The Riley Guide: Handling a Job Loss
Coping with Job Loss
Losing a job can disrupt your life in a number of ways – some of them personal and psychological; others financial and logistical. You’ll have to work through some of these disruptions – for instance, it’s helpful to allow yourself time to process the loss emotionally – while others can be avoided with a bit of strategy. In all these cases, you’ll stand the best chance of moving forward effectively if you acknowledge each challenge and form a plan for addressing it head-on. Read on to find out how to take action.
On the psychological side of things, it’s important to recognize that an unexpected termination is a loss – and like the loss of a beloved piece of property or even a friend, it can produce a period of grieving. Sometimes that grief initially appears disguised as other emotions, such as anger and indignation, and it’s crucial to give yourself time to vent them – in writing, in conversations with loved ones, and in physical activities that help you blow off steam. You can also direct the energy of these negative emotions into productive tasks, like do-it-yourself projects and volunteer work. And don’t forget to eat healthy and follow a daily schedule. Keeping yourself in shape – mentally and physically – will help prevent this disruption from doing more damage than necessary.
It’s also crucial to develop a support system of family members, friends and other professionals. Some sympathetic ears often make all the difference between passing frustration and long-term depression – so don’t be shy about sharing your situation with everyone you know (don’t make a habit of complaining, of course; but do be honest about how you’re feeling). People in your personal life can offer you emotional support and encouragement, while other professionals – even ones you know only distantly – can provide advice, and possibly even leads on new jobs. Check out The Riley Guide’s page on unemployment support groups to find out how to connect with other out-of-work professionals in your area.
Unemployment also gives you an unexpected (and unasked-for) gift: Lots of free time. Use this time not only to reflect on the circumstances of your termination, but also to reassess yourself, your career and your goals. Review your past accomplishments, and make a list of your top skills – this will not only benefit you psychologically; it’ll also help you prepare to pitch yourself to new companies. Update and polish your resume, as well as your profile pages on LinkedIn and any other career networking sites you frequent. If you don’t have a profile on a site like this, take a few hours to create one that reflects your experience and professionalism – it’ll come in very handy as you expand your network and apply for new positions.
Lastly, use your free time to take concrete actions that’ll benefit you and your career. Roll your 401(k) account into an IRA. Contact your creditors and negotiate lower monthly payments. Send emails and private messages to everyone in your professional network who you suspect might be even remotely interested in talking with you. You’ll be surprised how many people are happy to offer advice and professional connections – and some may even know of job opportunities for which you’re eligible. Think of this networking as your current job: Until you’ve found new employment, this is the work that needs to be done.
The loss of a job doesn’t have to mean the loss of all income and health benefits – in fact, federal and state government agencies provide a variety of programs to make sure you can still pay your rent or mortgage, see your doctor, buy your medication and hold on to other "life essentials." Eligibility for many of these programs is time-sensitive, though; so you’ll want to start the process as soon as possible – during your final days on the job, if at all possible.
The federal government requires many employer-sponsored health plans in the U.S. to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which guarantees that health benefits will remain available to people who were covered during their employment – typically for a monthly premium, and only for a limited time after termination. Your employer may give you an informational pamphlet on this coverage; but if not, just click the link in the previous paragraph, or the Benefits.gov link at the bottom of this article, to learn how to keep yourself covered.
You may also be eligible for unemployment compensation from your state government. This compensation is usually calculated based on your most recent wages, and will only represent a fraction of what you’re used to living on – but if it takes you several months or more to find a new job, these payments can make all the difference between stability and financial free-fall. You can investigate your eligibility for state unemployment compensation by searching Google for "[name of your state] + unemployment compensation," or by clicking your state on the U.S. Department of Labor website’s Unemployment Insurance Payments map. As long as you’ve got a history of steady employment, the application process is usually simple, and you’ll probably be getting your first payment within a month or two.
You’ve Lost Your Job, Now What? — A series of short articles on dealing with many aspects of unemployment, from finances to networking.
Advice for the Involuntary Job Seeker — Handy tips on maintaining your physical and psychological health during a period of unemployment.
Benefits.gov Benefit Finder — A user-friendly tool for finding unemployment benefits and other government programs for which you may be eligible.