Getting Laid Off for the First Time: What I Learned from the Experience

Laid Off (Fake demotivational poster). Source: first time (getting laid off)

It was nearly ten years ago when it happened.

I was young, just barely into my 20s, and I was studying at college as a full-time student. I was living on my own, and I had a car, so I had quite a few bills to pay.

I worked at a transportation company as a general contractor, helping them unload the delivery trucks, load other trucks, and sort parcels to different destinations. My schedule was from 5ish to near midnight, depending on how busy we were, and I probably did something like 25 to 30 hours a week, clearing about $250 a week after taxes. It was a physically demanding job, and it didn’t pay that much above minimum wage, but it was a great way to make money for a student trying to pay his bills!

It was also a little dangerous, with heavy boxes and my crazy coworker driving the forklift around, and it was also a little uncomfortable, with hot steaming temperatures in the summer, and ice-cold temperatures in the winter (personally, I preferred the heat). I don’t know how I kept up the schedule when now I feel so tired after just a regular workday at the office, but I think the physical activity helped out. Anyways, I somehow managed it!

Working on contract

This was the second time I was working for them, and they had specifically asked for me since I had done a good job for them the last time around. I was on good terms with my coworkers, and with the foreman as well. I thought everything was going well, and I was happy to have the regular paycheck in exchange for some work. I felt comfortable and secure in my position.

However, things started to change over time. A new manager took over the branch, and then there were little changes here and there. One day, I saw my foreman working on a new conveyor system to move boxes from one place to another, and a coworker warned me that he had heard rumours that all of the contractors were going to be fired very soon.

You’re no longer needed around here

I heard what my coworker was saying, but I somehow didn’t process it. I felt that I was a good employee, and that I had been doing a good job. I felt like I was part of the team and deserved my position there, even if I was a contractor. They wouldn’t have called me back if I wasn’t a good employee, right?

Well, good employee or not, at the end of the day on Friday, I was called into the boss’s office and was told that my job was finished and that I wouldn’t be returning on Monday. I was fired, just like that. I was a contractor with an manpower agency, so they were fully within their rights to do that, without severance or anything else.

I took it personally at the time. I peeled out of the parking lot and had a hard time sleeping that night. I was so pissed that I could just be brushed into the street so easily. I wondered what I was going to do for money. It wasn’t even that great of a job, but it was paying the bills and I had made friends there. I felt like I had been punched in the face.

What I learned from the experience

Lesson #1: Pay attention to what’s being said between the lines

A company’s first responsibility is to its owners and shareholders (which is appropriate), but that also means that employees are often the last to know about anything, at least through official channels. Managers are reluctant to give out information for fear that they could damage the company’s interests (or violate various laws regarding insider trading and stuff like that).

However, there is a second source of information: the grapevine. If you pay attention to what’s being said between the lines, as well as to people’s emotions and moods, you can learn a lot that you won’t find out through the official channels. This information needs to also be taken with a grain (or many grains) of salt since it can’t be authenticated, but I would have been better prepared had I heeded my coworker’s warning and prepared for another job in advance.

Lesson #2: A job is not a right

Part of the reason I was so offended when I was laid off is that I somehow felt that I had the right to be there. I was doing a good job, and they had even called me back, so what right did they have to just toss me out like that? Wasn’t I part of the team? I took getting laid off so personally, because I saw it as a personal affront against my character.

I’ve since learned to see things in a somewhat different light. A job is really a mutual agreement between two parties, and it’s not something that either party can guarantee forever. I can quit any time as an employee, right? Well, in the same way, my job could also “quit” on me, and I need to be prepared for that. It doesn’t mean that it’s personal, even if it does hurt.

Instead of feeling bitter, I’ve realized that it’s more productive to look at what I can learn from the experience and grow as a person. A layoff may be just a step on the road to better things.

Lesson #3: Better things may be just around the corner.

A few months later, I was working for another company, making a higher hourly wage and working weekends only. There was paid overtime, and I was often able to do one or two 12-hour shifts on the weekend, pulling in more money than I was making at my previous job, and in less time, too. Since I was now in university, the new schedule really benefited me since I now had night classes, too. If I had still been at my old job, I would have had to quit anyways!

The extra income with the new job also helped to bridge the gap until I was doing my first paid internship. It was one step on the road to a brighter future.

So, reader, have you ever been laid off before? The first time was an unpleasant experience for me, but it was actually one of the best things for me in hindsight. My next job was much better for my schedule, and though I was bitter at the time, I learned from the experience, and things worked out in the end!

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  1. says

    The grapevine in my warehouse is about the only way I find out about anything at all, and lucky for me I made friends with a guy who is somehow always the first to know. That’s this time around, though, because wouldn’t you know it, I *have* been laid off. From the same place. And somehow didn’t see it coming.

    Like you, I was working through a temp agency, at the same place I am now. Receiving was slammed, they brought me in, 3 months later we found ourselves with plenty of time to play football across the docks. *boot* out the door I go. Even though I was consistently at the top of the productivity chart, I was the temp. Three months later, though, I got a call from the receiving supervisor. Someone sliced their arm up and then pissed hot, so there was a position available! And here I am, 2.5 years later, still working in the same miserable place. Since I’m not only an employee, but a *seasoned* employee (our turnover’s a tidbit high), as long as I don’t screw up there are a lot of people who would go before me if we have another round of layoffs (unlikely, since we’re consistently understaffed now).

    • says

      Hi Jake,

      That doesn’t sound too fun! Sometimes I think that being “valuable” can be a downside, because a layoff would give you the chance to start fresh. I wouldn’t have minded getting one year severance like many fellow colleagues. Instead I was too useful to be canned. 😉

      I know what you mean about the temps, having been there myself and having worked with them at other companies. It’s true that they often get crapped on and are the first to go. I think it’s good to have experience from both sides of the aisle. A miserable place should be escaped from if possible … what is your escape plan?

      • says

        Yeah, a layoff would definitely be a chance at a fresh start. I’ve been saying over and over again that it could be the best thing to happen to me, if it were to happen, just due to necessity being the mother of invention.

        As far as escape plan, I was thinking Office Space style – burn the MF down.

        No, actually, I’m slowly building my online empire. When that makes me enough money to live in a tent in the woods, it’s time to quit my job and expand my empire. Hopefully when I’m out of debt, too.

  2. says

    I have never been laid off yet but I expect it to happen one of these days. There’s a first time for everything. I do keep a small emergency fund which would help me weather any sudden drop in income.

  3. says

    Hi Kevin,

    I’ve never been laid off, but I experienced enough craziness at my last job to understand the importance of minding your OWN business, as in the business of making sure that no one can ever jack your income away from you!

  4. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog says

    a job is not a right indeed – you got that right. companies are running a business, as we are running our own either as employees or business owners. i have always advocated for having a safety net to rely on, however small or large (hence a side gig). for many however, getting laid off is a big blessing in disguise as the next job is often better and higher paying – at least from the personal stories i have heard in my circle. interesting how it happens and eventually all works out in the end

    • says

      I definitely agree in the side gig and even having a bit drastically increases your sense of security, because with that and an emergency fund you know you won’t be out on the street.

  5. says

    I would add that you can make yourself invaluable. Ask for more work, do extra things and make the employer need you. It may not save your lay off, but they might think of you for something else.

    • says

      Sometimes that actually backfires if the layoff includes a nice severance that would make it much easier to start something new. So I would add make yourself invaluable, but make sure the employer is willing to recognize that too and has the ability to do so. Unfortunately when the ship is sinking, the lucky ones are sometimes the ones that get out first!

      However, if your company does turn around, then not getting laid off can be really good because then the hierarchy is blown wide open and you can advance much more easily! So, it depends.

  6. says

    Great examples. Yes, letting go of the entitlement is hard, especially when you’ve been at a company a long time and have been loyal to them. It’s easy to feel betrayed when that loyalty isn’t reciprocated indefinitely.

    Most younger people I know are in better jobs now than they were before the layoffs. Theoretically the company you’re working for that is hiring, is doing a lot better than the one that was firing, so it’s got to be a better place right?

    • says

      I agree about the feelings of betrayal. I don’t think we should be expecting that loyalty, at least not to the same degree like those a generation before might have been used to. Good point too how it’s not such a bad thing if you look at it like escaping from a sinking ship, and joining a rising star.

  7. says

    Yep, good lessons. From the other side of the fence, a lot of layoffs simply are because the function you are performing is no longer needed….nothing personal – but everyone,,everyone takes it personally – how can you not?

    • says

      It definitely feels personal when it happens, but it depends. I know that nobody complained (much) when they got laid off at my current place and got a one year package. 😉

  8. says

    Great post Kevin :)

    Sorry to hear you got laid off.. but you’re probably working at a WAY better job now and not making $250 a week busting your butt 😉

    I got laid off sort of…

    I was in a TEMP position over the holidays at Jacob and then they didn’t tell me they didn’t want to continue me on for the rest of the year. It was embarassing because I was trying to use the staff discount for a friend but they said I didn’t work there anymore hah..

    • says

      Ouch! I think I remember you talking about that before! I am working at a better place now, but in a way everything is relative. We’ll see what comes in the new year. :)

  9. says

    Getting laid off sometimes opens the door to other opportunities. I was laid off in my previous life, and as it turned out, it was a very good thing for us.

    • says

      I think people are more afraid of getting laid off than they should be. I was like that, myself. In many ways it’s a positive change and leads to good things down the road… if you can adapt and are prepared to do so.

  10. says

    Great lessons!

    I hope this doesn’t happen to me, but you never, ever know!

    Like Mich, this is why we want a small emergency fund and we want to build up our dividend income, at least we can live off some of that if bad things happen.

    This article is definitely going in my weekend reading roundup :)

    • says

      Thanks, Mark!

      I agree with you and Mich on the emergency fund (I don’t think it needs to be too large, but something is definitely helpful), and especially side/passive income. Anything that isn’t tied to you showing up at your desk is great to have.

  11. says

    I’ve never worked for anyone else in my life. Ever since I was 10, I wanted to work for myself. I guess that’s because of my personality. I hate letting others control my fate and having them watch over my shoulder all the time.

    • says

      Interesting! What do you do for work & income? I am always interested in learning more from people who have made it on their own.

  12. says

    This is something I hope I never have to experience. It looks like you learned a lot from it. I would agree with you that listening to what’s coming through the grapevine and paying attention to the mood around the office is a good way to gauge the possibility of a shift.

    • says

      @Yakezie Well, LiveFyre duplicated some comments by mistake. 😉 It feels very different when you are the one “laying off” the company, and letting *them* go instead.

  13. says

    I cannot imagine what its like to be laid off. I have never had the experience myself. But I know many others who have. The thing about being laid off or fired from a job must be gilt thinking that it was in some way your fault. When if fact it was most likely not. I know a guy at work he had a job with a family owned bank for 25 years and was laid off from his job after all those years. The family lost control of their bank and the new managment did not think he fit in so they let him go.


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