Job cuts leave remaining employees with guilt, anxiety
In July of this year, the government jobs report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reported a loss of 7.9 million jobs during the Great Recession.
Unfortunately, at the end of each calendar year, many companies determine the size of their workforce for the upcoming year. During the Great Recession of the past three years, that has resulted in many workers losing their jobs during the holiday season.
The people who are laid off have a difficult, emotional road ahead of them. But they are not the only ones. The truth is that the workers who remain behind can have as much emotional distress as those who lost their jobs.
Those who survive year-end layoffs frequently experience a vast array of emotions—they are sad, scared, and worried.
Sad for the loss of their coworkers and friends. Scared because of the uncertainty of the economy and its impact on employment. Worried because they feel that they might be the next to go.
At the same time, those still employed also feel relieved, thankful, and guilty. Relieved because they made it through the latest round of cuts. Thankful because they do not have to go home at holiday time and tell a spouse they are no longer employed. Guilty that they still have a job when their former coworkers do not.
The truth is that many downsize survivors feel like victims. Typically ignored in the drama of downsizing, layoff survivors get to keep their jobs, only to face rising workloads, sinking morale, ongoing anxiety—and the uncomfortable feeling that they ought to be grateful for it all. Many times, layoff survivors hear that they should be grateful that they still have a job. Typically they are grateful, but feel guilty for being grateful.
Regardless of the relationship with laid-off coworkers, those still on the job grieve. There is a sense of sadness associated with empty cubicles, increased workloads, and a general distrust of upper management. Depending on how respectfully the layoffs were handled, this distrust may run deep. Poorly treated layoff victims deepen the distrust in the survivors.
Anxiety and a lack of motivation also accompany the loss of coworkers in a layoff. Research indicates that many employees polish up their resumes and begin a job search. These positive actions help the layoff survivor feel more in control of their situation. But that can be bad news for the company, because some of the key workers may decide that they don’t want to stay in this type of negative environment.
While reactions to layoffs vary greatly among survivors, these suggestions can help those who are struggling with their emotions.
1. Understand that the emotions being experienced are real and genuine. It will take time for emotional responses to return to normal.
2. Stay in contact with management. Frequent discussions between employees and managers can help both sides come to terms with what has happened.
3. Stay in contact with the other remaining coworkers. Sharing emotions and concerns will help everyone cope.
4. Try to keep a routine in place at work. Employees who can keep a routine similar to the one they had prior to the layoffs have more of a sense of normalcy.
5. Stay in contact with laid-off coworkers. This is difficult for many people who are still on the job. But these are friends who are in a bad place, and being supportive will help everyone.
6. Volunteer for a committee at work. With job loss comes gaps in other areas of the business, such as diversity or standards committees. Volunteering to join one can help employees by getting their minds off of negative thoughts.
7. Layoff survivors should give themselves a break. Often they beat themselves up emotionally as a way to deal with the stress of what has happened. But this is the time to treat themselves with kindness.
8. Layoff survivors need to realize that time, indeed, heals all wounds. In this case, patience is a virtue.
It is not easy for layoff survivors to get back into the workflow. But it is necessary. The more they can do to make the process go smoothly, the better for them, their family, and their company.