In the months, weeks, and days leading up to a “restructuring”, the stress levels within the company escalate as rumors spread and tensions build. When the day finally arrives, many people are actually relieved to be laid off. If they are lucky, they receive a severance package that will give them some breathing space while they refocus and look for another job. They often qualify for employment insurance benefits, and they have the sympathy and support of their friends and family. After the initial period of shock, grief, sadness, and anger, most people recover from being laid off and move on to more satisfying employment opportunities.
The Effects of Downsizing on Layoff Survivors
But what about those they leave behind? Beyond the pep talk they receive on the day many of their friends and coworkers are escorted out of the building, these employees often receive little consideration. After all, they should be grateful to still have a job and be eager to work even harder to keep it. However, more and more research studies are showing that nothing could be further from the truth. Following a layoff, many employees feel confused, disillusioned, uncertain, sad, powerless, and even angry — a condition that organizational psychologists refer to as “layoff survivor syndrome.” When not addressed or dealt with, these feelings can fester and build into severe depression and burnout that could take months or years to recover from.
Some Tips for Layoff Survivors
So what can you do if you survive the cut? According to Kenneth Wexley and Stanley Silverman in their book, Working Scared: Achieving Success in Trying Times (Jossey-Bass Inc, 1993), downsizing “…violates two fundamental motivating precepts: the need for security and the desire for justice.” (76) Although, they note that managers should help employees deal with their emotions to restore productivity and morale, they also suggest that employees can apply strategies to cope with the changes.
Talk about how you are feeling
Grieving for the loss of coworkers and dealing with the changes in your workplace is necessary. If you try to ignore your feelings, they will remain unresolved and spring out at you when you least expect it. But be careful not to get drawn into negative talk with coworkers for an extended period of time. When you focus on the positive aspects of your job, both you and others around you will start feeling better.
Clarify your job description
Inevitably when a company downsizes, as a layoff survivor, your job will change. Tasks that were previously completed by someone else will now be your responsibility. Don’t be tempted to work extended hours to do the work that was previously done by several employees. List the tasks that must be completed and meet with your manager to discuss what can be accomplished within the time and resources available and to set priorities.
Keep a positive outlook
As difficult as it can be at this time, you need to look at the positive. Concentrate on getting the work done and look for opportunities rather than focusing on the losses. What can you take from the position you are in? Can you learn new skills? Get additional training?
Manage your stress
During difficult times, it is even more important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eat a healthy diet and avoid junk food. Maintain a regular exercise program. Practice yoga or meditation. Most of all, keep things in perspective and focus on the big picture.
Evaluate your situation
Is this restructuring a one-time thing or do you expect more changes in the future? Do you trust your management team? If you are concerned about the company’s future or continue to feel disillusioned and dissatisfied, start looking for a new job.
The effects of layoffs on remaining employees can be devastating for companies and its employees. A good manager will pay attention and address those issues as part of the restructuring process. But, even if they don’t, you can take care of yourself and whether you decide to stay with the company or move on to something else, you can survive — and thrive — during and after a layoff.
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