Layoffs at your company? How to cope with ‘layoff survivor’s guilt’ and get back to normal

It's normal to feel isolated and guilty after co-workers are laid off, says Arturo Gallo of Monster Canada. Getty Images

When an employee is fired or let go from a job, it doesn’t only affect the person leaving, but the remaining employees within the organization as well.

When this happens, many employees feel a type of survivor’s guilt – in this case, it’s known as layoff survivor guilt – and coping after such an event can be difficult.

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“When someone is let go, it starts to affect you psychologically,” says Arturo Gallo, content manager at Monster Canada. “You start feeling guilty, remorseful and we’re afraid that we’re going to be next. When we stay behind, we feel this survivor’s sickness and it’s a very distressing feeling, but it’s normal.”

In a sense, surviving employees are mourning their ex-colleagues and will feel a range of emotions like sadness and anger, Gallo says.

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In fact, such events can even impede on an employee’s ability to work. According to one 2004 study by Columbia University, a worker’s self-esteem can take a hit when their co-workers are laid off. Not only did these situations increase feelings of remorse, it can also result in increased negative attitudes towards their co-workers.

It’s a tough time to experience, Gallo says. But while there’s no set time for how long those feelings will last, there are a few things that employees can do that will help them cope and move on and get back to normal.

Stay calm

“The first instinct is to panic and worry that you’ll be next,” Gallo says. “Instead, stay calm. If you’re worried about being let go or if you think more work is coming your way, come up with a plan what you can do next.”

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Gallo adds, “It’s very normal for us to want to lose our cool and calmness in these situations, but be as professional as possible and try to be as proactive as possible when it comes to your professional development.”

Set boundaries

“Chances are, there may be more work coming your way – it’s called ghost work – so make sure you know how much work you can take,” Gallo says. “Be open about it to your manager. Share with them how much you think you can handle and take on, but make sure you set your boundaries right from the beginning, professionally.”

One day at a time

“Little by little, ease back into your work duties and just take it one day at a time,” Gallo says. “Be positive. Sometimes, these changes are necessary but it could also be for the better – we never know.”

Get help

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, get help,” Gallo suggests. “Talk to your human resources department, your boss, your family and/or your friends. It’s OK to vent, but if you’re going to say something negative out of rage, try to talk to people outside of your work. Don’t vent any negativity at your work. Vent to your friends and family instead.”

He adds, “When our colleagues are let go, this is out of our control. These are decisions we have no matters in, so we should not take it personally.”

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Stay in touch

“You can stay in touch with those people who have been let go,” Gallo says. “Don’t do it on company time or on company technology, do it outside of work. It will give you some time to talk about what happened and it will help the both of you cope with the situation and heal.”