Before being laid off, my understanding of layoffs was something that happened to other people and often an experience that could only be described as demoralizing. Never did I think it would happen to my company on the very first month I started a new position.
I remembered having a team meeting where the head of our department said they needed to cut costs but assured us that our department would not be affected. Every year since I joined the company, there was some sort of conversation about it going through a transformation. Year after year, my position was saved. So I thought I was saved forever since my team and I were a "family." However, one day it was my turn on the chopping block, but little did I know, it would be the best thing to happen to me.
It was a whatever day in late summer of 2021. Whatever days happened often during the pandemic, when time and days seemed to blur together. I checked my work email anxiously in the morning as I always did. Anxious, because email was a reminder that I could have let someone down or forgot something.
Unfortunately, my anxiety was met with an email from a top executive in my department asking to meet later that day with an HR representative.
For a naïve moment, I thought, maybe they wanted to discuss some ideas I have for the future of remote work at the company. I even got excited! They had been sending surveys about remote work months earlier. Seconds later, I realized that the meeting invite was very vague and felt very familiar. I immediately felt in my gut that something was wrong and that I was going to be fired.
You see, I had been on the other side of those types of meetings. My job required investigations and employee interviews to research issues brought up to our department. When it was time to interview employees for possible ethics or compliance issues, often the calendar invites we sent were very vague, so I knew the language.
As expected, I was informed that I was going to be laid off as part of a company reorganization. I was assured none of this was personal – “It has nothing to do with your performance,” “We will give you a severance package,” and “We are here for you in this transition.” All the usual useless words I imagine are said in this type of situation.
I acted graciously and calmly during the meeting while waiting to panic privately. But the panic never came. It was more a feeling of relief and numbness. I even thought about my mom’s visit in a couple of weeks and thought: Great, now I can dedicate all my time to her. I thought about my upcoming vacation and how I could now extend it if I wanted to. I thought about how I was not going to miss the company for the most part. I thought how strange it was that the last time I saw the office and my coworkers in person was in March 2020.
The layoff reminded me that I had been ready to leave since 2019 and I hadn’t had the courage to act on it. Then the pandemic happened, and the work kept me busy but my mental health was deteriorating.
I was trying to survive just like everyone else. All my mind could focus on was avoiding death by a virus. I also had experienced the deaths of both my grandfathers in the last two years. I couldn’t even attend their funeral services because of the pandemic. The grief inside of me felt unbearable at times. So much pain had to be put on hold to answer emails, finish reports and have meetings about things I couldn’t care less about. I was even asked a day after coming back from bereavement leave (with only four days to grieve) why I hadn’t finished X project by X deadline. I wanted to scream because I had a loved one that just died, and no one seemed to remember or care. To summarize, the layoff came at a breaking point in my life.
Since then, I have learned so much during my hiatus from corporate life. I learned that I was disposable…not because I am worthless, but because of the backward values of corporate America. I learned that I don’t need to “bounce back” from a layoff and gave myself permission to go through the motions. I learned that I am not defined by my job or career. I have had time to pause and think about my values and reassess my priorities with intention. I have dedicated more time to therapy and taking care of my mental health. And I was able to grieve my losses in a humane way. Most importantly, I learned firsthand how toxic the corporate mantra of “we are all family” was to my mental health. I realized that my real family is at home with my partner, my parents, my friends and not in the office.
I recognize that I have had so much privilege in being able to attend to my mental health – thanks to a severance package, savings account, a therapist, and my partner. I also recognize that the layoff was the best thing that could have ever happened to my mental health. It gave me back my sanity. Reframing my mindset around what a layoff meant for my life allowed me to heal from the harsh realities of corporate America.