Survivors: Coping after your company's layoffs

AP News
Posted: Dec 07, 2009 4:40 PM

When companies lay off workers, the employees who still have jobs may be relieved, but they're not celebrating.

Instead, these survivors often struggle with a mix of emotions: grief for the workers who are gone, anger at company managers and fear and uncertainty about the future. And for those who are told to take on the responsibilities of laid-off colleagues, there's probably resentment.

It can be hard for workers to contend with all these feelings at once and to hold on to a positive attitude. Human resources and management pros have some helpful advice:


You already felt overloaded before the layoffs, and now the boss is adding to your responsibilities. Can you say no?

Richard Chaifetz, CEO of employee assistance program provider Compsych Corp., says it's not a good idea, at least right away. Chances are, everyone in your department or the entire company is taking on more work, and managers expect all staffers to pitch in. The last thing you want is for them to think you've got a bad attitude.

After you've had some time trying to juggle all your assignments, it's OK to reassess your responsibilities and talk to the boss. That may be the time to discuss dropping or reassigning some work that isn't a priority.


Surviving a layoff probably won't mean an end to your stress and anxiety. You're dealing with the loss of your colleagues and you feel like you have more work than you thought you could handle. And then another thought: "What if there are more layoffs to come?"

Unfortunately, you're not likely to get a clear answer from higher-ups about the future. They may not know themselves, given the vagaries of the economy.

Carrie R. Leana, professor of organizations and management at the University of Pittsburgh, suggests some steps to help calm your nerves:

_ Get some support. Talking out your problems, worries and fears with family and friends is a great way to ease the stress. Arranging get-togethers with co-workers will help lessen the isolation that layoff survivors often feel.

_ Prepare for the worst. Update your resume. Network with friends. Save more money. If you're financially stable and laying the groundwork to get another job, it might alleviate some of the anxiety.

_ Seek more help. If you are taking steps to feel better but the fear and stress are still overwhelming, see if your company offers an employee assistance program that can offer counseling. There may also be resources in your community you can turn to.


It's OK to talk to your co-workers about your feelings, as long as you keep the conversations constructive. If you start griping publicly or privately, it can get back to your bosses. And they might interpret your negativity as the bad attitude you want to avoid.

Remember, too, that your boss is probably contending with the same issues you are. Middle managers are often even more affected by layoffs than rank and file workers, according to Leana. They're often seen as "executioners" by staffers, and many times they're caught between employees looking for answers and higher-level execs who aren't talking.

But if you have suggestions for how everyone's workload can be streamlined or made more efficient, Chaifetz said you shouldn't be afraid to voice your opinions.

"Many employees have great ideas about what to do to help a company get through difficult times, but they fear they won't be listened to," he said.


"Flying under the radar" after a round of layoffs is one of survivors' biggest mistakes, Chaifetz said. Instead of trying to draw attention to themselves, they lay low. And that can mean missed opportunities.

"When a company lays people off, they're expecting the people left to do more with less," Chaifetz said. "This is your chance to shine and really get noticed."

Volunteering to work overtime or take on new projects are great ways to prove to your bosses that you're a vital asset, he said.

"Even in layoffs, you have to keep someone _ and you want to keep your best and brightest," he said of managers.

Taking on those extra tasks might even land you a promotion, so it's important to keep a good attitude as best as you can during the transition. And even if there isn't potential to move up in your company, the extra skills you gain might be useful somewhere else.