Sometimes the worst happens and you lose your job. Maybe it’s out of the blue or maybe you saw the writing on the wall. Either way, it’s nerve wracking and painful and every other synonym out there for stressful.
There’s not a quick fix. But leaning on those who are going through the same experience—and letting them lean on you—can help make the process less overwhelming and certainly less lonely.
That’s why I was so inspired when I learned about all the examples of co-workers who banded together after mass layoffs or a company shutdown. It’s a reminder that losing your job isn’t the end of the world, even when it feels that way.
Below are three ways you and your colleagues can support each other if you’re in a similar situation (or are nervous you might be soon), all based on real stories of people who’ve been there.
1. Create a Website That Profiles Everyone’s Expertise
When Kim Reedy was reading through the description for the role she’d eventually land at Rosetta Stone, “the whole way through I was just ecstatic,” she says. She had an eclectic background that included a lot of travel, languages, and writing, and “it just fit me.”
At the time, “the company was growing so fast that you could pretty much dabble in any department,” recalls Reedy. But the growth didn’t last. Within a few years the company was laying people off. Reedy and several others were cut in March 2013.
She and many of her colleagues had moved from all over the country and world to take jobs in a town that didn’t have a whole lot of other industry, so mass layoffs meant not only losing their jobs, but also potentially leaving their homes.
One fellow Rosetta Stone alum, Laura Dent, worked with a city council member to put together a networking meeting with local business leaders, where Reedy met her future boss. And Reedy worked with another alum, Rosalind O’Brien, to create a website. Your Town, Our Town featured profiles of former Rosetta Stone employees detailing their expertise, experience, and what type of work they’re interested in to help business find them. And it did. The site led to interviews and freelance projects.
“We had a sense of ability and capability,” says Reedy, who’s now the director of communications at JMU X-Labs. “We’ve all moved out here,” they thought as they banded together to figure out: “What’s the next step?”
2. Launch an Online Group to Share Opportunities
When Katharine Richardson returned to full-time work after having kids, she became the director of marketing at an instrument company in Nashville. But it didn’t take long for her to realize what a terrible environment she’d entered.
“It was just an absolutely insane place to work,” she explains. “The CEO would just fire people all the time. You never knew when it was coming…We joked that he had one of those spinning wheels in his office and if it landed on you that was your day.”
And then one day in 2007—having watched several other colleagues depart—it was her turn. She had to stay on for a couple more months to work on a few projects, but she was already reaching out to everyone who’d already left. And once she was out for good, she started an email list for what they called their alumni association.
“Each time somebody else was let go we’d reach out to them and welcome them to group and congratulate them on graduating. And we started networking and helping each other network and find other jobs,” she says. “It really helps you when you’re coming out of an abusive environment,” she says. “Having other people who’ve been through it, who’ve survived and thrived on the other side, it makes you feel so much better.”
They posted job openings, connections, and good news whenever they had it. Richardson started her own marketing agency and got one of her first clients through a former CMO. She remembers at least four or five other jobs coming out of the alumni group. And while the email listserv has since been retired, there’s still a Facebook group where the alums keep in touch.
3. Jump Right Back in and Build Something New Together
The staff of DNAinfo and the Gothamist network didn’t have any advance notice of their company’s shutdown.
“We were finding out at the same time as our readers and the rest of the world,” says Stephanie Lulay, who was a senior editor at DNAinfo Chicago. “To say that it was devastating is an understatement,” she adds, not just to the staff, but also to the readers, who were reaching out with calls to bring back the local news coverage in some way.
There was plenty of anger and sadness to go around. But within hours, they were talking about starting something new, and by the following Monday, Lulay, along with Jen Sabella, who’d been deputy editor and director of social media, and Shamus Toomey, who’d been the managing editor and known to many reporters as “newsdad,” were meeting seriously about what would become Block Club Chicago.
They formed a team comprised primarily of DNAinfo Chicago alums, met nearly every day in coffee shops all over the city, raised $183,720 from 3,143 backers with a Kickstarter campaign, got startup money and support from Civil, and launched the new site in June 2018.
“We love being around each other and talking about the nerdiest shit ever,” Sabella says. “We just have each other’s backs,” she adds. That, and their shared devotion to the mission of covering Chicago’s neighborhoods, had them talking about building something new when the shock of losing the old one was still fresh.
In each of these stories, disaster brought co-workers closer together. But what stood out to me most is that they’d established strong relationships and communities or been part of supportive cultures long before they lost their jobs. And those ties helped them get through difficult times.
During our conversations, they not only mentioned the job search help, but they also emphasized the emotional support they provided each other. Take the Rosetta Stone team as an example. Because so many of them had resettled far from home, they became each other’s friends and family, spending time together at work and outside of it. The latter continued after the layoffs. They had dinners, learned swing dancing, and got together at parks. Or you can look at the Nashville group. They didn’t just share openings with each other. They also met for lunch once a week, got together for coffees and birthdays and happy hours, and met at trade shows.
“We were such a tight knit group because we feel like we were in battle together. We feel like we were comrades in war,” Richardson says. Coming from such a stressful environment, “you started to question your ability, and your self-confidence was really shaken. We did a lot to build each other’s self-confidence back up,” she adds. “The emotional support was probably as valuable as the career support.”
That last line is key—because it’s not just about sharing resume tips or job leads. It’s about being there for each other to get through an experience that really only you and your colleagues can understand—both before and after the moment of major crisis. So while you might be rattled by your situation, remember that you’re not alone. A support network might be just an email away.
Photo of person carrying a box of belongings from their office courtesy of Tetra Images - Daniel Grill/Getty Images.
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author