"Relief." "At peace." "Not too devastated." That's how some recently laid-off workers view losing their jobs, despite the era of loud layoffs and ever-constant recession fears.
The calm outlook runs counter to the shock of bad news coming from tech and related industries in recent months. Mass layoffs have overtaken companies ranging from tiny startups to behemoths like Amazon, Dell, Disney, Google and Microsoft.
Layoffs are a life-altering event: People are left without income and health coverage, and with the loss of steady employment can go a sense of purpose, community and routine. Prolonged job loss can even make people sick, with research showing that people without pre-existing conditions are more likely to develop health conditions like hypertension, heart disease or arthritis after a layoff.
But not everyone is rushing to find a new job again. Some people, especially younger professionals experiencing their first job loss, instead see this moment as a chance to break up with the 9-to-5 and reset their lives and careers.
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Pursuing meaningful work post-layoffs
Cinneah El-Amin, 28, was vacationing in Turks and Caicos earlier this month when her manager texted her about joining a meeting. She knew immediately she was being let go from her product managing job at PayPal in New York.
"This is probably going to sound a little weird, but I felt a sense of relief," El-Amin says.
She'd already felt burned out for more than a year, she says. And she was already working nights and weekends to build her own business, an online career and lifestyle platform called Flynanced.
Before the layoff, El-Amin viewed taking on Flynanced full-time as a distant dream. Now, it's a goal she's actively working to achieve. "I'm taking this as an opportunity to try out a new direction in my career and see what happens," El-Amin says. "I'm choosing to see it as the push I needed."
Mass layoffs could spark a startup boom, work experts say — much like the Great Recession spawned notable companies like Uber and Venmo. Some of those startup founders say being unemployed gave them the time to chase their own ideas, and their business models aimed at helping people earn more and spend less resonated in a down economy.
El-Amin expects to return to a 9-to-5 eventually, but wants to spend a few months decompressing from corporate life and scaling her own business, which "feels like more fulfilling work," she says.
She can't discuss the details of her PayPal severance package due to its terms, but says she feels comfortable living off it for a while. Plus, Flynanced is already cash-flow positive, she adds.
And if El-Amin needs to land a full-time job, she can probably do so quickly, she says. Despite layoff headlines, the job market — even within tech — remains resiliently favorable to workers with historically low unemployment and layoff rates, alongside millions of unfilled jobs.
Nearly a third of laid-off tech workers are getting rehired into new jobs within a month, according to ZipRecruiter data. Among all people recently hired into new jobs, 54% say their job search took just one month.
Riding the social media wave full-time
Ordinarily, Calista Tee might be panicking right now.
Last month, the 28-year-old was working on an F-1 student visa in Irvine, California. She figured she'd be let go from her social media job at Attentive, an e-commerce startup, once her visa expired in April.
That day came early. "I definitely didn't anticipate waking up one random January morning and being told I was being laid off, especially when we were told our positions would be strong at this company," Tee says.
But she's feeling surprisingly fine about it, she says. It was at least relatively "good timing," because she married a U.S. citizen in December — meaning she can remain in California, rather than returning to her home country of Malaysia.
About a year ago, Tee started doing social media marketing as an influencer on TikTok. It's since taken off, and in 2022 she matched 80% of her full-time income. She once thought about quitting her job to pursue it full-time — now, the layoff has forced her hand.
Without the security of full-time income, Tee plans to make small tweaks to her spending habits. She says she feels good about freelance money already coming in, and she's yet to touch last year's social media earnings, which are stashed in a high-yield savings account.
She also has some cushion: Her partner will temporarily cover housing expenses in the home they own, she says.
Tee worries about the "extra pressure" of being in charge of her own income and the "guilt" of feeling like she's not working enough, especially on a platform as unwieldy and competitive as TikTok.
"It's a dog-eat-dog world out there," she says.
Still, she sees social media influencing as a way to replace her income, rather than the end goal of her career.
"I would go back into corporate in the next five years if this doesn't work out," Tee says, adding: "In a way, I'm not too devastated."
Breaking up with the corporate 9-to-5 forever
Some young workers say being laid off is a wake-up call to leave corporate life altogether. That's what Genesis Gutierrez felt last month when she was let go from her marketing and PR job at California Community Colleges, in Los Angeles.
"It just happened, from one day to the next," notes Gutierrez, 23, who says she'd previously been told the job was hers as long as she wanted it. "I didn't have much time to process it."
The layoff helped her recognize the tenuous nature of employment, she adds: "I was kind of glad it happened so early in my career, versus people who have been stuck for 10 years in a job and getting laid off."
She doesn't see herself applying to work for someone else again. Outside of her day job, she spent the last year and a half building an online magazine and storytelling community called Harness. No longer tied to a desk job, Gutierrez is eager to become her own boss full-time that much sooner.
Predictably, she worries about matching her old income, despite saving money by living at home with family. But the first weekend after she left her job, she landed three clients through her Harness network for some freelance social media work.
By the following Monday, Gutierrez says she felt "at peace" without the stress, commute and office politics of her old job — and empowered to take risks because of her youth.
"What do I have to lose?" Gutierrez says.
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