Due to widespread layoffs and furloughs prompted by COVID-19, many employees are losing their valued coworkers and work friends. Although these layoffs are hard to experience for those left without jobs, employees who are still employed may also be affected. Employees that survive layoffs feel a level of relief and gratitude, but often experience feelings of guilt and sadness. While it’s important for organizations to focus their support on layoff survivors, few leaders pay as much attention as they should. It’s important to take a proactive and intentional role in healing yourself and colleagues from the organizational trauma. Losing a work colleague can be jarring and disrupt your day-to-day routine. To move forward, take steps to funnel your emotions into productive activities that will remind you of your workplace’s positives.
Here are several strategies to help you cope with the emotional strain of losing your coworkers and how to move forward.
Acknowledge your emotions.
Although your family members, friends, and the professional network may note how lucky you are to be gainfully still employed, it’s okay to acknowledge your “survivor’s guilt” as it’s a common reaction for employees who survive a layoff. You might be grieving the personal loss of a close colleague or team member and also experiencing similar feelings of loss, anger, worry, and guilt, so be sure to take the time to process your feelings with your manager and fellow employees to create a strong circle of support and belonging. If you lead a team, demonstrate your awareness and empathy for your teammate’s layoff-related emotions.
Reinvest your energy in productive and constructive activities.
During the aftermath of a mass organizational layoff, it can be difficult not to spend time discussing or criticizing the layoff process, but doing this is unproductive. It will likely make you even more upset. Don’t waste your time trying to understand the logic of who was laid off and who remained. Instead, prioritize surrounding yourself with positive, supportive work colleagues, and focus on what you can control, like your work performance and productivity outputs. For example, if the layoff has you feeling stressed and fearful about your own job security, take action, and develop a plan in the event that fear one day becomes a reality.
Reignite and rediscover your larger professional purpose. What’s important to you about work? What’s the larger organizational problem you are contributing to solve for, and how are your efforts making a positive impact and difference for others? Answering these questions will remind you how meaningful your work is. It’s also useful to reflect on the people in your life, especially those you work to provide and care for. Defining the meaning and purpose of your life’s work can also be associated with better physical and mental health.
Pour into your current professional relationships.
It’s completely normal to miss your work friends recently laid off; however, you will probably need to establish and strengthen new relationships within your workplace due to the layoff and associated organizational restructuring. Thinking about your specific organizational and performance goals for you and your collective team will help you identify the new colleagues that you should forge those relationships with.
Next, consider your short and long term career goals in light of restructuring. Ask yourself, could you be more open and inviting to building new relationships? A strong network is not only critical to career development and success, but it also contributes to feelings of well-being, belonging, and fulfillment at work.
In addition to massaging your relationships with colleagues at work, try to actively reach out to your former colleagues and offer tangible forms of support. You could offer to review their resume, write a LinkedIn recommendation, or connect them with your network. Being laid off can help a deep emotional impact, and your former colleagues will appreciate the effort to connect.
When multiple employees are laid off, more work remains tend to remain for employees who survive a layoff. As an organization looks to continue accomplishing their business objectives for their bottom line, work assignments are doled out to the remaining employees. However, juggling additional work on top of an already full plate creates stress. And most likely, remaining employees can’t do everything their former coworkers completed on a daily basis.
Amid difficult circumstances, like layoffs, there could be new opportunities for you to shine within the workplace. Assess the new skills or experiences that align with your career interests and goals and proactively seek them. In addition to thinking about what you would like to take on, analyze what tasks for projects, you can let go to lighten your workload.
Layoffs are rarely a positive experience for anyone involved—those laid off or the survivors. As a survivor, you’ll likely experience a range of mixed and disorienting emotions, manage a heavier workload, and miss coworkers. However, following the strategies above will help you rebound emotionally and move forward productively, contributing to your career and your organization’s success.