10 Tips for Surviving Budget Cuts and Layoffs

It’s that time of the year when many local and state governments as well as nonprofits and libraries go through the budget period for the upcoming fiscal year. As we continue through the Great Recession many workers find themselves on the chopping block. While layoffs are never easy, they seem worse for employees who work for local governments, schools, libraries, and nonprofits. Many of those employees see their job as more of a calling than a career which makes the possibility of a loss of job feel like a loss of self.

Save New Jersey Libraries by Nancy Dowd

I speak from experience on all sides of the layoff experience. It’s never pleasant, but you can get through it!  Here are ten tips to help anyone survive impending layoffs.

  1. Don’t take it personally. This is the most important tip. While it may feel personal if you’ve been notified your job may or will be eliminated, it’s really not. It’s a business decision and comes down to a matter of cash available versus cash needed to run the organization. If your personal income were suddenly cut, you’d have to adjust and find things to cut from your bottom line like cable, cell phones, or dining out. While many organization have already scaled back in previous years, the only thing left to cut back is staff. It’s so hard to remember this in the midst of the moment, but the more you can remember that this is a business decision and not a personal one, the better off you will be.
  2. If something is stressful to you, stop. For me watching the local government meetings is like sport. I love to yell at the TV and throw things when one of the County Commissioners says something I don’t agree with. However, last year (and again this year) when it was my job on the line, I had to stop watching the meetings. It caused unnecessary stress and I knew if something important happened, I’d hear about it the next day. I also had to stop reading comments on local news sites. The comments incite me and only reflect the opinions of the few people with nothing better to do than comment anonymously all day.
  3. Channel your energy and anger into something constructive and positive. Last year I created SaveLibraries.org as a way to help all libraries going through budget cuts. Advocacy helped me get through a horrible time because I was focusing on parts of my life that I do have control over. This year, I’m focusing more on my family and spending time being active and engaged with my children.
  4. Take care of yourself. Sleep, eat, and exercise. It’s easy to fall into the vicious cycle of depression: sleep too much or too little + eat junk food + limit activity = feel like crap. Just like the flight attendant tells you on the plane, you have to take care of yourself first. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress.
  5. Talk to someone. Many organizations provide EAP service. EAP, employee assistance program, is a confidential service that employers pay for. You have access, at no cost to you, to counselors who can help with stress, anxiety, family problems, financial problems, or just about any problem you can think of. I’ve seen EAP counselors a number of times and they have always been very helpful. It is much more healthy for you (and your organization) for you to vent to an EAP counselor rather than your coworkers.
  6. Have a plan B. If you don’t have one, start making one. Is your resume up to date? Are you on LinkedIn? Have you asked colleagues for LinkedIn recommendations? Post your resume to job boards. Be proactive. Think about how your skills and abilities might transfer to a corporate or other non-profit environment.
  7. Before posting to Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, see if your organization has a social media policy and be sure to follow it. No matter where you work, it is a small world and you do not want to burn bridges. Additionally future employers are watching your Tweets and no one wants to hire someone who complains about a current employer. One of the reasons that I do not post about my situation is that we have a fantastic Marketing & Communications Department. We have a social media person on staff. We have a communications plan with key messages. Through my work, my name has become associated with my employer, and no matter how many disclaimers I post on Twitter, Facebook, or my website, my posts and comments become a reflection on my employer. It’s not that I would have anything bad to say. It’s that I don’t want to muddy the waters for our communications team. They have a strategy and it’s in the Library’s best interest (as well as my own) to let them handle communications about our organization.
  8. Focus on the task at hand and your core mission to the organization. Many libraries and nonprofits will notify staff months or weeks in advance of a layoff or potential layoff. I’ve heard people describe this as cruel but I can assure you it’s not meant to be. Notifications like this give you time to plan and make arrangements and adjustments to your lifestyle. The downside is it gives you a lot of time to think. One of my most difficult challenges last year at this time, was focusing on my job in the midst of the emotional turmoil within and surrounding me. Every day I had to remind myself that I am here to help our staff grow and develop professionally. When I focused on my core mission, it made it much easier to get work done each day.
  9. Think practical. Start making plans in advance. If you are on prescription medications, order 90 day supplies if your insurance allows it. Find out what your unemployment benefits will be. Most states have an online calculator that will tell you how much you will receive and for how long. Shop around for health insurance. COBRA rates are outrageous. You may do better with an individual policy that covers only catastrophic events like hospitalization. Adjust your withholding for state and federal taxes to the maximum level. If you are paid out for vacation time, this allows you to keep more of the money. As a last resort consider taking out a loan on your 401K before your last day. If you don’t pay the loan back within 60 days of termination, it will be taxed as an early withdrawal which means taxes plus a 10% penalty. If you are the sole provider for a family, this may be a necessary option.
  10. Don’t panic! Your job is only one facet of your life. Many people have found being laid off a liberating experience. This is your chance to try something new if you want or to move somewhere different. This is actually how I came to work in libraries. Laid off from a corporate job, I wanted to work for an organization where I could give back to the community. Had that layoff not happened, I would definitely be in a different place today! As Tom Hanks character says in the movie Castaway, “You never know what the tide may bring in.” I also highly recommend reading the book Start Where You Are by Chris Gardner for inspiration.
About Lori Reed

Lori Reed, coauthor of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Non-Profit Trainers, is a learning and communication strategist with more than twenty years experience in learning and development. A 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2010 "One to Watch" for paralibrarians, Lori graduated cum laude from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Lori is a certified Synchronous Learning Expert and a North Carolina Master Trainer and has traveled across North America speaking about libraries and training.


  1. Pigbitin Mad says:

    No, it is not a good thing to laid off. You will never AND I MEAN NEVER get another job. Especially not in a library. It was unspeakably awful before the economy tanked. NOW IT IS ALL OVER FOR LIBRARIES. I may actually find working shipping stolen goods to Russia, but those are the only people who ever reply to my resume submissions. So please, spare us. This was obviously written by someonewith a cushy job at ALA. They should have said that the first thing everyone should do is cancel their membership to this useless organization. Then the people who write this stuff can be out on the street too. Let’s see how upbeat and positive they are then. The one that lured me in along with Laura Bush with all this nonsense about a librarian shortage. There never was one, and even if all librarians retire tomorrow, there will still be no jobs because the city and state wants to COMPLETELY ELIMINATE LIBRARIES. Mark my words.

    • Bill Nichols says:

      I appreciate the gut-wrenching feeling that led to the above comments, but I really feel a certain embarrassment for the personal jabs. I was out on the street not too long ago, & most likely will be again soon due to loss of funding for a job it took me a year & a half (& over 140 applications) to find, but I try not to kill messengers. 🙂 The tips mentioned may not all be personally helpful, but they’re meant well, & they can’t *all* be worthless.

      There *was* a librarian shortage at one time, but that was way back in the wake of the IGY. There’s been a glut since *before* I was in lib school, & I won’t *tell* you how many years ago *that* was. 🙂 Times are tougher now than they’ve been in ages & we all know it, & that’s for librarians with years & years of experience, never mind new grads. I just don’t see that reality as justifying personal attacks, is all. 🙂

    • To clarify a fact here: I do not work for ALA. I am a member and have been for about five years. As a member I volunteer for the Learning Round Table.

      As I said in the post, I’ve been on all sides of the layoff both in the library and corporate America and have had my job eliminated at the library a number of times. Honestly I’ve lost count. I think this is number five. Each time, I’ve come out better. As Bill said, take what works and ignore the rest.

  2. Although the first poster could’ve phrased it a little nicer, ok, a lot nicer. I know how s/he feels. I’ve been out of work since last June and the job market is absolutely awful. I was a school librarian for 10yrs and worked in a public library for 1 year. I have applied for school, academic, corporate and public library jobs. I’ve had 4 interviews in a just about a year’s time. I’m still unemployed. i really am losing hope.

    • Pigbitin Mad says:

      I suppose I could have been nicer but why bother?. I am not exactly shooting the messenger. I am merely pointing out that what was true then, is not true now. And we live in an era where idiots vote for a buffoon like Chris Christie. Unless there is a tidal wave of backlash, nothing will change. And if it does, the independent voters are sure to change their mind AGAIN once the “good guys” fail to fix everything instantly with a magic wand.

      I am just sayin, maybe there is a way to capitalize on these Craigslist scams. Like let them ship me the stolen goods, and I will turn around and sell ’em in Cooper Square. It would serve them right. I mean seriously, what if we sent them all fake resumes and fake contact information. They use the stolen credit cards to ship us the goods (thinking that we are rubes who will, in good faith, ship the goods to Russia or wherever). Then we don’t. A whole underground economy is born and we can forget all about ever working in a library.

  3. I am so tired of people, like the author of this article, who say that being laid off may turn out to be a blessing or an opportunity. See below quote from the article:

    “Many people have found being laid off a liberating experience. This is your chance to try something new if you want or to move somewhere different.”

    Obviously written by someone who is not, like me, without an income (I was laid off in 2010 and have not found a job). When you are growing closer to povery every day like I am, being laid off is anything but a “liberating experience.”

    Get a reality check or at least feign sensitivity.

    • Hi Marina, I am the author of the article and not only am I sensitive to your situation but i am in the same situation myself. I can’t post all my personal details but believe me when I say yes I have been without a job before and will be so again in 3 weeks. I know how hard it is. Last year when we had budget cuts both my husband and I took paycuts and furloughs. We lost our house and have had to move two times to less expensive apartments. I have to explain to my children every day why we don’t have money for things they want or need. I have to explain to my daughter why her birthday party in three weeks has to be cancelled. So while I may not be in your exact situation, I do understand.

      That said, I learned a long time ago that we choose how to interpret our situations. I spent too many years looking to point blame, complain, or be negative. Not only did it not help but it was self-destructive. I have made a conscious choice to look for the positive in every situation and make lemonade out of lemons.

      For me, the last layoff from my corporate job was liberating because that is how I got into libraries. This time, I don’t know what the future will bring but I have hopes for something that will make me just as happy.

      Best of luck to you in your job searching.

  4. I meant to say “poverty.”

  5. Pigbitin Mad says:

    Or maybe we could all be drug dealers on that Silk Road site. Figures, someone comes up with a great idea and the government wants to shut it down. Being an acid dealer would sure make me happy right about now. I am being somewhat facetious, but my point really is that this is a much more viable business plan than actually getting a real job when you are over 50.

Speak Your Mind