Coffee heat rising

Beating the layoff stress

For the first six or eight days after I learned about the rumored layoffs, I felt so stressed that my chest hurt. One day at the office I had to lie down on the floor for a few minutes when an anxiety attack started to come on. Determined not to end up in the ER again, I managed to get the feeling that I was about to pass out under control with some breathing and relaxation exercises. But that didn’t stop the scary ache in the chest.

Today, though, I’m feeling a lot better: no pounding heart, no chest pain, no sense of oxygen starvation, no distractibility, and no sleeplessness. For sure, yesterday’s call from one of the employers I applied to helped. Even if I don’t get the job, at least now I have some hope that my age won’t disqualify me from every job I ask for. That was a big worry.

Also, with amazing speed I’m getting more and more comfortable with the idea of not working for GDU—even if it means taking a lower-paying job. Matter of fact, that prospect not only looks less scary, it’s starting to look downright welcome. Although I personally have had relatively little to complain about (other than the months-long PeopleSoft fiasco, the [probably illegal] reneging on an approved job offer I made to a prospective employee, and the overall toxic atmosphere on the campus where I taught), I certainly have seen the administration treat many of my coworkers abominably.

The prospect of being somewhere else begins to look more attractive. So does the idea of a new job with new things to learn and do.

I’m glad I started the job search before any university-wide announcement came down and before I knew whether this next round of lay-offs will apply to me. Just doing something to help yourself, rather than hunkering paralyzed in the headlight while the train bears down on you, goes a long way to make you feel better. It gives you a little sense of accomplishment, and it jump-starts the process you’re going to have to put into gear soon, anyway.

The first cover letter and résumé took a good five or six hours to put together! I thought I was gunna die. If every job application took that much time, how was I going to manage the work for the day job? To say nothing of all the freelance work The Copyeditor’s Desk has taken on?

However, the next application only took 30 or 40 minutes, and neither of the other two took any longer. Because the jobs I’m seeking (with exception of driving the zoo train…) are in the same general family of work and they’re all at nonprofits or colleges, tweaking the cover letter and resuméis pretty easy. It’s just a matter of writing new first and last paragraphs for the cover letter, adjusting the “what I can bring to your job” paragraphs—deleting some of them, moving others closer to the top—and shifting the resumé’s “list of accomplishments” to highlight the items most relevant to a given job. After I realized this, I began to feel a lot more confident that applying for a series of jobs isn’t going to kill me.

And really: if I get an offer from next week’s interview and then learn I’m not included in the next set of layoffs, I may take the job anyway—even if it pays less than I’m earning. The recurring workplace flaps, which seem to come more and more often, are ridiculous. I don’t need to put up with this kind of grief. And besides, the prospect of starting something new is beginning to sound pretty good. Darned good!

The Continuing Saga…

1. Unemployment for Christmas?
2. Does any of this have meaning for individuals?
3. Rumors start to fly
4. On the trail of the elusive job
5. Beating the layoff stress
6. How low can I go?
7. Interview No. 1

If next payday doesn’t come…

Oh, but of COURSE our esteemed elected representatives will pass the state budget before the whole joint has to be shut down, right?

Right. Well, come July 3rd, we shall see.

While we wait, let’s consider an important question: Are you prepared if your employer can’t pay your next check? Are you prepared for a lay-off? Are you prepared to be canned outright? Not to harp on this issue (well, yes, to harp): emergency fund, emergency fund, EMERGENCY FUND!

There are only two ways to prepare yourself financially for hard times: one is to get out of debt as fast as you can, and the other, IMHO the most important, is to lay in enough money to tide you over a spell of unemployment or disability. I say building an emergency fund is more important than getting out of debt because you have to eat. If you quit paying credit card and student loan bills, all that will happen is your credit will tank and you’ll have nuisance bill collectors nagging you. If you quit paying on your car, it’ll be repossessed, but there’s always the bus, a bike, or Shank’s mare. If you quit paying your rent or mortgage, eventually you’ll be evicted, but it takes a long time to evict someone. But if you can’t buy food, you’ll starve before the landlord or the bank can toss you into the street.

In good times, the strategy should be to build the emergency fund and pay down principal, dividing snowflakes and snowballs between the two goals until you have at least six months’ worth of living expenses stashed in the bank. As the economic clouds roll in, focus on the emergency fund. Make your regular debt payments; quit charging on the cards, so as to avoid running up any more debt; but put all of your spare cash or sidestream income into accumulating enough cash to keep you going through a really bad stretch.

How much should you set aside for the proposed rainy day?

Opinions vary, from three months to a year or more. Personally, I think an emergency fund should cover at least six months of net pay. If you’re out of work, your income tax will drop to zilch, and so you ought not to need six months’ worth of gross pay.

That said, my emergency fund actually represents a year’s net income. In the first place, at my age I don’t have a snowball’s chance of getting a job comparable to the one I’m in. And in the second, it won’t be that long before I can collect full Social Security. I’m eligible for less-than-full SS right now, so if push came to shove, I could start collecting early. In effect, at age 62 Social Security itself becomes a kind of emergency fund for those of us who persist in doddering in to the office. For you younger pups, remember this rule of thumb: a laid-off executive can expect to spend a month searching for a new job for every year of job experience she or he has.

Alternative Emergency Funds

If saving extra cash is difficult or you don’t think you can stash enough before you’re likely to be laid off, here’s a secondary strategy: get check-bouncing protection from your bank or credit union. This is actually a line of credit. If you overdraw your account, the institution lends you the amount of the overdraft, protecting you from bounced check charges. The interest isn’t cheap. However, it’s less than a credit card costs and it could save you in a pinch. I have overdraft protection in the amount of one month’s net income.

Another strategy is to start developing other income streams now, while you’re still employed. If you have a hobby that can be monetized, start monetizing. If you have a skill you can ply as a side job, start finding customers now. If you’re thinking of starting a service business, consider whether you can begin offering the service in a small way, on a moonlight basis. While this income may not support you, it certainly will help, and often such work can be expanded to full-time equivalent when you can devote 40 or 60 hours a week to build it.

If you’re fairly confident you’re going to be laid off, then in addition to starting the job search right now, here are some things you can do to prepare:

  • Apply for credit now, since no one will lend you a dime while you’re unemployed. Get a line of credit at the bank; get another credit card. Don’t use either of these instruments, but have them at the ready in case they’re needed.
  • Pare back your spending. Streamline your budget so that you’re living much as you would if you were out of work. Put the savings into the emergency fund.
  • If you have a freezer, fill it with food.
  • If you don’t have a freezer, lay in extra nonperishable items such as beans, rice, flour, and canned goods. (Remember that whole-wheat flour must be refrigerated — it will go rancid if left for a long period at room temperature.) Clean out your refrigerator’s freezer and organize its contents so you can max out the space. Buy meat and frozen products to fill it up.
  • Plant a garden. Squash and tomatoes grow handsomely and cheaply in the summertime. If you live in a temperate climate, you can grow lettuce, kale, carrots, and beets during the summer. Least expensive strategy: grow from seeds. Learn how to can, preserve, or freeze vegetables and fruits.
  • Keep your gas tank full. At four or five bucks a gallon, it’s a lot better to buy gas while you’re earning than after you’re laid off.
  • Consider how you will get around with minimal use of your car. Know the bus routes, and if your area is safe for bicyclists, get a bike at a yard sale, thrift shop, or sheriff’s sale and fix it up so you can bicycle to nearby destinations.
  • On paper or on disk, prioritize your spending obligations. Write down the things you will need to spend on, in descending order from the most to the least important. Consider how you will cover these expenditures with the emergency funds or side income you already have in place.
  • Find out how to apply for unemployment benefits and food stamps, and see if you will be eligible for other forms of public assistance. Don’t get “proud” about this: you’ve paid for it with your taxes, and you get to use it when you need it.

None of us is ever fully prepared for an unplanned job loss. Expect to be psychologically stressed and possibly depressed, no matter how carefully you’ve laid plans and stashed emergency money. Knowing how you will feel (it doesn’t take much imagination), think in advance about morale-building activities to fill your suddenly free time. Scheduling a block of time for exercise will help your outlook a great deal, as will volunteering a few hours a week for a charitable cause. Also plan to attend meetings of trade groups or professional groups-join now, especially if you can get your employer to pay the dues. Regular exercise such as walking, running, or work-outs will protect your physical and psychological health, and activities that bring you into contact with people will raise your spirits and build business and job-searching contacts.

1 Comment left on iWeb site:

Anand Dhillon

Keeping an emergency fund is always a good idea. I also advise that people have multiple streams of income so that ifthey do lose their job, it’s not totally the end of the world.They take a lot of work to setup but extra streams can provide much needed financial security.

Thursday, July 3, 200810:27 AM

Side jobs, side worries

Tomorrow I’m meeting with the editor of a small local press about a freelance job. It’s low-paid, but one of my RAs is freelancing for this outfit and says the work is steady.

For the time being, I don’t need much pay. The amount I’d make in a year would be about 1.5 times the amount I’d earn teaching one course, and the work is a lot easier and a lot less annoying. Two gigs of this nature would out-earn the equivalent of teaching a course a semester, a reasonable load in addition to a full-time job.

I also hope to let her know I’m open for other work and may soon be in the market for a full-time job.

My boss has had my annual review materials for three weeks. All I’ve heard from her is silence.

Meanwhile, today the legislature is expected to cut the Great Desert University’s budget by $50.4 million. My college alone is millions of dollars in the hole, far deeper in the red than at any time in the university’s history. And my job? By no stretch of the imagination can it be seen as “essential.” It supports the university’s mission, but only if you understand that a university has a mission to do research and scholarship as well as to teach. And our state’s legislators and regents never have fully grasped that point.

So I worry: Is the dean silent because she’s waiting to see if my contract will be among those to be canceled? Is she already mulling over ways to show me the door?

This is a recurring worry for me, since I work on a year-to-year contract that can be canceled at will. Under normal circumstances, it’s not much of a worry, because of institutional inertia: replacing me would be a hassle, and so it would take quite a dramatic circumstance to move the administration to do that. However, in the face of gigantic budget cuts, another possibility arises: get rid of me and all my staff. Closing down my entire office would not be a hassle. My RAs’ contracts end at the semester and mine ends on June 30. To get rid of us all, the university simply has to let our contracts lapse.

That strikes me as not unlikely. Experience has shown that silence from the dean’s quarters is often a bad sign.

So it behooves me to start looking around for other work, even it it’s just freelance stuff.

It has to be possible to get by on the reduced collect-at-age-62 Social Security and the proceeds from my retirement savings. My income would drop from $61,000 to $37,760, of which $12,000 has to go to pay the mortgage on the Investment House. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would live on $25,760-pretax! With no health insurance! Health insurance alone, through ASU’s retiree system, would consume another $7,200. How on earth would I eat, to say nothing of support a house?

Be This Way describes how she and her husband arranged to make it possible for her to knock off work. On the other hand: she has a spouse who’s earning a living. I have no one. And SDXB has been insisting for years that Bumhood is feasible for anyone who’s determined to make it work. But: he has a military pension and gets twice as much SS as I will get, on top of his savings. He lives in Sun City, where housing costs are a fraction of mine, taxes are a third as much as mine, and insurance is half of mine. And his idea of “normal” is most people’s idea of “ascetic”—he lives an Extreme Frugal lifestyle as a matter of course.

I don’t want to live like that, and I don’t want to live in Sun City. But if I lose my job, that’s pretty much how it’ll have to be.

Comments from the iWeb site:

1 Comment


This is very stressful stuff.You’re right in that my situation is very different, and I’m lucky that we have no debt besides my small (under $600 a month) mortgage.

I don’teven knoe you but I have every confidence that IF they close tyour department or don’t renew your contract that you will manage.You’re capable and not afraid to work, and work hard.

Keep us posted!