And sadly some of them got exactly what they were expecting to happen.

    Victor Frankl

    I remember reading a bit about Victor Frankl, a Jewish man who survived the Holocaust and he said that one of the keys to survival was choosing the right attitude. If anyone could say that attitude is a choice, it would be a concentration-camp survivor. Frankl wrote, “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
    I don’t mention Frankl’s story to make light of layoffs – I do realize that they can be incredibly trying times in one’s life. But I think we can learn from Frankl’s experience. If a positive attitude is essential to staying alive in some of the worst conditions known to man, then it will also be important to remember in the workplace challenges that we may face.