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How to rock your layoff

Losing your job can be traumatizing. Here's how to make the best of it, and how to go into your next job a better person

Marzena Czarnecka is a Calgary-based business and legal affairs writer. She can be reached at paddleink@gmail.com, stalked via @paddleink on Twitter, and visited at CalgaryBusinessWriter.com.

Nov 2, 2015

by Marzena Czarnecka

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Illustration Jeff Kulak

Hey, rub that frown off your face; there’s someone I want to introduce you to. This is Melissa, and, like you, she’s an oil patch layoff casualty. Ever see anyone happier? No, I didn’t think so, and neither have I. I knew she was something special the second we met, dancing on a cold September night in Calgary in a giant sandbox. But that’s another story. Today, let’s talk about how Melissa’s rocking her layoff – and what you should be doing during yours.

The cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry is not for everyone. And this is the time to ask yourself – is it for you?

Actually, before we get to that, I want you to forgive the HR manager who gave you the bad news, OK? I know you’re angry, but it is not with her that you should be angry. She’s got the crappiest job in any shrinking company. Yeah, I know, she’s employed and you’re not. But she’s a Betazoid-class empath, as those human resource types tend to be, and she’s feeling survivor guilt. After she told you the company was laying you off, she cried in the restroom for an hour. So lay off her. And if you bump into her downtown, say hi. Ask her if she’s seeing anyone. Not romantically, but, you know. For therapy. Because telling people “We need to let you go” kind of destroys your humanity. Unless you’re a psychopath to begin with – and she’s not.

OK, back to Melissa. She got laid off in February; since then, she’s travelled through China and she’s heading to Central America in a couple of weeks. She’s been helping her friends with their entrepreneurial ventures and she’s been pursuing interests that she had no time for when putting in 50- to 60-hour weeks. She’s job hunting intermittently – she won’t say no if a good opportunity presents itself – but she’s not killing herself looking for work in an industry that’s in a tailspin. She’s taking the time to figure things out because that whole “get a geology degree, get a good job” thing? Well. Not the “safe” choice her parents, professors and career counsellors assured her it was. So, what next?

She’s taking this unexpected prolonged “vacation” to figure it out.

Now, she can do this with substantially less hyperventilation than I’m observing in you at this moment because she’s dependent-free and debt-free. Don’t worry, I’m not going to lecture you about your Audi, your mortgage or your annual cruise habit. Too late to undo those choices – and, you know what? It’s worth every penny, no matter how brutal the exchange rate, to snorkel in Hawaii when it’s minus 30 in Alberta.

By the way: I understand your situation. There won’t be a Hawaii getaway this year; frankly, you’re not sure you’re going to be able to keep on servicing your mortgage, and you’ve got to do something about that hyperventilating. Slow breaths. In and out. I’m not going to prescribe yoga or meditation, by the way – although Melissa does both, and says laying on the floor in the dark breathing deeply is a great way to get past that “I’m-never-going-to-work-again” feeling – but I want you to listen and learn how to rock your layoff, even if you didn’t save your pennies and have three children bleeding you for university tuition this year.

First – remember, I got you to forgive your HR manager? Great. Now, for step two to rocking your layoff, give me some of that anger back. I don’t want you to forgive your company. Hell, no. What I want you to do is start making a list – a meticulous list – of every oil patch company that’s laying off staff. Four columns: Company Name; Number of Layoffs; CEO’s name; CEO’s salary. It’s a vindictive, somewhat sick exercise, but it has a purpose. See, it’s a cyclical thing, and when those companies start hiring? Don’t apply there.

Start a second list: the companies that aren’t laying off. They’re hurting too. Everyone is. Companies that know how to thrive in a cyclical industry explore every single possible strategy, and then some, before letting their people go. They roll back wages, starting at the top. Or they ask people to work reduced weeks, or look at other ways to deal with their balance sheets. Because it is a cyclical thing. It always has been, always will be. The people and companies who are innovative at dealing with the downturns excel at the upswing. Learn who they are. Follow them – go into business with them, invest in them, get them to hire you, and, when fate smiles on you, hire them.

Unfortunately, I think most of the people in the industry – particularly those in the thick middle – don’t know how to handle boom and bust. They overextend and overspend in the good years when the bonuses are high. They upgrade their lifestyles as if that’s the way it’s going to be year after year… and then are shattered and unable to deal with the
thin years.

The cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry is not for everyone. And this is the time to ask yourself – is it for you? If you chose to pursue a career within the oil and gas industry – or within one of its myriad supports – for stability… maybe that wasn’t the best decision. If stability and predictability are important to you – maybe this isn’t the industry (or the province) for you. And there’s never a better time to leave a profession – an industry – than when it’s telling you it doesn’t want you.

Think about it. Hard. Why do you do what you do for a living? Does it make sense? Do you want to keep on doing it – given that it’s a cyclical thing?

Fourth thing. Melissa’s minimalist angst over her situation has a great deal to do with the fact that she’s educated as a geologist and she worked as a geologist – but she is Melissa, world traveller, lifelong learner, dancer, yogi, aspiring entrepreneur, friend, daughter, sister, human. Geologist? It’s what she does (did). It’s not who she is. Who are you, apart from that job you’ve lost?

Fifth thing. I’m not sure for how many years you’ve been bitching that you’re so busy, that you don’t have enough time. Well. Guess what you’ve got now? So much of it. All yours. Use it.

Not to send out 50 resumés a week – for positions you’re overqualified for – at companies that are laying off even as they’re hiring.

Use it to do all the things. You know? Explore your city, your province. Your mind. Your family. Your friends. I know – I’m giving you a platitude here that smacks of New Age positivity. It’s cliché, but it’s true – it’s the right thing to do. It’s a cyclical thing. You will work again, and if you stay in the industry, and this province, you will work again like an exploited workhorse or pre-adolescent child during the Industrial Revolution. And you will bitch about how you have no time to do anything.

You have time now. Use it. Do all the things. Learn stuff. Meet people. Think. Think about your life, your profession, your priorities, your values.

Melissa’s learning Spanish because she’s going to backpack through Central America. And, on a cold September weeknight in Calgary, she’s dancing in a giant sandbox. What are you doing?

Our Experts Recommend

To figure out who you need to be: The Crossroads Between Should and Must, by Elle Luna

To get perspective: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed

To remember we were here before: back issues of The Economist

To get all Zen: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig

2 Responses to How to rock your layoff

  1. CHRIS GROSS says:

    GOOD ADVICE
    SEVERENCE PAY WILL HELP WITH THE EXPLORATION !

  2. Clint Moar says:

    Totally true.
    I spoke to 2 Calgary companies today that are very vulnerable. One is a huge pipe supplier that is down to skeleton crew of 4 workers! Fortunately, my day job employer has been smart in the boom times and we’ve expanded and not solely reliant on the Oil and Gas niche.
    Agreed re: the whole work your ass off but then complain about not having a day job to go too. I fully believe in pursing and learning side gigs or side hustles outside of our day jobs. Hope to find other go getters who want to learn and become self-reliant over at IntrapreneurOnline.com, my side gig.
    Also, rather than laying off, I’ve almost persuaded the boss to HIRE admin people right now as the talent pool is probably excellent. Hire only the best fit though- because there are sure to be some “over qualified’s” who will be happy to jump ship after the cycle.
    Thanks as always Marzena.
    Clint.