Press "Enter" to skip to content

Layoff survivor guilt is real for workers who survive layoffs

Mass layoffs Such as those who are disrupted in the tech industry affect more than the people who lose their jobs.

Laid-off workers face practical challenges, such as staying afloat financially and securing a new job, as well as hard feelings, such as feeling rejected. Meanwhile, those who remain after their colleagues are fired suffer from “layoff survivor guilt,” according to workplace psychologists and laid-off survivors themselves.

Susan Tyson, a marketing professional at a Texas-based software company, experienced this firsthand when her employer cut 25 of her nearly 7,000 colleagues last month. At first she was relieved that she wasn’t among those who lost their jobs. Then regret began to sink in.

“My first thought was, ‘Yippee, not me!’” “And my second thought was feeling very guilty because other people lost their jobs and I didn’t,” Tyson told CBS MoneyWatch. “Many of the people I’ve worked with have been left behind and you feel bad whenever that happens.”

Google has cut 12,000 jobs, with layoffs continuing in the technology sector


When fear begins

In general, survivor’s guilt begins when some people survive, often arbitrarily, a traumatic event such as combat, a natural disaster, or job layoffs, while others are not so lucky.

In the workplace, it can stir up anger, fear, and anxiety among surviving employees, according to David Noyer, career counselor and author of Healing the Wounds: Overcoming the Trauma of Layoffs and Revitalizing Small Organizations.

In his experience, “People who survive layoffs tend to be less productive, more suspicious, more fearful, and get less work done than expected.”

“I feel like I’m on a short list.”

Some workers, like Tyson, wonder why they were furloughed and fear losing their jobs in a future round of cuts.

“I’ll be honest, I feel like I’m on a short list and there are more cuts to come,” she said. “I don’t know what the logic of layoffs is. I just don’t get it.”

In fact, when employers are not transparent about why some workers are being laid off and others are not, it can lead to deep feelings of insecurity.

“Employees who stay with a company after layoffs often feel anxious about the future of the company,” said Catherine Mincio, founder and CEO of The Muse, a career development platform. “It can be difficult because most employers can’t comment on why certain people are chosen to lay off workers while others are not.”

“It could be related to budgets, company priorities or performance. Or it could be somewhat random, and the vagueness and lack of concrete information could be scary to people,” she added.

And in the age of remote work, employees sometimes don’t know which of their colleagues has been cut.

“Sometimes you don’t even know who’s left until you send them an email and an autoresponder comes back,” career transformation coach Katherine Morgan told CBS MoneyWatch.

Psychological “tsunami effects”.

Wrestling with these complex feelings can erode layoff survivors’ confidence in the company, and thus affect their productivity and performance at work.

“It creates a lot of paranoia and because of that, you feel a great deal of mistrust within the organization with layoffs so widespread,” said Sally Spencer-Thomas, a workplace mental health expert. “Workers will wonder if the organization cares about their well-being or if they are just looking to make a profit. So there are a lot of psychological tsunamis that happen after mass layoffs.”

Companies that proactively prepare their workforce for layoffs generally have better results. Steps that can reassure employees include communicating the reason for the layoff and providing information about the company’s future. Leaders who “handle feelings and emotions” and host “grief and catharsis sessions” can keep workers’ faith in the company intact, according to Neuer.

“That’s what strips away in a transition like this. So taking action and steps to rebuild that trust is essential,” said Spencer Thomas.

“Job thinning” is a growing trend among workers as layoffs continue across the United States


For laid-off survivors, reaching out to former co-workers can go a long way toward making both parties feel better. “It’s important to keep in touch with the people who have left. They need support just as much as the people left behind. And it’s good to know that colleagues care about you and want to stay befriending others, because that feeling of being kicked out is so painful.”

Mincio said that it can help alleviate feelings of guilt because one has been spared from one’s job as well.

“One of the most powerful things anyone can do to deal with discharge survivor guilt is to actively reach out and connect with and help those affected people in your company,” she said. “You can be a strong asset in their job search by introducing them to other contacts and companies, offering them as a positive reference or helping them review their resume or LinkedIn profile.”



Spread the love