I felt LT's comments were noteworthy because she said that she guided her family through 3 layoffs without touching savings, a real achievement. Today is going to be her experiences with the layoffs, while tomorrow will focus on her financial tips for surviving it.
CJ: Can you talk a little bit about your experience?
LT: We’ve been through three layoffs. The first one was at a “big pharma,” the second was at a biotech and the third was at a contract research organization. They’ve spanned a 14 year period, so we’ve been at very different stages as a family and the circumstances surrounding each were quite different as well.
The first time we found ourselves unemployed, we had two small children (preschool and elementary school) and I wasn’t working. Both my husband and I have PhD’s so we had the typical “two-body” problem finding jobs. I opted to take some time with our children when he landed the big pharma job. I did work for a while during those few years, but between my commute and daycare for two children, financially, I was making about what I did as a TA in grad school, so I decided to step away from my visiting assistant professor gig to devote time to our children.
His employer announced that the company was going to be purchased by another company. Not knowing how everything worked in those circumstances, he assumed everything would be ok, since at one of their meetings, upper management said they’d be “shocked” if massive layoffs occurred. Well, a few months later he was out of work, along with lots of other folks!
BUT, he received a good severance and a bonus for staying on during the takeover. The company offered outsourcing services that he took advantage of. He was employed within four months and moved away to start his new position. I held down the fort for a couple of months so our oldest could finish school, took care of selling the house, and moved the two kids and I to our new home several hundred miles away. I took some time to get us settled, but I was determined to get a job because it didn’t seem fair for him to have the burden of supporting our family alone.
The second time unemployment hit, my husband was working for a small biotech company. He went into work after the Christmas holiday and was told he was out of work--no severance, no nothing. This happened in [early] 2009. The economy couldn’t have been worse. The one good thing in all of this was that I was employed at [redacted] on the tenure track. I had health insurance. Our kids were now in middle and high school. It took a full year for my husband to find a job. Unfortunately, the job was on the [redacted] coast, and my job was on the [redacted] coast. For over three years, we lived with 3,000 miles between us. My husband did not get a great feeling that his new employer was going to provide a stable work situation. We didn’t want to sell our house at a loss, move across the country, have me lose a fairly reliable job (I wasn’t tenured at the time) and end up with both of us unemployed and away from our families.
The third layoff happened in April of this year, so his intuition served us well. The severance was minimal (less than a month of pay.) Most of it went to moving expenses to bring him home. He was given a limited number of hours to work with a resume writer, which was helpful. We now have one child in college and one in high school. I am pleased to say that he will be starting a new job soon, within commuting distance of our home.
CJ: What would you recommend to people new to the situation? What would you recommend that they NOT do?
LT: Realize you are not alone. Being a scientist in industry, especially the pharmaceutical sector, is a cruel profession.
What should you do?
- Apply for unemployment as soon as you can.
- Look at your monthly bills and quickly eliminate anything that is not necessary.
- If your children are old enough to understand, tell them what’s happening.
- If your spouse or partner has health insurance, make sure everyone is covered under that policy. COBRA is too expensive!
- During the 2009 stretch of unemployment, I lowered my monthly 401K contributions and I changed my state and federal withholding. I wanted to maximize my monthly paycheck.
- Pretend that nothing has changed or try to hide what’s happened at work from your children and extended family.
The Layoff Project is an attempt to collect the oral histories of chemists who have been affected by the changes in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The explanatory post is here; stories can be left in the comments or e-mailed to chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com. Confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed.