- Wise Words -
A Remainers Guide.
Layoffs & Survivor Guilt
by fergus mellon
Layoffs are crappy. They tear a team apart, disrupt business for many weeks and months and at an individual level are exceptionally stressful. Most obviously they are stressful for those who lost their job, but they are also difficult for those who survived. For those who get to keep their jobs and paycheck.
So what? Well, at some point you will be at a company that lays people off and leaves those human beings without a job, without the means to support themselves and their families.
Instead of talking about being laid off, in this column I want to talk more on how to deal with layoffs as “The Remainer”.
Here are some ideas of how to navigate through this period of survivor stress.
As The Remainer on the day of layoffs it is best to keep a low profile and especially not gossip with other friends who also kept their jobs. It is a terrible day for the people leaving and the main thing to do is show is respect for those individuals. You may want to ask if there is anything immediate you can do for them.
It is also worth monitoring your own emotions. This bit is really hard, but as the whole day is stressful your body will likely be coping with the situation and that can mean dealing with the associated adrenaline rush that your body produces. This rush can show itself in being overexcited and/ or relieved towards the end of layoff day which may mean you become louder and more vocal. While you may get a huge adrenaline rush, try to hold it together. The human beings who have lost their jobs will be feeling like crap and a hyper mood is unlikely help them.
Helping Out – The Leavers
In the days and weeks following layoffs, there is an opportunity to help those who left.
If you worked with and/or respected some of the people who were laid-off, reach out to them and offer to help them in any way that you can during their search. An easy thing that is likely to be appreciated is writing a LinkedIn recommendation. These will should recruiters and future employers that they did a good job and built relationships at their old company. It is also worth thinking of anyone in your network who could help them out even if only for an informational interview or networking.
Don’t be surprised if your offer of help takes a week or so to be welcomed. It may feel like your help has been rejected, but try to think of it a different way. Instead try to understand that those who were laid off need time to regroup and decompress.
You may also want to check-in a month or so after the layoffs, just to catch up on the phone or in-person coffee or drink. Even if you don’t have a huge network and can’t help in the practical pieces of their job search, you may find that through your conversation you bring an idea or two to the surface. At the very least they will also have connected with someone outside of their new day-to-day and got a break from their job search.
Back to you. Remaining & Surviving
While helping those in the tight spot is priority one, a close second and very important priority is to look out for you.
While you have it better than those who lost their jobs, you are still in a challenging place. You are likely to go through “survivor guilt”. You may wonder why you got to keep your job and feel that the friends and colleagues you respected and were laid off were let down by your company. Here are some ideas that could get you through the guilt and help your team re-group.
Rhythm & Guilt
While it may seem strange to talk about the rhythm of the guilt, what this means is that you can be sure others around you are going through similar things. Here’s how I have found the rhythm of emotions from the many (too many) rounds of layoffs I have gone through:
First Day After Layoffs: It’s pure survival mode. That adrenaline rush I was talking about earlier will have led to a crash. The days following and into the weekend can be truly draining.
First Full Week: So, having got a weekend break everything is back to normal, right? Unfortunately, no. What is common is for the low energy to continue, combined with some resentment at what the company has done. There may have been mistakes in messaging, in decisions to overload you and others with work. There is still likely to be some sadness that comes from having seen good friends and productive colleagues leave the company.
So, what to do? The quick answer is to go with it. There is no shortcut in terms of feeling more motivated. The main thing to do is know that it is normal to be feeling this way and maintain your professional attitude; not easy, but do what you can.
Second Full Week: This is when signs of life begin to emerge. We are working through our stages of grief and beginning to adapt to the fact that our colleagues are no longer with us. Typically, we will be focusing more and more on the tasks that we have to do and slowly rebuilding our faith and trust in the business. No one can expect us to be really happy at this point, but hopefully you and others around you will be rebuilding and supporting each other.
Four Weeks Later: This is typically when the recovery is truly in place. Hopefully we will have connected with the friends who we miss from the office. They will be getting somewhere in their job search and rebuilding generally. It will also be the point that the new normal becomes, normal.
I say all this so that you can take the pressure off yourself if it feels like it is a bit of a slog. Getting back into a new rhythm is not easy and it takes time.
Ok, so as I said above, we are going to be emotional. We could be angry, sad, tired. You name it. As there’s no way around this for most of us it doesn’t mean we can’t respond to it in a way that helps our teams and other humans who are also in our position. We need to find our professional-selves so that we can help move the business forward.
Here are a few ideas:
Pitch in: It is very likely that after layoffs that tasks get dropped. There may have been underappreciated people who left and with them a big gap in the ability of your team to complete its work. While it may be tempting to blame “management”, “layoffs”, “you name it”, the tasks still need to be done. Work with your manager to help them fill the gaps both for the interim and see if there’s a way to how to break down work that still needs to be handled and spread some of the extra work among your team.
Other types of pitching in can looking out for struggling co-workers who are finding it difficult to cope. Regardless of the need, do what you can to look out for others to help rebuild your team and company.
Your manager: They are very likely going to be feeling like you with in your Rhythm & Guilt, but may also be wondering just how you view them. They may wonder how much you blame them for the layoffs and those of your friends and peers. While these thoughts are entirely understandable, take a moment to put yourself in their shoes.
Monitor your mood: So, just because we are dealing with the Rhythm & Guilt, doesn’t mean that we can just mope around the office. While inside we may feel a bit like "I hate you XY Company", it is still worth monitoring our mood. Not to be "happy clappy", but to be professional and trying to move the forward for you and your team.
So that’s it. I would love to have painted a “this is the bright side of laying people off” but honestly, I don’t really believe it. They are challenging and take time for everyone to recover from and my hope is that this is a helpful for column for navigating layoffs and the aftermath if you are part of them, but remain in your job.
Related columns: “How I Recovered From Being Laid Off”, “Here’s What I Did When I Got Laid Off”, “Ideas for a Job Search”