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The COVID-19 pandemic is now having an impact not only on Canadians’ physical health but also on their financial health.

Losing employment or being laid off temporarily, even in non-pandemic times, can be traumatic, stressful and overwhelming. There’s no way to sugar-coat the fact that losing a job during a pandemic will bring increased uncertainty.

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As hard as it sounds, all you can do in a time of crisis is focus on what’s within your control: your decisions and actions. The end goal is to put yourself in the best position to be ready to return to the work force as soon as possible.

It can be expected that if you’re losing your job or being laid off you’ll be worried and fearful about your financial situation and what the future will hold. Being aware of what’s going on, slowing down and focusing on what’s within your control can keep you as calm as possible so you can maximize your problem-solving abilities and make safe and responsible plans.


The alternative is for your emotional brain to take over, creating negative emotions and thoughts, as well as reacting in ways that can put yourself and others at risk. It’s important not to place blame, as there’s no blame to place. This is a global health crisis that has no set of instructions. It’s totally normal to feel isolated, worried and not sure what to do. Keep top of mind that you’re not alone and that your family is likely worried too. The more you can stay calm, the better it will be for everyone’s mental health at this difficult time.


The first thing to do after getting the news of losing your job is to follow a plan with specific action steps that can help you feel like you’re in some control of your situation. Without a plan, you’re more prone to perceive you’re isolated and alone, with no options.

  • File for employment insurance (EI) – Be proactive and act immediately. This can help give you a window of financial security.
  • Get clarity – If laid off, seek to understand milestones for when or if your employer plans to rehire employees. Ensure your expression of interest and intention are clear if you want to return.
  • Connect – It’s important to let as many people as possible in your network know what’s happening and to ask if they have any opportunities or ideas. As in any crisis, some employers will be looking to hire.
  • Make a financial plan – Examine your budget and create a plan to manage your cash flow.
  • Banks – Communicate with your banks to see what programs for interest relief and payments you’re eligible for.
  • Pause – Examine your best alternatives with your family or a trusted friend. In this kind of crisis, it’s helpful to examine options and the different kinds of “what-if” situations. Together you can then determine your best course of action.
  • Release tension – Find something healthy to burn off tension and stress. Laughter and humour in times of stress can be nice distractions to allow your mind time to rest. Look for ways to burn energy and distract your mind so it can get a break. If you’re worried and nervous, this will help you make better decisions.
  • Talk – If stress is becoming overwhelming, it’s good to talk to people you trust, especially if your emotions are running high and you’re questioning if you will have any hope or a future. If you’re not sure whom to talk to, look for safe, online peer support communities (e.g., Big White Wall), local community mental-health resources and crisis lines. Some employers may have extended employee and family assistance programs.

Bill Howatt is the chief of research on work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada