Navigating Furloughs and Layoffs: What to Do If It Happens to You

In the tumultuous economic climate, understanding the nuances of job transitions like furloughs and layoffs is paramount for employers and employees. Comprehending the terrain can foster empathy and facilitate smoother transitions.  Here’s some guidance for making the best of difficult situations.

Setting the Scene: Why Empathy Matters Now More Than Ever

The economic aftershocks of the pandemic continue to reverberate. For many families, any income gap can be catastrophic. A sobering stat: According to a Bankrate survey, only 39% of Americans can handle an unexpected $1,000 expense from savings. Many live paycheck-to-paycheck, and unforeseen breaks in employment can lead to financial and emotional stress. It’s not just about losing a job; it’s about the cascading effects on mental health, family stability, and future career potential.

Furloughs: The Hiatus

The Basics: Think of a furlough as a short break from work without pay. The company says, “We’re going through a rough patch, but we value you and hope to see you soon.” You’re still on the team and should keep your benefits.

Real-World Example: Remember the 2018-2019 partial government shutdown? About 800,000 workers were put on a temporary break from their jobs. That’s furlough.

For Employers:

Best Case Scenario: Communicate the reasons and expected duration of the furlough. Ensure employees understand it’s a temporary situation and maintain their benefits. This clarity boosts morale and increases the chances of staff returning when conditions improve.

Worst Case Scenario: Ambiguity around the furlough duration and benefits, leading to anxiety and potential loss of key talent.

For Employees:

Best Case Scenario: Use this period for skill development or personal projects. Stay in touch with HR for updates and remain hopeful about rejoining.

Worst Case Scenario: Neglecting to explore unemployment benefits, disconnecting entirely from the workplace, or prematurely seeking another job without clarity on the furlough status.

Layoffs: The Goodbye

The Basics: Layoffs are like break-ups. The company says, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Most often, it’s a permanent goodbye, and unfortunately, your benefits will end. Reasons behind layoffs typically correspond to a company’s financial status, the amount of work available, or company restructuring. In some situations, former employees who have been laid off are offered the opportunity to return if something changes within the company. Layoffs do not reflect the work quality of the employee, like firings do.

Real World Scenario: An example of a company that followed a best-case scenario for a layoff is Airbnb, which laid off 25% of its workforce in May 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic on its business. The company’s CEO, Brian Chesky, wrote a heartfelt letter to the employees explaining the layoff decision and offering generous severance packages, health insurance coverage, equity vesting, job placement support, and an alums talent directory. He also thanked the laid-off workers for their work and invited them to a virtual farewell event.

For Employers:

Best Case Scenario: Offer a transparent explanation, a fair severance package, counseling, and potential job placement services. Treating departing employees with dignity can maintain a positive company reputation.

Worst Case Scenario: Abrupt layoffs without proper communication, support, or severance, potentially leading to decreased morale among remaining employees and a tarnished company image.

Remember Those Left Behind

It’s not just those who leave; those who remain are affected too. Uncertainty, survivor’s guilt, and an increased workload can be challenging. As leaders, fostering a supportive environment, keeping communication lines open, and addressing concerns head-on can help navigate this phase.

For Employees:

Best Case Scenario: Seek clarity on reasons for the layoff, engage in networking, use company-provided resources, and consider upskilling to re-enter the job market more robustly.

Worst Case Scenario: Failing to gather references, not optimizing the severance package, or letting the situation erode self-confidence without seeking support.

The Aftermath: Shared Responsibility

Both employers and employees bear a shared responsibility during these transitions. The process, though challenging, can be a learning experience for all parties involved. The concerns below are hot topics for anyone going through an employment transition.

  • Unemployment Benefits: Departing employees should apply for these benefits immediately. Each state has different rules, and federal programs might kick in during exceptional circumstances.
  • Financial Re-evaluation: With gaps in income, people need to reevaluate their budget, prioritize essential expenses, and temporarily pause luxuries.
  • Alternative Opportunities: While looking for a full-time role, consider part-time jobs, project or temporary work, freelancing, or even tapping into hobbies to generate income.
  • Emotional Well-being: Losing a job isn’t just about the paycheck. There’s an emotional and psychological toll. Offer access to counseling or helplines, which can make a difference.

Moving Forward

Navigating job transitions requires understanding, patience, and mutual respect. Both employers and employees have roles to play, with each action shaping future professional relationships and personal growth. In this journey, it’s essential to remember that each story, whether of transition or continuity, forms the fabric of our broader professional community.


About Equiliem

Equiliem (www.equiliem.com) believes in empowering success. It’s our job to cultivate relationships that connect people and employers in a way that is inclusive, intelligent, and allows both to thrive. 

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