Why you should totally go to the pub with your mates when you’ve just been laid off

Cool comfort.
Cool comfort.
Image: Reuters/Toru Hanai
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It was a terrible Monday morning for thousands of Deutsche Bank workers in London, New York, and elsewhere. Over the weekend, the company announced 18,000 layoffs. As the work week got underway, it assembled entire teams in auditoriums or cafeterias to deliver the news. Employees affected by the cuts were given a couple of hours to collect their things and leave. In London, the deadline for departure was 11 am.

It all may sound brutal, but years of research suggest that layoffs are best conducted before lunch, early in the week, so that employees can have access to any services they may need while offices are still open. And typically they’re done swiftly to minimize the shockwaves inside the company and protect it from potential sabotage.

Nevertheless, they feel inhumane in the moment, which is why the most effective response may be to reclaim your own humanity.

Though it may not be your wont on any other weekday, should you ever find yourself holding a layoff notice and a banker box outside corporate doors, there’s a strong case to be made for allowing the unavoidable bureaucracy to wait a couple of hours while you join the inevitable post-mass-layoff drinks at a local pub. These Irish wakes of the global economy can accomplish a few not insignificant goals.

  1. Firstly, they’re an opportunity to commune with others who know exactly what you’re feeling in that moment, people who speak the same workplace shorthand and know all the same players, so they don’t need lengthy backstories to truly get all you’re going through.
  2. But also, science shows it’s not all about you. As the psychiatrist and trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk puts it, “Our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another.” The community gathering, however short-lived, can improve everyone’s health before the gang scatters.
  3. What’s more, by its very nature, a rite like post-layoff drinks reminds us that others have been through the same experience, through various years, in different locales and industries around the world. The economy is just a system that you have to deal with, like the weather. It’s nothing personal.
  4. Besides, humans have been using alcohol and its inhibition-lowering qualities to strengthen ties in the face of common foes since our earliest days. And the places that serve the stuff are key venues for social exercises—storytelling, gossip, and joke sharing—that boost endorphins, lifting one’s mood, much like a drug. That’s what makes pubs work even for a round or two of on-trend mocktails or non-alcoholic craft beers.
  5. All of which is to say that gathering with others is a way of putting faith in yourself from the beginning of what’s rarely a fun transition—and squelching any nascent sense of shame. It’s a first step toward taking control of the story. And let’s face it—you need a better scene in your memory than the grim look on the security guard’s face as you pass by the exit. An era of your career can’t come to a close with that kind of banality.
  6. Finally, if you need a practical reason, there’s this: It could benefit everyone to compare notes and talk collectively about what to do next—what paperwork to file or calls to make—to minimize the damage.

You may find yourself suffering in flight-or-fight mode following a layoff, ready to blow off steam or hide in a corner. The upside of a mass restructuring like today’s, at least, is there’s a third choice, precisely because you’re not going through it alone.