Layoff Survivor Guilt: What is it and How to Cope With it? 

Layoff Survivor Guilt: What is it and How to Cope With it? 
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Despite companies’ efforts to avoid falling off to the effects of the global economic slowdown, it’s still common to see news about big organizations, especially from the tech industry, cutting employees. Although most of the spotlight and efforts mean to help people bounce back from getting laid off, this article is more focused on the aftermath for the ones who remain at a company, who are prone to experience layoff survivor guilt. 

What is Survivor Syndrome in Layoffs? 

Even if the more overwhelming effects of layoffs are for those who get laid off, it also has a huge impact on individuals who keep their jobs. Layoff survivor guilt, also known as workplace survivor syndrome, refers to the remorse or complex feelings employees who remain at a company experience after a round of layoffs. 

Although surviving a layoff gives you relief about keeping a steady income and your current career path, you may also experience guilt for preserving your job, grief over those close coworkers who got laid off, fear for what is to come, and anger towards your employer. When these negative feelings are not addressed and treated, they could lead to further problems like imposter syndrome, burnout, or poor employee wellness.

Previous studies have found that 71% of layoff survivors have experienced a lack of motivation, and 61% reported feeling less engaged with their company after a layoff. Therefore, it’s essential for companies to keep open communication and set up an action plan to keep spirits up for their remaining workforce to avoid increased turnover or poor employee engagement.

How to identify layoff survivor guilt 

If you recently got through a layoff, you are likely experiencing workplace survivor syndrome, especially if your workplace has become stressful or you’ve felt anxious ever since. Nevertheless, you should use communication skills and emotional intelligence to identify and share your feelings with coworkers or managers. 

If you’re still figuring out whether you’re just adapting to your company’s new reality or actually experiencing layoff survivor guilt, here are a few symptoms to identify it. 

Drained morale

As mentioned above, some of the negative feelings that employees with layoff survivor guilt may be navigating grief and frustration for those coworkers or even friends who got laid off; this state of mind leads to employees feeling unhappy about showing up to work and ultimately lower performance. The joy colleagues give to a healthy work environment is irreplaceable, especially when those relationships have been cultivated over the years. 

Distrust of the company’s management

Even if you keep your job, a common symptom of survivor layoff guilt is becoming blindsided or betrayed by your company. Employers who lack transparency as a core value tend to generate more mistrust among their workforce as they keep private details about the organizations’ financial state or recovery plans after layoffs.  

Quiet quitting

Combining the two previous symptoms can lead employees to take different paths. One of them is turning into quiet quitting and losing the proactiveness to go above and beyond. Suppose, as a worker you feel less motivated and feel like doing just the bare minimum compared to before the layoff. In that case, it’s most likely you’re feeling guilt and experiencing workplace survivor syndrome.

Considering leaving your job

The other path layoff survivor guilt symptoms lead to is actually parting ways with your current company. When workplace survivor syndrome goes unnoticed, and if you translate these symptoms to grief stages, leaving your job will be the last phase of the duel, especially if you’re unsatisfied and becoming aware of a toxic work environment

How do you deal with layoff guilt?

So, you’re aware that you’re experiencing layoff survivor guilt, but how should you deal with it? Facing your emotions and taking action as quickly as possible is essential to inhibit the adverse effects of workplace survivor syndrome. Otherwise, it would not only interfere with your career goals but also affect your physical and mental health. 

If you’re one of those employees left behind to pick up the pieces after a layoff, here are a few ways to deal with layoff guilt.

Embrace your feelings

First and foremost, it’s essential that you take the time to process your emotions. Even if your family and individuals from your network praise the fact that you’re keeping your job, you shouldn’t feel forced to hide your negative emotions. Surviving a layoff affects you both physically and mentally; therefore, you must take time to identify your state of mind and what you need to get back on track and get over the layoff survivor guilt.  

Trying to minimize your emotions by sticking to your daily routine turns out to be self-defeating after a while. Skipping recovery time to evaluate the boundaries you’ll have to set for your employer and if you’re satisfied with your current career development will lead you to burnout and affect you in more ways than you can imagine. 

Nurture your relationships with current and former colleagues

Although you and your laid-off coworkers won’t spend more time together at work, you can still nurture your relationship with them outside the workplace. This is an effective way to deal with layoff survivor guilt as it helps you lessen the grief of losing the camaraderie and allows you to set the focus on more important things for your peace of mind than job responsibilities. 

Preserving these relationships will allow you to provide further support in many ways, from a LinkedIn recommendation to a job referral. After a layoff, it’s also an ideal time to start networking with colleagues from other areas within your company, as it will allow you to forge new friendships to keep your support system strong in the workplace.

Set clear boundaries on your role’s responsibilities

A common problem resulting from layoffs is an increase in work for the remaining employees. As there are fewer people on the team but the same number of tasks, employees usually find themselves doing the work of two or more roles; if you add this to the layoff survivor guilt itself, your work-life balance will be affected shortly. The problem is when there is not a clear agreement between workers and managers. 

You can solve this issue by simply sitting down with your managers to set your new job expectations, current responsibilities, and the projects you can absorb to keep your workload reasonable without affecting your performance. It’s also essential to make sure your extra work aligns with your scope and skill set and that the benefits you’ll receive within the short and long term are explained to you. 

Evaluate your profile

The new responsibilities you may get after surviving a layoff can mean a chance to get a promotion or advance in your career. Instead of the self-doubting from the layoff survivor guilt, use the opportunity to reflect and get insight for upskilling or reskilling. Take the time to plan and be intentional about your career and profile as you also weigh in if these new tasks can be the forecast of a career change.

Set goals and move forward

Even if the right time for making career moves or having a chat with your manager to discuss future plans will be when things are more stable and not immediately after the layoff, make sure to set a time span —from three to six months after— to move forward your goals, whether is a new role you want to propose or gain a new certification, as well as to evaluate your progress.

Committing to your plans and goals is an excellent way to deal with layoff survivor guilt. Whether you lean toward a lateral move, a new opportunity at another company, or a career change, remember to treat yourself and have close communication with your company managers, coworkers, and former colleagues. Also, keep your resume and portfolio updated for any offers that may come.

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Contributed by Luis Arellano

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