Monday, November 21, 2011

The Layoff Project: "It was very hard to shake off the sense of anger and betrayal."

TK is a PhD chemist who worked for (and was separated from) a major CRO. Their story is below:

What should you do the first week? Should you take a break? Jump right in to finding a new job?  
It depends. I found I was too depressed/shell-shocked/angry to do any useful job-hunting the next day. I didn’t start seriously applying until a week later, by which time I had calmed down a bit, and was sufficiently positive to start looking for work again. I’ve seen some articles which advise taking up to three weeks before launching into your job search. I think most people might find that a bit long.

How can your family and friends help? 
Family and friends were, on the whole very supportive. My ex-boss-but-one (not the one who had laid me off) took me out for a meal and was very sympathetic/encouraging. My wife, who had been working part-time, was able to get full time work with her employer, and this helped enormously. On the other hand, there were a couple of ex-colleagues who I had thought I could count on for references who simply ignored my e-mails – not even a polite refusal. I found this quite hurtful, and still don’t understand it.

My advice to family and friends is to try to be sensitive. For example, a fellow foreign national told me he didn’t think I would be eligible for unemployment benefit as I wasn’t a citizen, which caused me considerable distress until I was able to find out that I was, in fact, entitled. One’s perspective on life changes drastically just after being made redundant, and unless you’ve been in the same situation yourself, you might not realize the impact of what under other circumstances would be harmless remarks.

Was the help the company offered you (outplacement, etc.) useful?
I didn’t get any help whatever from my former employer finding new work. They didn’t even advise me of my rights regarding unemployment benefit. As a foreign national, this advice would have been useful to me. I received 6 weeks severance (I’d been with the company about 8 years so considered this a little ungenerous, but severance pay is entirely at the company’s discretion), and 18 months health insurance through COBRA, though in the event I opted for coverage through my wife’s employer.

They made me sign a form agreeing not to seek employment with them again, which I thought was quite unnecessary. My lay-off was tied in with the appraisal system, which I also thought was a particularly cruel way of doing things, as it made it needlessly personal. My previous 7 years’ evaluations had been satisfactory or better, and my first poor evaluation led to my dismissal. I felt the evaluation had been rigged in order to legitimize my termination. None of my achievements for the year were mentioned, only things I had done wrong. I was not the only employee to be treated this way.

What financial advice can you offer? What should/did you do? What should you NOT do?
Apply for unemployment benefit as soon as you can. As long as you have a green card, and meet certain minimum specifications regarding length of employment and wages earned (your state department of employment will have a website with this information), then you are entitled to unemployment benefit.
I panicked when I lost my job, and accepted a very poorly paid position with an unscrupulous employment agency 3 weeks after being laid off, thinking I would be able to quit once my severance pay ran out, and claim unemployment benefit. In the event, I found that voluntarily quitting this position had disqualified me from claiming benefit, so file this under something NOT to do. Fortunately I was able to find a temporary position to tide me over, and was able to claim benefit once this ended.

One of the very first things we did was sit down and work out our monthly outgoings, to see what could be reduced. We cut our cable bill substantially, cancelled any non-essential subscriptions, and started drinking Franzia boxed wine, thereby cutting our monthly alcohol bill by 75%. It certainly helped that we didn’t have school-age children. Life would have been much harder, financially and emotionally if we had.

When did you start looking for another position? 
One week after being laid off.

How painful was finding another position? What should someone be emotionally prepared for?
It was difficult. I ended up making 400 applications before getting another permanent (I hesitate to use that word these days) position. I had 23 phone interviews, and 9 on-site interviews. I had to relocate, but did not have to take a pay cut.

Emotionally, it was a real roller-coaster. I experienced a whole range of emotions: a mixture of shock and relief at being laid off (I had not been happy in my last 18 months with the company), guilt (could I have tried harder not to be laid off?) depression (is this the end of my career as a chemist? Will I ever work again?) anger (why did I get laid off, when there were other people who I thought deserved it more than I did?) Fortunately, when I was down, my wife was usually up-beat, and vice-versa. The worst phase was nine months after my lay-off, in the winter of 2009, still not having found work although many of my ex-colleagues had been able to do so. It really started to feel personal by this stage. I decided to visit my parents in the UK for five weeks, and this helped.

Also, it was very hard to shake off the sense of anger and betrayal. I still haven’t completely managed this. My advice to anyone else in this situation is to try to let go of the past as soon as you can (though be prepared for the fact that this may not be easy).

How did you spend your typical day? What behaviors do you think were helpful or not helpful?
During my first period claiming benefit, I did voluntary unpaid research work at the local university. On the plus side, it kept me doing organic chemistry, and got me out of the house. On the minus side, I relied on other members of the department to order basic materials (such as dry-ice) for me, as I didn’t have my own account. I was alone in the lab most of the time, and this was not good for me at that stage, as it gave me too much opportunity to dwell on my precarious economic position. During this time, I applied for jobs on a Friday and at weekends. The ACS website, monsterjobs and indeed.com were probably my three main sources.

Helpful behaviours: maintain a routine. Try to keep the same hours as you did when you were working. Applying for jobs is not a full-time job, so keep yourself occupied with anything you can to maintain a positive frame of mind. I helped out more around the house with cooking and gardening. I did some reading.

Have you found new work? What was helpful there?
I have finally found work. We moved states, and have just moved into our new house. Whilst I was looking for work, I frequently heard the advice that networking was the way to find your next job (personally the term makes me cringe, but I know many people swear by it). Many of my friends found work this way, but it didn’t work for me. With me it turned out to be simply a combination of perseverance and luck.

I got the job here because I had the right combination of experience and qualifications, and I got on well with the people who interviewed me. In several of my previous interviews, I knew pretty early on that things were not going well: I didn’t “hit it off” with my interviewers. That relationship is just as important as your qualifications and experience, and is something that can’t be forced. You either get along or you don’t.

CJ here again. Thanks for TK for their story and best wishes to all of us.

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. 

12 comments:

  1. TK, your experience seems closely similar to mine and some of my colleagues.
    I'm glad you found something new and purposeful. Good luck.

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  2. While reading your story, I felt that someone else had written what I went through emotinally when I was laid off.
    Good Luck with your new job.

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  3. My advice to anyone being laid off is to not sign anything before exiting unless they are (legally)holding your severance hostage. They will try anything to avoid paying out unemployment. I had a temp position in 2008 which was not extended, and the company tried to deny me UI claiming it was a voluntary separation. Fortunately I was able to make it clear to the state employment dept that the position I held had ceased to exist, which was a valid reason on the application form.

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  4. My advice to anyone being laid off is to not sign anything before exiting unless they are (legally)holding your severance hostage. They will try anything to avoid paying out unemployment.

    When we were let go, the paperwork explicitly said that refusal to sign the document signified turning down the severance package. They gave us a month to read it over and return it.

    The unemployment thing I think varies from situation to situation. Most large corporations aren't going to play games with this. Our HR encouraged us to apply for unemployment immediately, which was good because I assumed I wasn't eligible while receiving severance pay.

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  5. "On the other hand, there were a couple of ex-colleagues who I had thought I could count on for references who simply ignored my e-mails – not even a polite refusal. I found this quite hurtful, and still don’t understand it."

    Their hands may have been tied by HR policy. Some companies have policies that employees cannot write letters of recommendation as such letters can be used in lawsuits regarding wrongful termination or inability to get another position due to the letter.

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  6. It sounds like TK's getting canned (please, let's just call it what it is. A layoff implies there's a possibility the employee will be rehired. Has anyone "laid-off" from a biopharma company ever been rehired?) was what he wanted: cf. "I had not been happy in my last 18 months with the company" plus "My previous 7 years’ evaluations had been satisfactory or better, and my first poor evaluation led to my dismissal".

    It can be tough to really put in a good effort at a job you don't like. Hopefully TK's new situation is happier.

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  7. "Has anyone "laid-off" from a biopharma company ever been rehired?"

    Many have. However those 'lucky' people usually are hired through M&A.

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  8. "there were a couple of ex-colleagues who I had thought I could count on for references who simply ignored.."

    You can never count on your colleagues. They are more likely to backstab than help.

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  9. :You can never count on your colleagues. They are more likely to backstab than help"

    Wow. That is a profoundly sad statement.

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  10. "You can never count on your colleagues. They are more likely to backstab than help"

    Wow, I thought that happened only at Merck.

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  11. "You can never count on your colleagues. They are more likely to backstab than help"

    Similar cases happen at Xerox. Sabotage and shifting blames are the norms.

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  12. Funny, a few colleagues who backstabbed me during my employment showed up for me after I was laid off. It took me awhile to accept their gestures but is well worth the risk. Don't give up hope in people.

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