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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Layoff Survivors Face Stress of Anger, More Work

 At the beginning of my career I survived two layoffs in less than ten years. In the first organization, I was one of five employees kept after 35 others were laid off. In the second, I was one of the first to go. Both situations were stressful and exhausting.

Good News-Bad News: You have a Job-- Your Colleagues Don't

When I was one of five people left with a job, I felt like an airplane crash survivor. The good news was I had survived the impact--I still had a job. The bad news was there was no one to celebrate with-- all my colleagues were gone. One day the office building was filled with people; the next day it was empty.

My job after the layoffs was  to rebuild the program. Under other conditions, I would have loved the challenge. But I was exhausted and depressed from the anxiety of the layoff. Getting out of bed each morning was the biggest challenge I could handle.

 After the Layoffs--Recognizing the Emotional Fog and its Effect on You

Layoffs are hard on everyone, including people left behind after the cutbacks. If you survive the cut, it's your job to pick up the pieces and move on. But a strong mixture of emotions can make it difficult.

You feel loyal to your laid off co-workers and you feel loyal to the company smart enough to keep you on. You breathe a sigh of relief one moment, knowing a paycheck is still coming; you catch your breath the next moment, wondering if you will be next.

Financial problems may permeate the organization so you don't bother to ask for sorely needed resources.  Tired and afraid, you look suspiciously at other people wondering why they have it so easy.

The Natural Response: Work Harder, Longer and Alone

The easiest response under these conditions is to pull in, and do it all yourself. Don't talk to anyone about your feelings. And don't complain about the amount of work that needs to be done. You should be happy to have a job.

Most important, you work long hours to overcome the guilty feelings you have about keeping your job while the others were let go.

If you stay in the job, you unconsciously cut off relationships with people who were laid off, even if they were friends. It's too stressful to maintain a relationship with them and still work in the organization responsible for their layoff.

Unconscious Adjustment of Your Beliefs to Support Your Behavior

Research shows when we act one way and believe another, we change our attitudes to support our behavior. This helps us reduce the inner tension created by the conflict.

So if you stay on the job, you'll find a reason to distance yourself from those laid off. Irrational as it may be, you may get angry at the people laid off for deserting you and leaving you with all the work. Ironically, the organization and those who survived become the good guys, and the people who were laid off the bad guys.

Or if you maintain a friendship with those laid off, you'll find a reason to put distance between you and the organization. You may decide you just can't work for an organization that let quality people go. In the end, the organization and the survivors become the bad guys,and the people laid off the good guys.

How to Reduce Your Inner Tension and Make Good Conscious Decisions

But is either response the best response? The goal in this situation is to make choices that leave you feeling good about yourself when you look back ten years down the road. During times of major upheaval, the path of least resistance is often the path of least enjoyment.

If you've recently survived a layoff, you can reduce your inner tension, regain your balance, and make better conscious decisions by engaging in the following five activities.

Put Your Thoughts on Paper
When your thoughts keep tumbling around inside your head, the issues get clouded by your emotional filter. When you put them on paper, the emotional filter is removed, allowing you more conscious choices. This helps you clarify your feelings and goals in the midst of the emotional fog.

 Find a quiet place, pick up your pen and start to write. Don't worry about the consistency, logic or truth of what you write. Just write what comes to mind. Write a letter you'll never send to the person in charge of the layoffs. Put your thoughts aside for a day or two before reviewing them. You may be surprised by what you discover.

Get Adequate Sleep
We all make better decisions when we're well rested. Give your mind and body time to come down from the stress; plan to go to bed early and sleep in as late as you can. On your days off take a nap. Continue to get more rest until you feel your body and mind are back in balance.

Take some unscheduled time for yourself as soon as you're able. Do whatever you feel like doing. Don't sweat the details. Breathe. Just Breathe.

Get out and do something that has no purpose other than enjoyment. Attend a sports event, take a bike ride, go for a walk, watercolor, work in the garden, play with your children. Play lets you focus your attention on the fun parts of life. When you return to work after engaging in playful activities, you'll return with renewed energy and a fresh perspective on life.

Talk About Your Feelings
Layoffs create inner confusion for everyone involved. Talk to your co-workers about it, and don't be afraid to talk frankly with the people laid off. Let them know you 're sorry they lost their jobs. If you feel guilty you still have a job and they don't, tell them.

Feeling guilty, and working longer hours won't make your laid off friends feel better-- and it won't bring them back to work. You can do more to support your friends by encouraging them to trust their strengths and abilities to get rehired. Each of you have the needed ingredients within you to create a successful next chapter in your lives. So relax, regroup, and regain your strength and energy for taking the next steps. Move forward knowing everyone's future will be bright and secure again. Life has a way of always working out.

Need help making a transition in your life?
If you or someone you know would benefit from coaching to get through a career or other life transition, please contact me. The first hour is free. Skyping is available for out of the area help.

To schedule workshops for your group or organization, please contact me.

All things seemingly good or bad work in my favor!


Kim said...

Once again, Susan, you really touched what is going on. "Be thankful you have a job" is the cursed phrase. Miss seeing your face and also love what you are doing now. Maybe another door opened. Kim

Marilyn Coffron said...

Excellent...once again you have timely advice. Love your articles, Sue! Also love your art and deep seated message.

Chris said...

I have linked your blog to my website. Thanks for your great and regular posts!

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Kim, So glad this one spoke to you. Time to change from the cursed phrase to the blessed phrase--"All Is Well. I look forward to my day with energy and enthusiasm!" Take care of yourself and be of good cheer!

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Marilyn, thanks for your kind words. I'll be sending you some art soon....

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Christine-- So glad you linked my blog to your website! See you Monday.