Making Peace With Getting Laid Off in HR/Recruiting During COVID (+Podcast Interview)

Liz Desio Change Management, COVID-19, Good HR, Organizational Development, Uncategorized

Editors noteLiz Desio is a NYC-based HR/Recruiting Pro who had her career impacted by COVID. She’s a triple threat – has actively recruited, wants a career in broader HR and can write. Pick her up for your team if you can. FOT founder Kris Dunn interviewed Liz to pick up the whole story on his podcast Best Hire Ever, listen to that podcast below and read Liz’s story in her own writing style.

Spicy pineapple rice, anyone?

Last Thursday, I got the call — Kristina, a manager on my team, stumbled through an explanation of this quarter’s earnings call, how Covid-19 had ravaged our business, and how all 11 contract employees on our team were effectively terminated due to budget cuts. She and I had grown close the past few months that my boss had been on maternity leave, making me a project manager with three direct reports when I had never so much as managed my own tasks. Kristina had talked me through some tough times already, consoling me on the phone when I was unable to deliver tough news or criticism to the girls on my team, or when I battled imposter syndrome in a room full of senior leaders. And now she was talking me through my transition.

I was crushed with disbelief, and then anger, and shock. I quietly, shakily, hung up the phone, and curled into a protective comma on my boyfriend’s bed (my coronavirus office of choice), where I rocked with sobs for the next few hours. After all I had done for this team — I was a leader myself, for crying out loud — how could they just let me go, and let someone else benefit from my hard work? How could they do this, TO ME?

A few minutes later, I got a call from Brianna, one of the girls on my team who I’d partnered with/managed the past few months. She was also a contract employee and had been terminated too. And like in any other scenario we’d faced the past few months, she was looking for guidance in an appropriate response — something that I didn’t think, at first, I was ready to give. How could I continue to be a leader when that job had effectively been taken away from me?

So I took a deep breath.

I’ve been through some shit in the job market. I spent most of my first two years as a New Yorker busing tables, making lattes, hustling to random editorial gigs, and living on many different concoctions of rice and single Coronitas from my local bodega. I once made spicy pineapple with rice, and it truly was not that bad, I honestly would recommend it for anyone who is broke and needs variety. But anyway, I’m getting off track.

Eventually I got tired of rice, and wanted to get haircuts and such, so I sucked it up and worked at a recruitment agency for a year and a half, where I was driven to the point of insanity to hit targets, and regularly drank tequila 3 times per week. I think it’s also worth mentioning, as a fun detail, that during these 3 years, I had electric blue, waist-length hair. Once I burned out of that — and the hair, switching to the blonde bob you see today — I burned out of a Walking Tour startup where they made me work 6 days a week for far less than a livable wage. If you ever see a WeWork couch and think it looks comfy for sleeping, please know that this is true — but that they also play the irritating pop music and leave the lights on all night.

After years of these less-than-ideal jobs, I finally settled into work at The Estée Lauder Companies, and it was a breath of fresh air. I could work from home on Fridays, we worked at a humane pace, and I had license to be creative. I had a welcoming team (of mostly women) around my age who baked, went to concerts with me, bought my art, stopped to get me coffee, and once we were quarantined, held some epic Zoom happy hours and chats. I had a manager and leaders who not only cared what I brought in, but about my personal development. And who taught me what kind of leader I would eventually want to be. And when I finally got a chance to be a leader during my boss’s leave, they had confidence in me to do it — even when I struggled with that myself.

So I took a deep breath, and I did what I’d done the past three months. I told Brianna how disappointed I was myself, and how tough it had been for me. And I advised her to also take a deep breath, and take herself out of it — this decision was not personal. This decision was not a reflection of her, or of me. And as I slowly talked her out of this hole, and through potential plans that she could have for the future, I realized that I may have temporarily lost my job — but I didn’t lose anything that I had learned. I didn’t lose my ability to lead by example, to empathize, or to put a positive and productive spin on things. All qualities I had that my positive work environment was able to polish during my time there.

This is not to say that being laid off hasn’t been hard for me. But I’ve been through other things that are hard, when I was far less prepared to face them. Obviously in the time of Covid-19, people losing their livelihood is terrifying, and in the grand scheme of things, I’m more fortunate than most — I have a support system, and access to unemployment. I don’t have any dependents, and am in good health.

I have one friend who is a nurse, struggling to receive proper PPE and transportation to work. I have another friend suffering from a crippling case of Covid-19 who, though she wasn’t deemed sick enough for the hospital, can’t fold her laundry without getting out of breath. Despite these challenges, both of these friends have remained incredibly strong and positive —and I owe it to them to do the same. I hate ever being a “count your blessings” person, but it’s important to appreciate the good things that you do have access to, especially if you’ve suffered a loss.

Lastly, don’t look at being laid off as a total loss — think about everything that you gained while getting to this point. If you’ve been laid off, take what you can from that experience, move on, and have faith that it will get better, because it always does, if you let it.

And if that takes awhile, I can always share my recipe for spicy pineapple rice. We’re all in this together!