Why Does Being Laid Off Feel Like I’ve Done Something Wrong?

Photo credit: Sharayah Bower

As a kid, I distinctly remember the day my stepfather was laid off from the Exide battery plant in Laureldale, PA. This situation put a great amount of stress on my family. I remember fights about money. I remember the money not being there. I remember my stepdad spiraling into depression while my mother tried so desperately to keep him motivated. We got through it somehow, just for it to happen to us over and over again.

My first gig ever was working for a pizza food truck at Maple Grove Raceway when I was 11-years-old. Since then, I have never been without a job when I REALLY needed one. I only left positions when I was ready. On my own terms. I didn’t realize how lucky I was up until now.

As of June 22, 2017, I’ve officially been laid off from my job.

What I’m quickly realizing is that being laid off is a feeling entirely of its own. Unlike the choice to leave or quit a job, your job is taken away from you with little to no notice.

I feel powerless. I feel like a failure. I can’t help but view this entire process as a personal attack on who I am, my work ethic, and my character. I’m angry, scared, and—probably worst of all—uncertain.

While working the final two weeks at my job, I couldn’t help but think I had done something wrong to deserve this. Was I not efficient enough? I thought to myself. Did I not meet their expectations?

Photo credit: Sharayah Bower

But the answer is I was completely efficient. I did meet their expectations, AND I exceeded them. Yet, here I am still being laid off. Here I am worrying about how I’m going to pay my bills next month. I’m left wondering, When will my next job offer be? What will this gap in employment do to my resume? Does being laid off make me look bad to other employers? How can I survive on unemployment when my regular paychecks were hardly enough to get by? How am I going to do this? How did my family get through this? How have other people gotten through this?

What is also frustrating is how I’ve only been employed with this current company since March. That’s four months. When I was being interviewed for this position, I had other job offers. I chose to trust this place in the same way they chose to trust me. When hired, I was offered health benefits. I was provided 401K paperwork. I had my own desk where I can hang up personal pictures. I was made to believe that I could not only settle in, but that this would be a place where I could grow. But in one 15 minute conversation, all of that security and comfort was taken away.

I cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to work for a company for years, just to be laid off. While being laid off is clearly different from being fired, it still feels like an injustice. It still feels wrong.

When reflecting on my current situation, I do want those who run businesses to be careful and thorough about who they hire. Before changing someone’s life by offering him/her a position, really look into your budget to make sure you can keep on this newly hired individual. Because taking jobs away from people is not fair, and it does not make your company look good.

I take job review websites such as Glassdoor,  Indeed, and Vault into serious consideration when looking at any given job listing. I always weigh in what people have to say about their company. I think these are valuable resources for real people from real people. If you haven’t referred to these websites yet, I highly recommend that you do. They are great platforms to share both your positive and negative experiences about your previous and current companies in an effort to help others who are in the job market. These reviews are anonymous, so you don’t have to worry about confidentiality issues if you decide to write a review of your own. This is one way I can think of that the people hold businesses accountable for how they treat their employees.

I’m aware that not everything can be predicted in terms of financial successes, but then I believe businesses should really take the extra steps to figure out if they can afford to take on another employee or not–or list the position as “temporary to hire” or just as “temporary.” I believe it is important to be honest and upfront about any given position, so that the person applying is completely aware of the situation and can plan accordingly.

Thankfully there are federal laws in place to protect people from mass layoffs. There are also laws in place to protect working people such as:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits companies from making employment decisions based on race, religion, sex (but not sexual orientation), pregnancy or national origin

Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disability Act of 1990, which prohibit employment discrimination against those with disabilities.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which protects workers 40 and older.
The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, which covers workers over 40 caught in a group layoff. The law gives you extra time to consider any severance waiver your employer offers and a week to change your mind after signing a waiver.

I’m thankful for the people who fought for these rights. I’m glad that people are protected by these laws. But these laws do not protect everyone from the consequences of being laid off. Clearly, there need to be reforms and new laws regarding layoffs. First, people should not be discriminated based on their sexual orientation. Another idea I have in regards to reform would be that a worker can’t be laid off until he/she has found a new position. I also think that everyone who is laid off should be offered a form of a severance package, so they would be able to adjust better. A few changes like these would make the process a little less devastating.

I’m lucky that my significant other has income, or I would be in a more dangerous situation. I’m lucky that I already have job prospects. I’m lucky that people who love me wouldn’t see me homeless or starving. But what about the people who are laid off who are not as lucky as me?

For now, all I can do is what is in my control. I’m going to apply to jobs. I’m going to keep busy and stay positive. For anyone who is also unemployed, or becomes unemployed in the future, I found helpful advice in this article from the Harvard Business Review called “How to Bounce Back After Getting Laid Off.” Being laid off is undeniably a stressful and frustrating situation. I remember when my stepfather’s layoff challenged my family, and now I experiencing this challenge as a woman. To my fellow job hunters, please stay strong, stay positive, and keep on pushing forward. You’re not alone. Always know your worth. And to my audience who are business owners, please be respectful towards your employees because they are the ones that make your business a reality and your success possible.

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About Sharayah Bower 12 Articles
Sharayah Bower is a Kutztown University alumni with a Master's degree in English. She has focused closely on African American and Indigenous feminine texts and plans to pursue a PhD program where she can further her studying, knowledge, and awareness about these cultures and their contemporary issues (especially those regarding gender and rape culture). In the near future, she intends to teach English and Composition by focusing closely on narrative writing as an attempt to more effectively educate others about--and counter--rape culture. She also enjoys tutoring others with their writing because it has only helped to improve her own.