Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the
January 2, 2002 edition of U.S.
1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Legacy of a Layoff: Bittersweet Memories
Most people underestimate the effect of a
says Rachel Weitzenkorn, the coordinator of Project ReEmployment,
which is offered through the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of
Greater Mercer County (609-987-8100). This workshop, where
are required to attend all four half-day sessions, is designed to
get people through all of this while helping them set up a game plan
for finding a good, new job.
Weitzenkorn says the effects of job loss can include isolation,
anger, and grief, along with financial distress and family upset (U.S.
1, August 8, 2001). I can attest to the truth of her statement. While
I still don’t fully understand why, I do know that even the arrival
of a welcome pink slip can precipitate a blue funk.
The call came early on a Monday morning in December, 2000, just as
I was settling in for a day’s work in my home office. An employee
of a dot-com that reported on business news in the high tech, mostly
Internet, sector, I was just getting started on a quarterly summary
of top tech companies in New York City and Philadelphia. These
had become increasingly hard to find during the eight months I
on them. Stock prices were being quoted in pennies, and every week
brought the cancellation of three or four IPO offerings. The CEO of
one of the top Internet sites catering to brides had told me months
before that he was sure no consumer-oriented Internet company would
go public again — not ever.
Even before I picked up the phone, I suspected what the news would
be. The caller ID announced the Florida number of my company’s
where the top executives and the IT guys worked. The rest of us —
editors and reporters — worked from home offices and knew each
other mostly through Instant Messaging. The voice on the other end
of the line confirmed my hunch. It was the online publication’s top
editor, my big boss. There had been some talk that I would start a
New Jersey beat, and for a nanosecond I thought maybe that was what
he was calling to discuss. But no, I really knew.
The exact words my editor, a decent man and a good boss, used were
a blur. My impression was that he was having a much harder time with
the call than I was. His message, transparently rehearsed, almost
certainly with a lawyer, was clear enough: Stop typing this second.
You have been laid off.
In the flurry of E-mails and Instant Messages that followed, I learned
that reporters and editors around the country were getting the same
call. Most, incredibly enough, were surprised, something I found hard
to understand given that our jobs were to report on dot-coms,
very much like ours. And for months the news had been unremittingly
Others were angry. They had been lied to! Misled! Well, yes, there
had been statements to the effect that more venture capital money
— enough to carry us to profitability — was due to roll in
any minute. Strange, I thought, that any of them, a pretty good bunch
of news people overall, had believed those statements to be anything
more than wishful thinking.
Me, I was neither surprised nor angry, or even unhappy. Quite the
opposite. In Christmas cards mailed just two days before the mass
lay-off, I had told friends I was quite sure I would be free to get
together with them soon. I expected to be laid off before New Year’s.
Getting a virtual pink slip a week before my older son was due home
for the holidays and my husband was scheduled to take vacation was
a bonus. On top of that, I was given far more severance pay than I
ever would have expected, and I was in the early stages of talking
about taking an excellent new job. (This one.)
The dot-com job, which had tied me to a desk in my home office from
before 8 a.m. until at least 6:30 p.m. had proved to be way too
for my taste. There had been talk, early on, of renting a satellite
office in Manhattan where I could work off and on. There had been
talk of staffing up so that I, and my reporting partner, who lived
in Brooklyn, could get out in the field to do face-to-face interviews.
But dwindling capital made it necessary for us to stick close to our
desks, turning out news stories based on telephone interviews as fast
as we could to fill up the site.
So, to review, I didn’t particularly like the job, knew a layoff had
to be coming, had a good shot at a better job, knew a good-sized
check was on the way, and was looking forward to time off at the
Elation would have been the proper reaction to that call from Florida.
But here is the odd part. I was depressed.
For me, a brisk walk through Manhattan — all around Central Park
and then down through Chelsea, the far west Village, Soho, and Tribeca
— is a sure cure for a little depression. I headed there on the
day after the Florida phone call. Instead of its usual magic, all
Manhattan held for me was streets full of purposeful people. Every
one of them heading for work, or so it seemed. I was the only person
on earth who did not have a job!
What nonsense, what rubbish, I kept telling myself.
But the internal lectures did not work. All through that day, and
on the three days that followed, I was inexplicably down. The weekend
brought relief. Come Saturday, I was part of a normal group of
loafers, not the only person on the street with nowhere to go.
Given my reaction to an absolutely welcome lay-off, imagine what
clients are going through. "Most of the individuals we see are
being downsized from major companies," she says. "They had
been working for their companies for 10, 15 years. They come to us
asking, `What do I do now?’"
Class size in Project ReEmployment ranges from five to 20.
tend to be corporate employees. "We had a vice president last
time," says Weitzenkorn, who has been running the programs for
one year. Right now, a number of IT professionals are coming in.
often feature guest speakers, including representatives from local
corporations, experts on budgeting, counselors from temporary
firms, and job search advisors from area colleges. Discussion is
and participants often pick up leads, search strategies, and tips
on coping with family and financial concerns from one another. Some
classes become close, and form a sort of alumni group to keep the
communication going after the sessions end.
Weitzenkorn also is available after the formal program to provide
counseling. Among her advice to job seekers — and their
it is normal to grieve. Most people, told they are no longer needed
at their jobs, are going to go through a process that is very much
like grieving the loss of a family member or close friend. "There
is shock, anger, depression, guilt," Weitzenkorn says. No serious
job search can begin until these emotions are out of the way, she
says. It may take a month, or six months. There are people who are
still unable to come to grips with the loss after a year. If working
through the emotions surrounding a lay-off takes this long, however,
counseling may be in order. Some of her advice:
when they lose a job," says Weitzenkorn. "It’s so
A natural reaction is to hide out, but that is precisely the worst
thing to do when a good new job is the goal. "Almost everyone
gets a job through networking," she says. Try to swallow hard,
realize that the stigma once attached to a lay-off is now gone, and
tell absolutely everyone that you are looking for a good employment
"We teach people how to say this," says Weitzenkorn. While
many ex-execs choke on announcing to near-strangers that they need
a job, saying something like, "`I’m interested in getting into
export logistics, do you know anyone in the field I might be able
to talk to?’" can be much easier. Remember that people, almost
universally, enjoy helping if they themselves do not feel pressured.
newly-laid-off to accept, for a good number of people the event is
a positive career milestone. Weitzenkorn has seen a number of
employees, who, while missing their paychecks, are happy to be freed
from jobs they didn’t like all that well. Many decide a change is
in order. Work at a non-profit looks attractive to some clients, and
teaching is gaining in popularity among mathematicians and scientists.
an income right away to keep up on their financial obligations. To
help out, Project ReEmployment brings in credit counselors to teach
budgeting. "When we ask new participants if they are interested
in a course on budgeting, they say no," says Weitzenkorn. "But
that is one of our most popular classes. People always stay around
to ask questions." Project ReEmployment also brings in reps from
staffing agencies to discuss short term employment possibilities to
help keep the mortgage money flowing while the search for a good,
permanent job is in the works.
Families need to listen, and go easy on advice to their unemployed
relative, says Weitzenkorn. Coping with an empty mailbox weeks after
sending out 200 resumes is a strain. Putting yourself on the line
at interviews where the other candidate gets the nod is demoralizing.
At home, the lay-off victim needs support.
is a jolt, especially in a society where the first question we ask
one another invariably is: "So, what do you do for a living?"
An aim of Project ReEmployment is to show the unemployed that lots
of people are hunting for their next jobs, and that the experience,
painful though it may be, is often a stepping stone to a better job
— and maybe a better life. That’s the way it worked out for me.
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
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