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How Layoffs Impact Surviving Employees


“layoff survivor syndrome” may show up as increased anxiety and depression

When an employee survives a layoff, they aren’t necessarily grateful to still have a job. Rather, feelings associated with “layoff survivor syndrome” actually negatively impact their ability to work effectively.

Susan Peppercorn said in her Harvard Business Review article about layoff survivor guilt: “While some may feel lucky to still be employed, others may experience mixed feelings. They may be relieved to still have a job but simultaneously guilt-ridden about the suffering of former colleagues who were let go.”

Survivor’s guilt is when someone (or masses of people) experiences a loss yet you did not. It’s a sense of guilt associated with surviving a situation, incident, or event while others did not. You likely know someone – or even yourself – who has experienced survivor’s guilt about surviving a car accident while others did not, or overcoming cancer when others did not. I even feel it myself because of surviving colon cancer.

In the workplace, when employees are laid off, the other employees can have “layoff survivor syndrome”. It may show up as increased anxiety and depression; reduced self-esteem and reduced overall well-being. Symptoms can range from stress-related physical ailments like headaches and difficulty sleeping, to having difficulty trusting management or employers.

In fact, 74% of employees who kept their job amidst a corporate layoff say their own productivity has declined since the layoff. And 69% say the quality of their company’s product or service has declined since the layoffs.

There are things that employees can do for themselves to help with the layoff survivor guilt, such as:

1. Aligned with personal and professional goals.

2. Keep focused with a list.

3. Take care of yourself – physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Additionally, employers can help the employees who have survived the layoff with the following:

1. Offer assistance. We have CareerMARKS – on demand training for your employees to thrive in the workplace.

2. Be a good listener and really seek to understand the stress of the surviving employees.

3. Reduce meetings and increase your one-on-one time with your employees. According to the “Optimal Hours with the boss” study, people who do spend an optimal number of hours interacting with their direct leader (six hours per week) are 29% more inspired, 30% more engaged, 16% more innovative and 15% more intrinsically motivated than those who spend only one hour per week.

As a leader, you are uniquely positioned to help your employees to perform their best – no matter the economic circumstances. Check out this episode of Today’s Top Leaders for information about what leaders can do to help their employees deal with being a layoff survivor.

Ready to level up as a leader and make a difference for your career and your team? Contact us today to discuss options for coaching and training so you can become the leader everyone wants to work for.