Mental Health

How to recover from a layoff, according to positive psychology

While corporate layoffs are still below pre-pandemic levels, a wave of high-profile layoffs have left workers understandably anxious.

While corporate layoffs are still below pre-pandemic levels, a wave of high-profile layoffs have left workers understandably anxious. Image: Unsplash/ Brad Barmore

Aimee Pearcy
Author, Quartz
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  • As corporate layoffs impact various sectors, experts reveal how you can reset and recover after being let go from your job.
  • It is important to maintain social connectedness – reach out to others and schedule regular coffee dates or walks with friends, they say.
  • And cultivate your ‘inner advocate’, a voice that reminds you that being laid off is not a determiner of your career, or self-worth.
  • Reaffirm your sense of what you can control by thinking about where you want to be in a year’s time, and then setting goals to help you get there.

While corporate layoffs are still below pre-pandemic levels, a wave of high-profile layoffs have left workers understandably anxious. Since the beginning of 2023, more than 350 tech companies have laid off over 100,000 employees. Layoffs aren’t just hitting the tech industry: We’ve also seen cuts across media, finance, retail, and other sectors. And even if data suggests layoffs may not be as widespread as we think, they are real for those who’ve been let go.

If you’ve been laid off yourself, you’re not alone—and you’re probably still parsing the overwhelm. So how do you recover faster? Try turning to positive psychology, which focuses on strengths to build resilience, well-being, and a sense of meaning in what we do. Here’s how experts say you can use them to reset and recover after your layoff.

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1. Set aside “processing time” with yourself and others

It can be tempting to try and soothe your anxiety by jumping right back in and trying to find another job right away. But it’s important to take a step back and give yourself time to process what happened. Set regular time to do so with yourself—and then reach out to others, too.

Cassie Holmes, professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and author of Happier Hour: How to Spend Your Time for a Better, More Meaningful Life, says you can use processing time to keep up relationships. “Work provides many with an opportunity to socialize. When you’ve lost that source of social connection, it’s important to be proactive in creating another,” she explains.

To maintain a strong sense of connectedness after a layoff, Holmes suggests scheduling regular coffee dates or walks with friends. “Not only will this get you out of the house and outside—another proven mood-booster—but it will allow you to cultivate friendship, which is necessary for emotional well-being,” she says.

2. Cultivate your inner advocate

Being laid off can feel brutally personal, especially if your other co-workers have managed to keep their jobs.

“You may think that your value as an employee is lost, leading you to question your abilities and past performance,” says Jill Cotton, a career trends expert at Glassdoor. “In addition, losing your job is typically accompanied by huge internal and external pressure to find another role quickly.”

Cotton emphasizes the importance of separating the action of being laid off by a company from your worth as an employee. “Every person who has experienced redundancy still has important currency. Still, they need space, time, and a good network of people around them to be reminded of the value they can bring to a future employer,” she says.

Giving yourself space and time to reflect, and relying on your support network, can help you to cultivate what she calls your ‘inner advocate’—a voice that reminds you that being laid off is not a determiner of the rest of your career, or of your self-worth.

“Honest reflection on your skills and focusing on your previous success will help you rebuild the confidence that being laid off can so quickly strip away,” says Cotton.

3. Block out weekly reflection time to figure out what you want from what’s next

Reflecting on your career and analyzing what you liked and didn’t like about your previous roles can help you to figure out your next steps. But you need to spend that reflection time constructively by looking forward, too.

“Often when we reflect on what we want, it’s easy to think, I don’t know what I want to do next,” says Megan Price, a positive psychologist and leadership coach. Instead of focusing on what you don’t know, ground yourself in what you do.

“Focus on the things you do know by reflecting on the entirety of your career, and not just your last role,” Price suggests. “What did they teach you about what you do know about your next move? Did the customer service role you did whilst in college teach you that you love working with people?” An exercise like the 3 x 5 = 3 can help.

Carving out a specific time each week to focus on reflections like these ensures that you make it a priority. Try setting a time limit on your reflections, as this makes it less likely that you’ll get caught up ruminating over what went wrong—which could set you back.

4. Focus on control by setting specific daily, weekly, and monthly goals

Getting laid off from your job is a stark reminder that hard work and good performance don’t guarantee job security—and that can challenge our sense of autonomy.

Reaffirm your sense of what you can control. Dr. Nilu Ahmed, a behavioral psychologist at the University of Bristol, suggests taking some time to think about where you want to be in a year’s time, and then setting no more than three big goals that can help you reach it. After setting these big goals, you can create a list of smaller, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and even daily goals that can help you to reach these objectives.

“If your big goal is a good work-life balance, what are the three main things to get there? It could look like part-time work, getting healthy, and cultivating hobbies,” she says. It’s okay to change your goals if they’re no longer reflective of what you want. Just make sure you have an understanding of why you’re changing them, Ahmed adds, and what you want to work towards instead. Then get specific about the smaller goals that will take you there.

While you’d never expect to feel better overnight, putting positive psychology into practice can help you recover from a layoff more quickly. With them, you can boost both your confidence and well-being—and rev up for your next role.

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Related topics:
Mental HealthBehavioural SciencesFuture of Work
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