Surviving a Layoff

blue orange and yellow triangle illustration

I was laid off early in my career. I have survived layoffs later in my career. Laid off staff are given support through salary, coaching or offering new opportunities in the company. Surviving a layoff means more work, uncertainty and sense of uneasiness for the survivors. This sense of loss impacts survivors in physical and mental ways. There are many articles out there that offer guidance to people who have been laid off but few articles for . For the layoff survivors out there, this article is for you.

Conflicting Emotions

If you’ve survived the lay off you may feel two conflicting set of emotions:

  • Relief that you survived
  • Fear, uncertainty or anger with what’s happened

The leaders of your organization will likely focus your attention on the positive, new direction of your company which may make you feel like you need to lean in to the feeling of relief. But deep down those other feelings – fear, uncertainty and anger – are present. This is natural. There is nothing wrong with you that you feel both sets of emotions.

Don’t Ignore Your Feelings

The emotions you are feeling about the layoff are real. It’s important for you to pay attention to and address what you are feeling. Studies show that ignoring negative emotions can impact our both our physical and mental health. We may lull ourselves into believing that layoffs are “just business” but consider how much a part of your life is at work. Your colleagues are friends and may even feel like family members. Changes like this can be shocking, jarring and even traumatic.

Pause Before Making Any Impulsive Moves

Rage-posting, rage-quitting, and rage-applying (to new jobs). Your first instinct after the layoffs may be to lash out or leave. Short term this may feel good. Long term, these behaviors may not serve you.

Studies show that about 25% of employees will leave after a layoff. This response is driven by grief and anger. See the prior point – don’t ignore your feelings. Work through your feelings first and then move from reaction to action.

Job hopping before you’ve processed your feelings can mean that you take that negativity with you. These emotions can emerge in your interview and, if you get the job, in your interactions with colleagues and managers.

I’m not suggesting that finding something new isn’t reasonable. I am suggesting that until you work through the emotions of surviving the layoff, you are vulnerable to making decisions which you may regret later.

Talk It Out

Surviving a layoff can trigger so many emotions, some that have nothing to do with the layoff itself. Before moving to action, make sure you take some time to talk (or vent or complain). Avoiding feelings can bottle up emotions that will hold you back.

You may be feeling survivor’s guilt. In David M. Noer’s book Healing the Wounds: Overcoming the Trauma of Layoffs and Revitalizing a Downsized Organization, he describes layoff survivor sickness (or guilt) as “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense; an emotional reaction that one has violated social mores. (pg. 14) You may feel as if you could have done more to save others. You may also question why you were selected to stay while others were let go. These feelings can have a great impact on your productivity, energy and mental health.

Find a trusted confidante – a family member, colleague or other person – with whom you can share what your feelings. The act of verbalizing what you are feeling can assist you in finding your footing and determining what action, if any, you need to take next.

And Then Consider Your Next Steps

I was complaining to my dad a few days after a layoff. He replied “you’ll be miserable as long as you want to be.” He was right. I needed to move from “being miserable” to doing something about it. Complaining can make us feel you feel stuck, which prevents us from moving forward.

When we switch our mindset from one of lack of control to one of control, we can see possibilities for how our situation can play out.

In the next post, I’ll look into some steps you might consider next.

Published by Susan Moore

Co-chair Charlotte Carolina Club - Carolina Club Ambassador - Former Chair Jacksonville (FL) Carolina Club - Former Carolina Alumni Admissions Program representative

%d bloggers like this: