Coping with no job


Things to do in your first week of unemployment – a five-point plan to put you in control

So the worst has happened, and you don’t have a job. Things may be looking a bit bleak, and you may be reeling from the shock, but there are some things you need to get on with. Here is a six-point action plan for your first week out of a job. With these actions under your belt, you will be on your way to getting things stabilised, and getting yourself into a new job, and you’ll feel much more in control.

Action 1: give some comfort to your partner

Often it’s not the person who’s lost their job who does most of the worrying, it’s their nearest and dearest. They worry about the mortgage, they worry about the kids, they worry about whether to cancel the holiday, they worry about the neighbours, they worry that you’ll fall apart. If they’re trying to keep their feelings battened down, quite often it’ll leak out somewhere else, like being snitty with the kids, or picking a fight about something completely irrelevant. Sometimes putting up with their worry is as bad as dealing with your own.

Accepting help

So, once you’ve read through this section, arrange some quiet time with your partner and tell them what your immediate plan is. If you lay it out nice and clearly, it will help to dispel some of the worry, and take the pressure off both of you. If you are going to need your partner’s help, try to make it specific, so they know where they stand. If you don’t know what help you need yet, say you probably will need help (don’t shut them out) and that you’ll tell them as soon as you’ve figured out what you need.

Let them make whatever suggestions they want to make, and express any worry they want to express. You don’t have to answer those points straight away, the most important thing is that you let them be heard, and keep the channels of communication open.

Action 2: Tell key people your way

For a lot of people, telling friends and family they’ve lost their job is the worst bit about being made redundant. Being out of a job is embarrassing and humiliating, but it’s also become quite normal. Most of us have been out of work at some time or other, or know people close to us who have been. Before you tell anyone, think about how you’d react and what you’d think if your best friend had to tell you he or she was out of a job. How would you react? Be prepared, because that’s what’s going to come back to you when you tell people.

Who to tell and what to say when you’ve been made redundant

Next work out who needs to know, and how to tell them. Include former work colleagues that you’ve got on well with who may otherwise lose touch with you. Think especially about people who could help you in your job search, by letting you know about jobs, giving you a reference, passing on your details or providing moral support.

Telling people you’ve lost your job is not like a bereavement, so you don’t need to make separate telephone calls to everyone. Perhaps work out a wording, something like this, and send it by email:

‘Just to let you know that I was made redundant from xxx last week, so you’ll need to remove my work email and phone numbers from your contact lists. I’m currently job-hunting in the areas of (list different career areas you’d consider) so, if you hear of anything going that might suit me, please let me know so I can send on my CV.

(partner) and I are coping well with this – after all, it happens to so many of us these days – but we still need our friends and family around us at this time. Do pop in if you’re passing, and stay in touch by email and phone. Our contact details are below.’

It might sound a bit schmaltzy, but you are keeping the doors open, and telling people it’s OK to get in touch and not to feel awkward about it. If several of you were made redundant, you may want to send a separate email suggesting you all stay in touch and support each other. After all, a job or recruiter that’s not right for you might well suit the person who sat next to you – and vice versa.

How to stay in touch

Your contact details should include all the ways in which you’re happy to be contacted, including social and professional networking sites.

As soon as you’ve sent your mail, look and invite as many former colleagues as you can to become part of your professional network on a business networking site like LinkedIn. This will ensure that, as they move on, you always have their current details. LinkedIn also has a facility that says what kinds of contact you are happy for people to make, among them approaches about jobs, so adjust your settings while you are there. Also change your current job status to show you as a freelance or ‘independent’ version of whatever your profession is, for example: independent accountant, freelance chef, independent outplacement consultant, freelance recruiter, independent supply-chain specialist.

Action 3: Sign on

One of the first things you need to look into is signing on for Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA). Whether or not you need the money, read on – you paid into this system, so you need to understand the various reasons why it may well pay you to claim on it now.

Why you should always sign on if you are unemployed – even if you don’t need the money

Even if you do not want to receive any money (dole), you should still sign on anyway. You need to do this because by doing so your national insurance (NI) contributions will be ‘credited’ – ie, paid for you. This is important because gaps in your NI record can affect your pension later on. Just make it clear to the advisor that you are signing on for NI contributions only.

Check when you can sign on

You will find detailed guidance on negotiating the benefits system in our section on benefits, but here are some immediate things to bear in mind:

You cannot claim while you are still being paid ‘payment in lieu of notice’. This is because you are still officially employed (being paid a wage, and paying tax and national insurance) while you are receiving this money. As soon as it expires, you are no longer employed, and you should sign on immediately.

You do not have to wait until you have used up your redundancy payment to be able to sign on. Various web sites and ‘helpful’ individuals (including some we have come across in employment law centres and at the usually-infallible CAB) will tell you that you cannot sign on if you have received a redundancy settlement. This is not true, as most people who were employed under PAYE will have made enough national insurance (NI) contributions to qualify for contributions-based Job Seeker’s Allowance. This is payable for 26 weeks regardless of savings and income.

When benefit may not be paid

The Job Centre will not pay the first three days of any claim. However, if it’s less than 12 weeks since you were last claiming, this waiting period should be waived.

If you resigned, walked out or were sacked, you may well find yourself judged by the Job Centre to have given up your job voluntarily. In this circumstance, you will be ‘sanctioned’, which means that the advisor (or an adjudication officer, if you appeal the decision) can suspend your claim for up to 26 weeks on the grounds that you made yourself unemployed. The advisor has discretion in the number of weeks of ‘sanction’ depending on the circumstances of your leaving, but, in general, you do not get benefit straight away just because you left your job. (You will not be subject to sanction if you left your job for medical reasons (including workplace stress); because you were made redundant; or because your contract ended. If you left for medical reasons, you should claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) instead of JSA). Even if you suspect a sanction may apply, you should still sign on, as the period of sanction may be affected if you don’t. There are also various reasons you can put forward against being sanctioned which are known as ‘just cause’.

Find the best Job Centre Plus office to make your claim at

All Job Centres are supposed to be the same; homogeneous and equal. In reality, they are run by individual managers who have significant latitude in how strictly they apply benefit rules, and they are staffed by human beings whose attitudes and ability to be helpful, despite their best intentions, will always be affected by the kinds of challenges they face every day. For this reason, pick the benefits office which is likely to be pleasantest for you to attend, which will give you the best possible service and the maximum help.

Use the Job Centre Plus site to find the various offices where you can make your claim, and if possible ask friends and colleagues who have signed on recently what they thought of the service they received at those offices. Although all claims are made by telephone or online now, you can still pick up a JSA 1 Jobseeker’s Allowance Claim Form from your local office, on the pretext of getting your information together, just to see what it’s like. You may only have a choice of one, but if you have a choice of more than one, make sure you pick the best one.

Action 4: Make a budget

Unless your redundancy settlement was exceptionally generous, you will now need to restrict your outgoings, if only for a while. You can find more detailed information on budgeting and debt in the Financial Planning section.

One tip is to get your bank statements out and make a list of your regular bills and outgoings on slips of paper. Now spread them out and prioritise them. You should end up with a raft that you can truly do without, a second tranche that you might consider cutting out if you really have to, and a basic set that must be maintained.

Another tip is to start a money diary, keeping track of everything you spend – you will be amazed at where it goes! At this stage, unless you will hit a financial wall immediately, focus on knowing where the money goes. You will soon find yourself economising quite naturally.

Think hard about any major planned outgoings, especially a family holiday. If it can be afforded, the family holiday will provide valuable reflection time and an opportunity to draw a line under any anger or bitterness that may be persisting after your redundancy. While financial purists might disagree, we also believe that some fun times and good memories work wonders for motivation – while the cancellation of a holiday can make you feel miserable and demotivated.

Action 5: Set up a structure for your day and your week

Once your time is no longer ruled by a work calendar, you may find that your days begin to drift very quickly, and your motivation and self-esteem with them. For this reason, you need to set up a structure for your day and for your week as quickly as possible.

That doesn’t mean you need to job-hunt 8-5 – that wouldn’t be practical, and it would quickly wear you down. However, it is sensible to replace the structure of a work day with an alternative that includes time for job searching and networking, time for health and fitness, some family time, time for projects and anything you’ve been meaning to do (seeing friends and relatives, decorating). Put some ‘totems’ in – things to look forward to each week, whether it’s a trip to the cinema or a night out with friends. Keep the structure of the week, so you always know you’ve reached (and earned) the weekend. Let your partner know what the timetable looks like, otherwise you may end up spending the whole of each day doing chores!

If you should be unfortunate enough to be out of work for some time, you will also want to consider some form of activity to meaningfully fill up both your time, and the gap on your CV. You will find lots more suggestions on making the most of your time out of work here. Link to managing the psychological effects of redundancy.