Companies like Amazon, Salesforce, Microsoft and Google have all announced layoffs this year. And unfortunately, there may be more on the horizon. While losing your job is hard, being one of the employees left behind can also be difficult. It’s called layoff survivor guilt, and it’s real. The term refers to experiencing remorse that one has “survived” a layoff when your colleague didn’t.
When you’re a survivor, you may experience an array of emotions. In addition to guilt, there’s the relief that you still have a job and the overwhelm from taking on more work. A layoff may also negatively impact your performance. In Leadership IQ’s study, Don’t Expect Layoff Survivors To Be Grateful, 74% of employees who kept their jobs during a corporate layoff say their own productivity has declined since the layoff.
While layoffs place a heavy burden on remaining employees, it’s important to acknowledge and deal with any negative feelings as soon as possible. Otherwise, they may eventually interfere with your mental and physical health. If you are one of those left to pick up the slack, here are five ways to deal with layoff survivor guilt.
Accept your feelings
While your friends and family might congratulate you for still having a job, you may not feel exactly the same way. Accept that you’re going through a grieving process and undergoing a range of emotions. Also, you’re not alone. Your co-workers are going through the same experience, which makes this a good time to lean on each other for emotional support. If you manage a team, set an example by practicing empathetic leadership and being transparent with your own feelings.
Remember your “why”
According to McKinsey research, 70% of employees said their sense of purpose is defined by their work. That’s why it’s a good time to remember why you joined the company in the first place. What was it about the culture or mission that attracted you? How do your efforts make a positive difference in the world? Remembering what gives your work meaning will provide perspective and give you the energy and optimism to keep moving forward.
Spend time on relationship building
Another way to deal with layoff survivor guilt is to reach out to former colleagues. Ask them if there is anything you can do to offer support. Even a simple LinkedIn recommendation or job referral can go a long way. It’s also the perfect time to establish new relationships in your organization. Are there other departments internally that you’ve been interested in? Reach out to co-workers on those teams to network and learn about their day-to-day activities. If nothing else, you’ll forge new friendships and continue to build your support system.
Get better at setting boundaries
If you’re one of those remaining, your workload has probably increased significantly. That means it’s time to get better at setting boundaries with your boss. Begin by creating a list of your current responsibilities and prioritize the most urgent items. Then determine how many projects you can reasonably manage without negatively impacting your performance. If possible, choose those that align the most with your skills and job role. You may even want to think about how you can delegate the less important tasks. At that point, set up a time with your manager to discuss your concerns and lay out your proposal. Approach the discussion calmly and be prepared to negotiate if necessary.
Look for the silver lining
Even within these challenging circumstances, there are opportunities to be found. First, consider what internal projects you’ve wanted to pursue and seek them out. Maybe you can even create a role for yourself that doesn’t currently exist. Start by considering your company’s most immediate needs and how they align with your skills and interests. Then create a detailed job description and a potential transition plan to present to your supervisor. If you can describe a company challenge and how this new position will solve it, you’ll be more likely to have a positive outcome.
While dealing with layoff survivor guilt can be jarring, it doesn’t have to be a setback. Recognize that your feelings are normal and that you only have control over yourself. By taking that approach and prioritizing your well-being, you’ll be more likely to turn uncertainty into opportunity.