Turning Severance Into Sabbatical, or at least a Productive Gap in Employment

Ed Baldwin Career Advice, Change, Ed Baldwin, Job Seeker Advice, Layoffs, Networking, Personal Brand, Uncategorized

In today’s dynamic world of work if you haven’t been laid off or made redundant at least once, it’s likely that

  1. you haven’t been in the workforce very long,
  2. you own your own business, or
  3. you just haven’t done enough progressive and envelope-pushing work to have been put on ‘the list’.

So the experience of having an unexpected gap in employment is very prevalent, and becoming more so.

From my experience those who most often end up on ‘the list’ are the highly paid, change agents who have worn out their welcome, people have worked themselves out of a job, or just plain jerks.  Sometimes it can be all of the above. Non-performers can also end up on these lists, but these people typically get fired, or quit before they get fired.  However, some companies opt to lay off poor performers rather than address non-performance head on.

For whatever reason, you made ‘the list,’ and you’ve been issued your severance.  Anywhere from a couple weeks to maybe twelve months, depending on position title and level.

Now what?

Job search? Most certainly yes! Thoughtful reflection about what you could have done differently?  Your mind will likely go there.  ANXIETY about what your future holds? Yeah, likely heaps of that also.

After all, you’re officially unemployed and have bills to pay. The severance extended by the company, while appreciated, won’t last very long.  You’re thinking that your job search quite possibly could exceed the time and money you’ve been given in severance and you haven’t been as diligent as you would like to be about saving for these rainy days.  And your professional network? Well, you haven’t invested in that much either, because you were so busy at work. So several emotions seep in to your psyche … ANGER, DOUBT, FEAR, WORRY, and even DEPRESSION.

I’ve been there.

Given this new-found ‘opportunity’ to pursue new horizons, here’s my advice for staying positive and doing what you need to do, while avoiding the traps of negativity and what can get you in a rut, creating an avalanche and burden of damaging and destructive negative energy that will keep you from landing that next great professional opportunity.

First the DO’s:

  • Reflect – Take time to think about what you want to do (and what will make you happy), not just what you need to do or have been doing.  This ‘opportunity’ affords you the time to reflect about career changes, subtle or significant, much more robustly than when you were working.
  • Take care of yourself – Get a good night’s rest, eat better and exercise more regularly.  You no longer have the excuse of not having the time. Make sure you do better in each of these three areas.  You’ll be accomplishing something and it will keep your head where it needs to be – clear and focused.
  • Network/Volunteer – Invest time in making contact with those who you just didn’t have time to connect with before.  Join professional groups, reach out to colleagues and connect with those in the community that can support you in your job/career search.  Church is a great outlet for this, so is a school or community organization you have always wanted to invest more of your time with. You gotta get out of your house and away from the computer screen.  It’s a must.
  • Keep a schedule – When you’ve got a job you were forced into a routine and schedule.  Now that you don’t have that job, you don’t need to keep a schedule right?  Wrong. Create a ‘to do’ list and make sure you make progress against it every day.  It’s ok if it’s a mix of professional and personal, but make sure it has professional actions that you must take to make progress in your search.
  • Dress for your day – It’s easy to fall into the trap of putting on sweats, a t-shirt and a baseball hat every day.  After all, the dog doesn’t care and it’s appropriate attire for taking him on a walk.  But when you dress like you’re going to work you feel better, and you’re more likely to have appointments during the day that require work attire.  And all that’s good for you and your psyche.

Now the DON’Ts:

  • Spend all day on your computer – On the surface this sounds productive. Knowing what’s going on in your profession, checking out various job sites, applying electronically for jobs.  But the reality is this isn’t the way most people land a job.  Utilizing your network to identify a contact in a target company and speaking with them via phone or face to face is a much more probable way for you to find your next professional opportunity.
  • Dwell on the past – If you continue to think about what went wrong, why you ended up on ‘the list’ and what you could have done differently to avoid the fate, then your focus will not be on the future.  Putting the past where it belongs – in the past – is the correct course of action.  I’m not saying don’t learn from the past, but once you think you’ve got down what you would have done differently then move on.  Dwelling on it won’t help you move forward positively.
  • Isolate yourself – It can sometimes be embarrassing or awkward interacting with others when you have to share that you don’t have a job and are ‘in transition’ while everyone else appears happily and gainfully employed.  “Oh, you’re not working?  I’m so sorry.”  No one wants a pity party, nor do they want that awkward “so what are you doing?” question to arise.  But limiting your contacts because of these uncomfortable moments is the opposite of what you really need.  Rehearsing how you will handle telling others you’re in transition and answering those challenging questions about what you are doing is the best way to become more comfortable in these situations, something you’ll need when talking to prospective new employers about job openings.
  • Obsess about your job search – If your job search is all you think about and all you focus on, you’ll get emotionally tight.  You won’t be any fun to be around and others will notice that something is different about you.  You’ll stress yourself out, your family and all those who want to help you.  Prospective employers will sense and see the desperation through non-verbal cues, and that’s not attractive.  So work hard during the week, enjoy your weekends, take time with your family and friends, and attempt to keep the same pattern/regimen that you had when you were working.

Full disclosure: I haven’t always been able to follow my own advice, at least not all the time.  But when I did follow it I was the most positive and employable, and when I didn’t follow it I was the most negative, and unemployable.  So if you strive for what I’ve suggested above and you fall off the wagon, pull yourself up and get back on.  That’s how it works.

These tips are intended to help you manage the emotional swings that are inevitable when a person goes through job loss. I’ve found no prescription for avoiding the emotional swings that accompany job loss completely.  There are lots of other really important and practical words of advice for finding another job – like putting together a solid job search plan, writing a good resume with multiple versions, improving your interviewing skills, and increasing and improve your business networking.

None of this will matter if you aren’t exuding a positive personal energy, if your head isn’t in the right place, or your emotions aren’t in check.

Remembering these tips above will help you remain positive through your gap in employment and ensure that you’re bringing to your next role the full breadth of all that is positive within you, leaving in the rear view mirror any baggage of being let go or separated. Your employment gap will feel more like a sabbatical, a time you utilized effectively to refocus on your personal and professional passions, and a time that afforded you the opportunity to be certain you were making a wise choice about what’s next on your journey to professional success.