Chelsea White’s performance reviews last December were stellar, reinforcing her belief that working as a teacher’s assistant at in a small, specialized classroom with children ages three to five was the right profession for the Orlando resident.
While enrollment had dipped slightly, the 28-year-old was not concerned and found her job to be rewarding.
"I get to work with kids, which I absolutely love, but I also get to have a job that brings some good to the world,” she said.
But the telltale signs were present -- the reduction in responsibilities, for example -- and the administrators at the small, private school had to cut funds quickly to pay salaries and bills. The rumors of staff cuts quickly became a reality as another popular assistant was let go days before White received her pink slip.
Being let go in December was a humbling experience as White submitted dozens of applications to both public and private schools only to be met with responses of having to wait for the winter term to resume after the holidays before they could consider any applicants.
“I certainly wasn't expecting to be terminated, yet that's exactly what happened,” she said. ”The holidays were right around the corner.”
Getting the ax while you're ready to deck the halls can certainly put a damper on the tidings of comfort and joy.
Why Employers Fire During Christmas...
Firing employees during the holiday season has become less taboo as companies are not as hesitant to fire or lay off unproductive employees when they are faced with rising costs and an uncertain outlook, particularly in certain industries.
“There used to be much more of a stigma about firing or being fired during the holidays,” said Steven Rothberg, president of College Recruiter, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based career website for students and recent college grads. “It still exists, but isn't the third rail like it used to be. Most employers today believe in the adage that you should hire slowly and fire quickly.”
While the timing might be poor, many companies have adopted this strategy, said Steve Spires, managing director of career services and an executive coach with BPI group, the Chicago-based consulting group.
“A vast majority of organizations run on a calendar year budget and year-end coincides with the need to achieve year-end numbers,” he said. "This often triggers the decision to reduce costs, including people and expenses to meet the budget.”
Most companies fire employees during the holidays to meet budgets, said Marissa Klein, a co-founder of Choice Fashion Media, a New York City-based recruiting firm, who has been laid off twice during Thanksgiving. Remembering that many layoffs are not a personal choice and lean toward being a fiscal one does not lessen the pain of the sting for former employees.
“I think it is a horrible time of year to lose a job,” she said. “My advice in a situation like this is to try and be in the moment and take the time to reflect on what is most important. Accept that your search will be quiet for a number of weeks.”
Unless an employee has committed an egregious human resources issue or severe misconduct, Leon Rbibo, the president of The Pearl Source, a Los Angeles-based pearl wholesaler and importer, makes an attempt to not terminate or downsize anyone in an effort to “keep the holidays enjoyable for our employees.”
“I've had the privilege of hiring many excellent and skilled employees over the years,” he said. “However, I've also had to let a few people go who didn't quite make the cut.”
The company tries to stick to its mantra of keeping the holidays an enjoyable time of the year by “intentionally” conducting the majority of evaluations in the beginning of the fourth quarter, said Rbibo. If there are employees who are underperforming by not meeting expectations, then the person has enough time to correct the issue “without creating unnecessary anxiety over the holidays,” he said.
“When it comes to letting someone go around the holidays, we really try our best to avoid a situation like that," said Rbibo. "Running a successful company does require you to make tough decisions, but I try not to let that human element escape me."
How to Job Hunt in December
The competition for positions is lower in December, because fewer people tend to lose or quit their jobs, said Rothberg. While job hunting is always stressful, many candidates will find it to be a good time to seek jobs as companies have also determined their budgets for the upcoming year.
“It doesn't matter whether you're the best candidate out of everyone who may apply as employers rarely actually hire the best candidate,” he said. “All that matters is that you're the first well-qualified candidate to apply and be interviewed because employers tend to hire the first well-qualified person.”
Spires advises fired employees to take another tactic and recommends that they “do nothing at first – whether it’s just for a few days or even for a few weeks,” he said. “You need this time to take a step back and decide where you want to go as well as to process the emotions that come with a job loss.”
While ramping up a job search is not a bad idea, being proactive means some people are searching for another position before they are prepared.
“You want to be focused in your search and you don’t want any negative emotions affiliated with the layoff to come through as you’re networking or speaking with prospective employers,” Spires said. “In so many of these instances, you won’t have a second chance and the first impression you deliver needs to be the best it can be.”
White learned her lesson quickly and in retrospect confesses that she should have searched for a part-time job during December because the education field rarely hires during the last month of the year.
“Getting terminated around the holidays is a really hard pill to swallow,” she said. “If I had to do it again, I would pick up a part-time job for a couple of weeks and would wait to start my real job hunt in January.”