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Left Behind in a Layoff: Getting Ready for What's Next


Five must-do steps to keep your life on track.

The pink slips have been handed out, the severance checks cashed, and the farewell drinks consumed. Everyone has offered their condolences to those who were let go, yet you're still here, reeling in your cubicle, wondering if maybe you're the one who really deserves the well wishes, sympathetic words, and free rounds of strong drinks.

As a four-time layoff survivor (and two-time victim), I've experienced all the panic, depression, fear, and anxiety that comes with staying on the job when others have been let go.

No industry is immune to layoffs these days. The New York Times Co. (NYT), Electronic Arts (ERTS), AOL (TWX), Sprint Nextel (S), Pfizer (PFE), Home Depot (HD), Caterpillar (CAT), even Google (GOOG) laid off employees this year.

There are some things you can do to ease the stress that are fairly common sense courses of action, but when you're in the grips of anxiety and worried that your next paycheck may be your last, sometimes it's hard to think clearly. But if there's one thing I've learned after surviving a few layoffs, it's that more are usually not far behind, and being ready when the next ax falls is crucial -- just in case.

1. Get Up-to-Date on Your Doctor Appointments

You can elect to continue your health-care coverage through COBRA, but the sticker shock of COBRA prices alone may kill you long before any health-related issue. Thanks to COBRA's high cost, many people opt to go with an emergency-only plan when they're unemployed, which, depending on the plan, means that procedures like teeth cleaning and mole removal may be out.

Scheduling your annual doctor visits, updating prescriptions, and getting lab work done while you're still covered gives you roughly a year before you have to make all the rounds again -- hopefully plenty of time to find a new job and new health-care coverage.

If you're certain that unemployment is looming around the corner, it may be a smart time to drain your flexible spending account. Most plans allow you to use the money for things like contact lenses, braces, and over-the-counter medicines, which include cold and allergy medicines and aspirin (which you'll undoubtedly need after a layoff for either stress-related headaches or layoff party hangovers).

Take advantage while you can -- if you don't use it, you lose it, and that might cause a queasiness that no flex plan medicine can cure.

2. Retrieve Personal Files and Contacts from Your Work Computer

Layoffs or no layoffs, it never hurts to do a periodic backup of all the unfinished screenplays, random party pics, Shins downloads, tax papers, and other documents that have found their way onto your work hard drive.
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