“I’m freaking out.” Those were reportedly the words spoken by a former Peloton employee shortly before she was one of thousands of employees laid off in February by the exercise equipment company. In 2021, hundreds of thousands of employees were laid off from companies throughout the U.S.

Companies that eliminate positions often do so because they need to reallocate those funds to other areas of a reorganized business. Regardless of the reason, being laid-off can be emotionally draining and mentally debilitating. After recovering from the initial shock, impacted employees are often left juggling a head full of heady questions:

🤔 Will I find another job?

🤔 How long will job hunting take?

🤔 Who will hire me?

🤔 Do I have the right skills?

While those are all great questions, laid-off employees should first ask themselves, “What do I want to do?”

Many years ago, my executive-level job was eliminated during a company reorganization. Fortunately, as I detail in my book Forty Dollars and a Brand, months earlier I’d decided to focus my career on my life’s purpose: to help under-represented professionals manage adversity so they are able to reach their career goals, just as I’d done. Prior to my last day with my employer, I had nearly completed the set-up and registration of my company, MDK Brand Management. As a black professional woman who rose from a cubicle to the C-suite, my transition from corporate to entrepreneurship was not without its challenges. Yet, I was able to leverage my corporate background and lengthy experience to rebrand myself and develop entrepreneurial management skills. As a result of my own experience, I am committed to helping under-represented professionals rebrand and rebuild following a lay-off.

For employees who are dealt that gut-punching lay-off blow, a company’s effective outplacement services can help ensure a smooth career landing. Whether an impacted employee wants to find a similar role in a new organization, a different job in a new industry, or start a business, the outplacement support that he or she receives can make a critical difference.

For companies committed to the successful transition of its former employees, it’s about laying off without letting go.  And there’s a sobering reason for taking that position. Under-represented employees – women and people of color – often find smooth career landings following a lay-off especially challenging. According to a USA Today MONEY report in late 2021, “…women, black and Latino Americans are disproportionately suffering from the current economic crisis.” Among this group, black women remain the hardest hit. The following excerpt was pulled from the U.S. Department of Labor’s January blog:

“The different experiences of Black women in the pandemic and the recovery are caused by multiple overlapping factors:  

  • First, before the pandemic Black women were disproportionately likely to be employed in some of the hardest hit sectors. For example, in 2019, Black women made up only 6.6% of all employees in non-agricultural industries but were 11.6% of all employees in education and health services.  
  • Data from prior recessions shows that when there are economic shocks, Black and Hispanic workers are more vulnerable to losing their jobs and recovery takes longer for Black and Hispanic women. While Black women were slightly more than 1 in 10 workers in the education and health services industry in 2019, when comparing annual data from 2019 to 2021 they represent roughly 1 in 6 (17.4%) jobs lost. 
  • Black women also are overrepresented in the care economy, and the ongoing crisis in this sector continues to have a disproportionate impact on Black women.”

Many companies provide their former employees with traditional outplacement services, which usually include resume writing and interview preparation. However, if your company is forced to lay-off under-represented employees who are likely to have a much harder time landing, the additional support of rebranding and re-skilling could make a huge difference and strengthen your employer brand in the process.

Former employees could be a company’s future brand ambassadors. If they are approached by potential employees and asked about their work experience, their response will be influenced by how they were treated before, during and after their separation. The employee may still be reeling from being laid off, but they will feel supported and hopeful about their professional future because they weren’t let go.

Denise Kaigler is the founder and principal of MDK Brand Management, a firm specializing in brand strategy, business consultancy and career coaching.  Prior to launching her business in 2015, Denise held senior, executive and C-suite-level roles at several global brands. Denise is the author of Forty Dollars and a Brand: How to Overcome Challenges, Defy the Odds and Live Your Awesomeness, available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She is also the creator and executive producer of Brand Rewind ™, a multi-media platform designed to entertain, explore and empower. To subscribe to the Brand Rewind ™ newsletter, click here