January 9, 2013
Q&A: How do I cope with layoffs at my company?
Q: Things seemed to be going pretty well at work, and then we had a few layoffs. It’s really shaken me up, and I’m trying to settle down again. What do you suggest?
A: Layoffs are deeply unsettling for all affected, and it’s not surprising that you’re feeling stress from it. If you’re having trouble coming to terms with the changes in your workplace, you may need to spend some time working through your emotions.
Identify the feelings you’re experiencing, setting aside any sense of what you should or shouldn’t be feeling. Let’s go through some likely options. Anger is common, as is fear. Guilt, too, is not unusual for survivors of a layoff.
For each of the emotions you’re feeling, dig a little deeper to understand them. If you’re angry, what is causing your anger? Whom do you blame for the layoffs?
If you’re fearful, notice if you’re afraid you might be next, or if, perhaps, it’s concern over an additional workload that you may receive now that some of your colleagues are gone.
As an antidote to taking this personally, focus on understanding the business reasons for the layoffs. They may be purely financial -- the chosen route to cut costs. Or they may be more strategic in terms of having people with the right skills in the right numbers.
If information hasn’t been shared, seek it out so that you can feel steadier.
Having understood your emotions, it’s important to take action to release them. Getting them out in words in a safe way can be a great help. Try writing them out in a journal or in a letter that you never send. If you're not a writer, talk them out into a tape recorder. You can also find a friend or family member to vent to, but be careful not to burn out the person. Other creative outlets, such as drawing or music, can also provide relief.
Consider lessons for the future. If you determine that people were let go because their skill sets were obsolete, assess your own so that your risk doesn’t increase. Accept opportunities for growth, and be a go-to person. Manage your attitude so that you’re a positive force for the work environment.
When you start to feel anxious or angry, take some deep breaths and do a reality check. Is something bad happening at that moment?
If so, plan a reasoned response. But it’s more likely that you’re reacting to the past or anticipating the future, neither of which is helpful.
All that said, I'm concerned that your angst over the layoffs is somewhat prolonged. If you find you can't get over it, and are perhaps drifting into depression, don't hesitate to talk to a professional. These issues can be just too much to figure out on your own.
Focus on resolving your emotions and moving forward so that the past doesn't hold you back.
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Submit questions or comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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