The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
Within the last few months you might have seen or heard the term “quiet firing” circulating on your local news stations, LinkedIn profiles, or social media accounts. The term refers to a method used by employers to drive employees to quit on their own volition. To discuss quiet firing more at length, this week I’m joined by Dr. Ella F. Washington, an organizational psychologist, DEI expert, and Professor of Practice at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. In Part 1 of our conversation we discuss how to identify if quiet firing is happening in your workplace, the psychological effects of being quietly fired, and how biases and a lack of managerial training in the workplace impact how managers give critical feedback to employees. In Part 2 of our conversation we also hear the first hand testimony of TBG Community Member, Flo, who found herself out of work in the midst of the pandemic.
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Session 292: Quiet Firing & Life After Layoffs
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 292 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into our conversation after a word from our sponsors.
Unknown: You've probably heard the term quiet quitting, when employees stop going above and beyond and stick to the minimum requirements. But do you know about quiet firing? The term is gaining traction on social media.
Unknown: The pandemic changed a lot about workplace culture. Part of that shift is employees gaining more power in the workplace. Now terms like quiet quitting and quiet firing have entered the conversation. Quiet quitting is when an employee pulls back from their duties at work while still remaining employed. Quiet firing is sort of the opposite.
Dr. Joy: Within the last few months, you might have seen or heard the term quiet firing circulating on your local news stations, LinkedIn profiles, or social media accounts. For those of us just coming into the know, quiet firing is a method used by employers to drive employees to quit on their own volition. To discuss quiet firing more at length, I'm joined today by Dr. Ella F. Washington, an organizational psychologist, DEI expert and Professor of Practice at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. In Part 1 of our conversation, we discuss how to identify if quiet firing is happening in your workplace, the psychological effects of being quietly fired, and how biases and a lack of managerial training in the workplace impact how managers give critical feedback to employees. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it on social media with us using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us in the Sister Circle to talk more about the episode. You can join the conversation at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Feels great to see you, Dr. Washington.
Dr. Washington: Hello, hello. Thank you for having me here.
Dr. Joy: I'm very excited that you were able to join us, so thank you so much for spending some time with us today.
Dr. Washington: My pleasure.
Dr. Joy: I'd love for us to get started by talking a little bit about your background. You work as an organizational psychologist, can you say what led you to that field? And tell us a little bit about what you do as an organizational psychologist.
Dr. Washington: Organizational psychology is one of those things people intuitively thinks makes sense, but they're like, what do you actually do? I help organizations with all of their human side of what they do, and so their human capital, specifically in my role - Diversity, Equity & Inclusion - but organizational psychologists, we’re kind of the breadth of an organization. I was always really passionate about psychology. I remember when I took AP Psychology in high school, I was like, this is it. But I knew I didn't want to be a therapist. I know we're on Therapy for Black Girls, but therapist was not what I wanted to be.
But I did want to take what we gained from things like therapy and human connection and apply that in an organizational setting. Because we spend so much of our lives at work, more than one third of our lives are at work or working, and I would argue even more in the western world (than that one third number.) And for me, I just wanted to make sure that organizations could be places that could thrive and that everyone could have the opportunity to be themselves and do their best work. And I think that's the core of why I do this work. And whether it's called diversity, equity & inclusion, whether it's called human capital management, whether it's called culture creation - all of that, I want to make sure that people like myself, people that are traditionally marginalized, can be in workplaces where they can thrive.
Dr. Joy: Got it, love that. In the past couple of months, it feels like we have heard quite a bit about quiet quitting. But in your work, you talk a lot about quiet firing. Can you tell us what that is exactly?
Dr. Washington: Quiet firing is when employers maybe are unpleased with the work of their team members. And instead of having those tough conversations, giving the candid feedback that is needed, they often treat their employees so badly to the point they will quit, icing them out of important conversations or opportunity. And so for the employee, they start to feel that and so eventually do quit instead of it being in the hands of the employer.
Dr. Joy: Why is it that people are not having the conversation with their team members? Like why not just say I don't feel like you're performing at your best, like what can we do to kind of get you up to speed? Why push them out in this way instead?
Dr. Washington: Because people don't know how to give feedback. Generally speaking, most of us are not great at giving candid feedback. And this becomes even more complicated when we have to give feedback to people who are different than us. And so we see this trend being even exacerbated for communities of color and for women in the workplace, especially. But in general, giving feedback in a constructive and candid way is not something that many organizations spend enough time on. We have shifted from the once-a-year feedback conversation, so most organizations now have platforms where they're saying have feedback conversations multiple times in the year. But they're often not giving that training on how to do so.
Furthermore, we often are not able to be specific in our feedback. And so we say you're doing a great job, or I want to see you do better, but there's no specificity around what exactly happens if I don't do this, what are the consequences? How specifically can I get better? Like what is the development plan path forward? All of that is really challenging for people. And further, managers often aren't just taking the time to have those one-on-one conversations until things get really bad. So instead of, you know, having that developmental coaching conversation, it's easier to just say, “oh, I'm just not going to invite this person to the meeting, I'm going to invite someone else,” instead of having that time set aside for that important development.
Dr. Joy: You brought up this point around, and I suspected that this would disproportionately impact communities of color, probably black women, because we know we are often most disproportionately impacted when things like this happen. Can you talk about like any research that's being done in this area to kind of really lay out how black women in specific are being impacted in this way?
Dr. Washington: The research is probably ongoing at this very moment about quiet firing and quiet quitting specifically. But there have been decades of research that demonstrate, as I talked about, the challenges with just giving candid feedback. For example, there was a study done a few years ago called The White Male Leadership Study that found that many white men in those positions of leadership talked about the fact that they struggle with giving candid feedback, especially to people that are different from them as far as demographic backgrounds. So if you're having white male leaders saying, “I struggle with this, and I'm not sure that I'm able to give the same candid feedback to someone who's different from me, than someone who is similar,” that already is going to cause a chasm in development opportunities. But also when we see these efforts of quiet quitting and quiet firing. There's going to be a disproportionate impact. So much so that, I remember last year, in the New York Times I believe, they had an article that talked about what happens when women don't get the same feedback as men. And how two people can start their careers at the very same moment but the difference in feedback at these different inflection points can cause a gap in skills and development, and certainly in promotion, and how well that person does.
And so they actually showed a graph of how two people starting the same day had these different feedback experiences. And it's not just one time. It’s these multiplier effects of not getting the necessary feedback that you need. And it does become a developmental issue down the line. At first, it's just a matter of getting that information for what you need to do a specific project. But unfortunately, these things multiply and overtime we do see that developmental gap happen. And when that person leaves the organization, some will say (and I've heard this from clients) like, oh, they weren't that strong anyways. They weren't a strong contributor. But maybe they weren't as strong a contributor because they didn't get the same development and feedback as the next person did.
Dr. Joy: Can you talk a little bit about like the psychological tool of quiet firing? Because I would imagine there's a lot of then questioning like, okay, am I doing a good job? Can you talk a little bit about how that impacts the employee?
Dr. Washington: Absolutely. So much of our work experience is in our minds because there is so much of those unwritten rules. And so when you stop getting the invitations or you're not sure why you're not considered for the next opportunity, or you just don't know that you're off track and you're not sure how to get back on track with your boss… in terms of that relational aspect, but also with the actual output and performance that is expected, it can be really a frustrating experience. You're almost like you don't know what to do. Especially in cases where you're asking for the feedback and there's a lack of candor and a lack of comfort with saying that uncomfortable thing - which is the manager’s job. And so it certainly can take a psychological toll. And we see that every single day and that's why there has been this notion of quiet quitting.
I think quiet quitting and quiet firing are a signal that the social contract between the team member and the manager has been broken in some way. It may be the team member not holding up their end of the bargain or the manager. But when you have either one of these things happen, there is a break in that social contract. And it can't end well if we're not able to come together, have these tough conversations and get some alignment on what's needed from the organizational perspective, but also what is needed from that employee perspective, so they can give their best at work.
Dr. Joy: Let's just spend a little time talking about the quiet quitting. Because I have lots of thoughts here, but this is not necessarily my expertise, but it is yours. And so I'd love to hear, just what are your general thoughts about this idea of quiet quitting?
Dr. Washington: It’s not new, this aspect of not giving your job every single part of you. There's actually a method of healthy boundaries. So I think from one perspective, if you are thinking of quiet quitting as someone having healthy boundaries and not working 24/7, not checking their phone incessantly when they're supposed to be doing other things that are a part of their life, I think it's a good thing. But if quiet quitting is about me just doing the bare minimum, then clearly I am not being fulfilled in this organization in some way - in this role, by my manager - there's something broken there. And so I think we have to try to do the work to unearth why the quiet quitting is happening for employees.
I do not believe it's because we are lazy in general, I do not believe it's because Gen Z (who gets a bad rap right now) just doesn't want to work. I don't think it's that. I think there is a break in that social contract and most people would rather just put a label on it and put it under this trend, as opposed to doing the work that it takes to understand what's broken and what's missing. And again, it goes back to those opportunities for candid conversations that a lot of people don't have the tools to have. But also, there's a lack of time. Managers are like, well, I'm busy, I don't have time to pacify every single employee. Well, certainly I get that, but then you're going to lose employee engagement, which is what it’s traditionally been called, and now we're just seeing at the extremes of the quiet quitting.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, you know, as you mentioned, nothing is new under the sun. But I do find it interesting that this term pops up post pandemic, or whatever level of the pandemic we're in. And so to me, it speaks to just people feeling really burned out and tapped out. And so now people are feeling like I actually can't overextend myself in these ways. So is it really that they're quite quitting or, as you said, really just maintaining healthy boundaries around work life and having separation there?
Dr. Washington: The pandemic has taught us so much about the need for boundaries, but also what happens when you wrap your whole identity up in your work. That is also not a healthy thing to do, even if you love your work. Like I love my work, but my whole identity cannot be wrapped up in being a professor or an author. Because there's so much more to life and you want to have that sense of enjoyment. It makes you better at your work when you're able to unplug and reconnect. That's why we always say, unplug it and restart when we're talking about technology. We need that as humans too. And so I think the pandemic has just shown us that life is bigger, there are things that happen that are not work related that do have a huge impact on us. But also, how we want to live our lives.
I think having our ability to just do whatever we want, whenever we wanted during the pandemic, it really brought into focus, okay, how do I want to spend my time outside of work? Or how do I want to spend my workday? Do I want to spend it commuting two hours each way? Do I want to spend it behind a computer? Do I want to spend it doing something else? And I think the great resignation and the trends we've seen in the past two years around people just choosing a different life… Even if that means less money, even if that means doing something they never thought they would be doing, people are actively engaging in their lives in terms of what their careers will not only look like but what it'll feel like. And part of that is like when you don't have boundaries, you will see more quiet quitting as they're calling it. I would say lack of employee engagement is what I would say is the more specific term, but it's certainly all in the same family.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned that the quiet firing is really just pushing people out as opposed to actively kind of firing somebody. Is there some kind of like financial incentive for a company to quietly fire somebody as opposed to a more traditional firing? Like do you save money in some way by pushing somebody out as opposed to firing them?
Dr. Washington: There certainly are financial implications of terminating an employee that's at will, but truly, I don't think most managers are aware of those implications and they certainly are not thinking about those in the forefront of their mind. I think secondly, most times quiet firing is not done intentionally. I do not think people are sitting down like, how can I ice this person out? There may be some that are doing that, but I think the majority of people are just thinking, how can I navigate this situation? How can I navigate around this situation or this problematic employee from my perspective, versus having the tough conversation, versus putting them on an improvement plan? So certainly, some may be thinking financial, and some may be doing it on purpose. But I think for the most part, it's a method of cowardice that is demonstrated in poor management behaviors that we're talking about, not someone waking up, like with the axe to grind against a specific employee.
Dr. Joy: Got it. So let's say there's someone enjoying our conversation and they realize like, oh, I think this is happening to me. What steps should they take? Should they try to bring this up with the manager? What can you do if you feel like this is happening to you?
Dr. Washington: Absolutely. I think you have to ask for direct and specific feedback, whether it's positive or negative. If your manager says, oh, you did great, make them be more specific. What was great about what I did in that particular project? What behaviors do you want to see again that I can make sure to hone in on? And vice versa. If you say I need improvement, awesome, I want to improve. Tell me specifically how I can improve. What behaviors do you want to see to ensure success in the future? How will I know when I've made progress? Being very specific about your questions will help someone that's not great at giving feedback. As I mentioned, most managers aren't, at least push them to be more specific in their dialogue.
The second thing you want to do is document your opportunities to question the feedback you're getting, document the things that you are doing to demonstrate your engagement. And make sure that you have a social network within your organization that goes beyond just your manager. That is the power of community, the power of having mentors and advocates across organization. Let them know what's happening. Don't let quiet firing be your quiet quitting exit. If you want the job, if you want to continue to progress, you should show some agency. Now, it's not your fault that they're doing this. Again, I think this is poor management when we're seeing it happen. But if I'm trying to empower those listening what things to do, I would say ask for more feedback, document your conversations, as well as reach out to that social network.
And be very clear when you're reaching out to your manager and to the broader social network within the organization that you want to be here. You want to have opportunity, you want to continue to excel, you're willing to do the work. I think those messages coming through loud and clear are strong ways to combat the quiet firing. But again, I do not want to allow bad behavior to be okay. This is poor management skills and so it is not on the fault of the team member if they are being pushed out in this way, if they're not getting the feedback they need. This is a lack of strong management.
Dr. Joy: What you’ve shared is making me think, like what kind of training exists for managers to do a better job at this? Let's say you are listening and you’re a manager and you're like, oh, I'm really afraid of difficult conversations. What kinds of things can they do to get better at this?
Dr. Washington: Practice makes perfect and so leaning into those difficult moments is what's going to help. I do trainings all over the globe around like inclusive leadership and inclusive feedback, and how to create conversations and conversational spaces in order to consistently have this rapport with your team members. But a lot of times it comes down to the relationship the manager has with their team members. And so the first thing you can do is making sure that you're creating time and space for one on one conversation to get to know your team members. You are much more comfortable giving challenging news when you actually have a relationship with someone. When you understand their perspective and they understand yours.
Now, this takes time and most organizations don't make it clear what it takes to be an inclusive leader. They'll say be inclusive in your leadership style, make sure everyone feels welcomed and those types of things, but they don't make it clear and transparent what the expectations are for managers in this regard. Or maybe they get a training when they first become a manager and that's it. There's no accountability on the back end of, okay, end of year, how have you made your team more inclusive? Like what is one thing that you've done to really bring in diverse perspectives, to really make sure everyone is heard, to provide feedback in challenging situations? And so I do think a lot of the onus is on the organizations in providing that environment for training. People are not just born knowing how to be good managers. Even if they're great individual contributors, they do their job excellent, and even if they have some natural leadership abilities - you have to learn how to be a manager. How to be that player and coach which most managers have to contend with. And organizations need to do a better job of providing that structure and that training and accountability in order to train managers in how to do that.
Dr. Joy: I completely agree with that. You talked about doing trainings across the world, it sounds like, related to DEI. What do you feel like most executives misunderstand about DEI work and how do you feel like your work is bridging that gap?
Dr. Washington: I think most executives think of DEI as this big thing that happens in the big conversations, for example, after the murder of George Floyd. Or, for example, one time a year when it's Pride Month, or its Black History month, or Women's History Month. They think about that's DEI in those moments. Or DEI is the programs that we're doing to support these holidays and events. DEI is so much more than that. DEI is every single day, creating environments where we're encouraging diversity and diversity of thought, creating environments where we are intentionally being inclusive, and we are seeking out iniquities and trying to right them. And those things can be done every single day. So what I do in my trainings is try to bring it down to the level of, yes, it's these big moments, big conversations, but also how are you leading inclusively, every single day? What are the things that you can do in a regular, everyday team meeting to make people feel more seen and valued as a part of the larger team? And so I think that's the biggest misnomer that I try to demystify what DEI is all about in my work, and bring it down to a level where people can see themselves doing small actions every single day, which add up to those big moments. And being able to lean into those big conversations when they happen.
Dr. Joy: Our plan is to have this episode released in February, which is Black History Month here in the US, and we know that that is also a time when we see lots of corporations doing this programming that you're talking about. So how do employees check their organizations and leadership to ensure that they're not just behaving performatively during these months? Like Black History Month, Pride Month and those kinds of things.
Dr. Washington: Yeah, it's a great question. First of all, we have seen so many more organizations listening to their employees. Over the past few years, I think the pandemic played a huge role in that, I think social media has played a huge role in that. For a number of factors, organizations are actually listening when their employees are speaking, so it's up to employees to continue to speak out. For example, when you are going to those Black History Month events, do the survey at the end. Give that feedback, take that extra three minutes. I know we hate the surveys, I know we hate to do that, but it is important. You know, organizations listen. If you say, yeah, this really missed the mark, they will listen. But when you don't have the feedback, when you don't take that extra two minutes to do the survey, they're left just assuming that, oh, it went great. And so, one, provide feedback through the channels that your organization has. If your organization doesn't have a channel, email somebody, let them know what you thought. You thought that event was great or you thought it missed the mark and here's why.
The second thing I would say is challenging and asking leadership how they plan to maintain the commitment during the other 11 months of the year. This goes for Black History Month and all of the months that we celebrate. And specifically, not only how do they plan to continue the commitment throughout the rest of the year, but how does this fall into the broader DEI strategy at our company? And what this is questioning is, is this just a thing we're doing because it's Black History Month and we think it's the right thing to do? Or we are assumed that that's what people are expecting? Or is this connected to our larger DEI strategy. I do not think these cultural events or other celebrations or even programs should exist in a vacuum. As I talk about in my book, The Necessary Journey, these things have to be integrated with one another in order to really move forward on the larger DEI strategy. And so that's the second question I would be asking. How does this connect to our broader strategy, and how will you maintain this commitment throughout the other 11 months?
Dr. Joy: You talked about the book, so I definitely want to get into the book. In the book, you talk about like this workplace utopia. Can you define for us, what does a workplace Utopia look like?
Dr. Washington: The beautiful thing is that workplace utopia is about conceptualizing this ideal work environment for everyone and working towards making that a reality. Now, the concept relies heavily on the belief that our workplaces are an ecosystem, and everyone will have a different sense of what makes a perfect workplace for them or workplace where they can thrive. It's not going to be the same for everyone. But what's beautiful about workplace utopia is, the more that we can kind of say out loud what would make a workplace that we can thrive, and we hear other people's sense of workplace utopia, we can start to move towards that as a workplace community. And so my sense of workplace utopia may be different than yours, but us understanding what really makes us tick, what makes us feel included, what makes us feel like we can do our best work, we can collectively start to work towards making that a reality for everybody.
Dr. Joy: There's a chapter in your book called Harnessing the Power of Diversity of Thought at Uncle Nearest. And you share a quote there from the founder and CEO that says, when you set this as your intention from the start, then you're able to build a culture where DEI is so innate that people will question when something is not aligned with that value. Can you say a little bit more about what you feel like Uncle Nearest does right in terms of DEI?
Dr. Washington: Many companies are not clear on where their values are and where their actions align or misalign with those values. Every company has values on their website, every single one. And most of them, if you ask them how does DEI fit in your values, they'll say, oh, we're people first, or they'll say something broad. But if you're not specific around what your organization stands for and how the actions of your organizations are aligned with those values, you're going to continuously miss the mark and send mixed signals, not only to your internal stakeholders, but also externally as well. And so one thing that Uncle Nearest does a beautiful job under the leadership of Fawn Weaver, their CEO, is being really explicit about those 10 values that are nonnegotiable. And not only are they on the website; they are part of the interview and hiring process and they are also part of the development process internally to the organization. And so this is a company that doesn't just have their values on the website because it's a nice thing to have and it sounds good, they really do live by them. And they often question business decisions internally and externally based on “are these aligned with our values,” and I wish more companies did that.
Dr. Joy: More from our conversation after the break.
Unknown: We’re shifting gears here. Looking at shares of Oracle, as you can see trading in the red down just over half a percent there, following a report that the tech giant has started to layoff US-based employees.
Unknown: Looking back, as companies across the board continue to tighten their belts, some have been feeling the impact more than others.
Unknown: How a company handles a layoff can have a lasting impact on the firm's future success. Experts say if it's poorly managed, a staff reduction can damage the company's reputation.
Dr. Joy: As the American economy continues to ebb and flow, and nations across the world continue to deal with the effects of a global pandemic, many folks are in a position where they do not have gainful employment. In Part 2 of our conversation, we continue with Dr. Washington while also hearing the firsthand testimony of TBG community member Flo who found herself out of work in the midst of the pandemic. For most of us, finding out that you're out of work feels like an absolute nightmare. Here's Flo’s story.
Flo: My lay off happened in September 2020, that was within the first 12 months of the pandemic. Even though the company signaled in January of 2020 that changes were going to happen, I don't think knowledge of something really fully prepares you for the actuality of it happening. So yes, I could have saved more money than I usually would, but the reality of not waking up in the morning and having to log onto my laptop to show up at a job (so to speak) was really tough. I don't think anything I could have done would have prepared me for the feeling of disappointment and, at times, aimlessness that a layoff provided.
Dr. Joy: Dr. Washington, within the last few weeks and months, it feels like there have been a handful of like very large amounts of layoffs, specifically in the tech community. Are you aware of any research that talks about how black and brown communities may be disproportionately impacted by these significant kinds of layoffs?
Dr. Washington: Historically, unfortunately, black and brown communities are generally disproportionately impacted. If we look back to the Great Recession of the 2007 - 2009 era, for example, black workers’ unemployment rate increased to double digits and remained high over six years. Even though the unemployment rate of white workers never reached double digits during the Great Recession or in the years after. It took more than 10 years for black workers’ incomes to return to their pre-recession levels during the great recession, so we've seen this before. And there are a lot of factors that go into play there. Even if the layoff process is not specifically biased, there is bias in the discretion that managers might have to lay off people. And so when we think about maybe a woman who's pregnant and maybe a manager assumes that she's secondary income to the household or that she won't be able to pull her weight after she has the baby. Or other more unconscious biases such as we see in the performance review process. You give better feedback to one group versus another. So now when it's time to think about layoffs, well, we don't think these two employees are at the same level and so we're more likely going to lay off a black or brown employee. And so I think it's a legitimate concern. Unfortunately, the research does point in that direction as what we've seen in the past and I don't have good evidence to think that it's going to be much different this time around, unfortunately.
Dr. Joy: Here's Flo again.
Flo: I think work is a big part of our identity. Think about it. I would have shown up for nine hours every day, done a particular job for more than 10 years, close to 10 years, actually. So not having that particular aspect of my life there anymore was really different. And change is challenging to deal with. Sometimes, even when we finally see the high points of the change, it is really tough to deal with it while you're going through it.
Dr. Joy: You spoke, Dr. Washington earlier about how so much of our identity is sometimes unfortunately tied into our work, and so I can imagine, especially if that was something that you struggle with, like layoffs feel really personal. In addition to the livelihood stuff, I think it can also cause a bit of a blow to like, who am I and what does this all mean, now that I've been laid off? What kind of recommendations do you have for people, especially in the immediate aftermath of a layoff?
Dr. Washington: Yeah, it's tough, first of all, so let's just acknowledge it doesn't feel good, and no one wants to be laid off. Even if there's a light at the end of the tunnel and all of that, give yourself time to process. It's a loss. And you may go through a grieving process around like this identity being shifted, and that's okay. Give yourself that time and space. I think once you move past those initial shock feelings and that initial anger or other things you might be feeling, think about it as a time to reevaluate and align your goals and interests. Reflect on that job that you are leaving. What parts of the job did you love, and you can't wait to do again? What parts of the job just did not serve you and you will not miss, and you don't want to recreate?
I also think it's an opportunity to reinvent yourself, if you would like. This could be an opportunity to get into another career, explore hobbies that can be career oriented in the future, go back to school, like the sky is the limit. And so when we don't limit ourselves based on our previously defined identities, we may find that we're going to do something that is totally different, but much more fulfilling to us. So give yourself that space. And then finally, I'll say tap into your community. It can be embarrassing, it can feel lonely, it's a hurtful place to be laid off, but your community is there for you. Tap into your friends and family network. Let them know when you're struggling. Don't grapple with feelings of depression or loss by yourself if you don't have to. That is the power of our community and I encourage us even in these tough and uncomfortable moments to lean into that.
Flo: I found out that I lost my job over a Zoom meeting or a Teams meeting, but a virtual meeting of some sort. It was around the 3rd of September 2020. It was during the pandemic so there was a lot of uncertainty outside, and having to lose my job was another aspect of uncertainty. So for me, even though I may have known that this day was going to come, just being called into that virtual meeting and hearing the words, “well, we no longer require your employment,” really stung. So I had to prepare myself. I tried to remain calm, actually. My managers were surprised that I was so calm, but I forced myself to end on the most positive of notes because I don't believe in burning bridges. You never know. And someone who lives on an island, we have like three degrees of separation, so you never know who knows who, so I really tried to manage my emotions.
However, after I got off the call, yeah, I cried. Tears rolled down my face. I remember my hands were trembling and I picked up the phone and I called my significant other and I told him the news. I was like, yes, it was just confirmed, I've been laid off. And then I steadied myself again, I took another deep breath, and I called my mom and I said, mom, I just heard the news. And she said like most moms would do, she would try to remain optimistic. She said a prayer for me, and you know. She's like don't worry, I'm sure you will find something soon. Tried to reassure me as best as I possibly could. Now, this was around the 3rd of September. Mind you, I had to work out the end of the month so I had to show up every day for the remainder of the month of September, knowing that come the 30th, that would be it. So yeah, it was a lot of managing emotions. You may be seeing the tears welling up in my eyes now because I remember it so vividly. Sometimes we want to take it personally and I might say that I perhaps took it personally because it's almost as if someone is telling you personally, like you are no longer wanted. It may not necessarily be condemning your ability to do your job; it is just a reality of an economic situation.
Dr. Joy: More from our conversation after the break.
Dr. Joy: Dr. Washington, what do you find most people are concerned about immediately after a layoff?
Dr. Washington: It’s that identity piece, it's what are people going to think? There is certainly the economic factor, depending on their economic status, but I think for a lot of people like in the tech world, their very first concern, based on what I'm hearing is not how am I going to pay my bills, but it's like, what are people going to think now that I'm fired? Like what am I going to do? Who am I? Who is this new identity? And so I think you’ve got to resist that. We have seen, unfortunately, in our lifetime, a recession previously. So we've been here before and people struggled but made it to the other side. So even taking those lessons learned, maybe it was you that experienced that, or maybe the generation before you, but trying not to let it be a cloud over your whole career. This is a moment in time and you're not the only one, if you look at the news every day. So it does feel like a personal attack, and it is personal in some ways - you're not the only one and so thinking about that as well can help. Just put it into perspective. But I don't want to pretend like it's easy. It's not easy, and it sucks. I just want to be very clear that this is not to pacify those very natural emotions of hurt and loss that you'll feel.
Dr. Joy: I think I read something recently that talked about, especially if you have a decent severance package, that a lot of people are able to build really cool new startups or just delve into places that they maybe didn't have the time or resources to when they were employed. Can you talk a little bit about how people can maybe use this opportunity in between jobs to kind of prep them for the next opportunity?
Dr. Washington: I think it's exploring yourself. Like using that opportunity to think about the biggest idea you can think about, and how can you make that a reality? We're often limited by what we see right in front of us. So what resources our current company had, or what our manager allowed us to do in that previous role, all of the guardrails are taken off in this new space. And so I encourage people to dream big. In my classes, we start with the biggest ideas we can get and then we bring them down to a tactical level. And so I encourage us to do that in our own lives. Nothing is off limits. I do think though, we must acknowledge that for people with those generous severance packages, that is a position of privilege that everyone doesn't have. There are some people that when they are laid off, they do immediately need to think about their very next job. And so it is a position of privilege so recognize that as such. Like you had the privilege of having three months to figure it out, don't waste it. Sit in your feelings for whatever requisite time you need, but also use it as an opportunity to go to the next biggest thing, the thing that's really going to make you thrive in your career.
Flo: I had to really find my confidence again and people were instrumental in that. I remember getting on a phone call with my coach at the time and explaining to her what happened, and she encouraged me to write a letter and that was really, really helpful. Because after I wrote that letter and said all the things that I didn't allow myself to say in the conversation, it felt good to express them. And at the same time, I was able to tear it up and just the act of tearing up the letter was freeing. It felt good to release that anger and frustration with something that was really out of my control. So that really came in handy, that advice from her.
What also helped me was taking long walks. I made it a point to wake up every morning, go get some fresh air. So I took some laps around the field attached to my high school and it was good to actually see my high school because it reminded me of a time when there was so much promise, I had so many years ahead of me. Just physically seeing the school was so great and so reassuring and it was almost like I was planning for a new life, a new career. Something we say here in Trinidad is “God don’t sleep, and what is for you is for you.” Meaning that your creator knows what is in your best interest and he will create that opportunity for you when it's the right time.
If you've been recently laid off, here's what I suggest. Ease back into the world of work. And by that, I mean express your emotions, actively plan, seek support, and embrace evolution. You would have heard me mention me venting. Yes, write it out if you need to, go into that diary, journal, even if it's a voice journal. Remain active and definitely plan what your next steps are going to be. Seek support, because you would be surprised at the number of people within your network who will be willing and ready to help you if you only ask for that help. And the last thing is to embrace evolution. Try something new. You never know what new horizon awaits you. Pull out that to do list or some might say a bucket list and just try something new. Stay strong, ease back into the world of work, and remember that the rough tide won't last forever.
Dr. Joy: Dr. Washington, if you have been quietly fired, pushed out of a position, or if you are someone who has been recently laid off, how do you suggest people talk about that like in the interview process for a next position?
Dr. Washington: I think for the quiet firing situation, you know what it's like to have a manager that's not connected with you, to not get the feedback you need for development. So I would ask very directed questions to the interviewer around how is feedback given in this organization? What is the expectation that managers will spend one on one time with their team members? Instead of talking about your skills, what you're going to bring to the organization and even what your expectations are from the organization. I totally think interviews should be a two-way street, but if you're spending the whole time talking about what you're mad about from your past organization, I think you may be missing an opportunity to ask the right questions of your new employer, of making sure that won't happen there. I think it's fine to talk about you've had struggles with getting the feedback you need, or something like that. But I think if you center the conversation there, it's not as productive for either side to truly understand what you're bringing to the table, but also what the organization can bring to you.
Flo: Currently, I have moved into my ideal field which is human resources. I landed a job in human resources, and it is so rewarding. I remember recently calling a candidate to congratulate her on landing a role and she said, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to make me cry. You can't believe how happy I am.” Honestly, as someone who has been laid off and who has struggled to find employment, I understand exactly what she meant and how she felt at that point in time. So that's my day job. I have also started coaching people on the side, that's my side hustle. Because, hey, there are many people in the world that need help and if I have life and breath and I can help, I will find a way to help.
Dr. Joy: I love when a black woman's story ends with her not only on top, but with her in a position to help others. I want to thank Dr. Washington and Flo for joining us for this episode, and also want to ensure you're able to stay in touch with them. Here's how to stay connected with Dr. Washington.
Dr. Washington: I would love it if you would connect with me on LinkedIn or Instagram at Ella F. Washington, and my website is EllaFWashington.com.
Dr. Joy: Can we grab a copy of your book from the website?
Dr. Washington: I would love if you grabbed 10 copies of the book from my website. My book The Necessary Journey: Making Real Progress on Equity and Inclusion is available at all major retailers. You can also find out more on my website or TheNecessaryJourney.com website.
Dr. Joy: Here's how to stay connected with Flo.
Flo: You can find me on Instagram @FindingHerFlo_W, and on my Instagram bio, you will find links to my website. Feel free to jump in my DMs. I'm always happy to connect to a fellow sister because one thing being laid off proved to me is that your network can be a safety net. So I'm always happy to grow my network. Reach out, say hi. If you're outside of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean, hey, I'm always happy to make friends all across the globe. That's @FindingHerFlo_W.
Dr. Joy: What an incredible conversation. I want to thank both our guests for sharing their respective expertise and personal experience. To learn more about Dr. Washington, Flo, or to do more research on this topic, be sure to visit our website at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session292. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.