In recent months, it has been rather disheartening to hear about layoffs of friends and colleagues from within our local nonprofit sphere. Since the downturn, I think everyone expected this type of thing, though it doesn’t make it easier.
I have been through several organizational layoffs in my life – four, to be exact – and I tend to be almost more traumatized when I’m a “layoff survivor.” When you are on the receiving end of a layoff (twice in my case), you have clear-cut tasks ahead of you: update your resume, search for a job, apply for unemployment comp, tighten the family budget, etc. When you are a layoff survivor, you feel like you should be happy or relieved that you still have a job, but it’s never quite that simple.
When you have narrowly avoided a layoff, the emotions are complex. Relief that you still have a job. Guilt that you still have a job and co-workers don’t. Sadness about friends no longer at the office. Anxiety about job performance and how it related to the layoffs. Fear that you might be cut if there is another round. Worry about what you will do if you lose your job. (“I wonder if I’d enjoy living in a teepee without electricity…?”)
After layoffs, those left behind tend to play it safe and avoid taking risks – as if management is sitting on high waiting for employees to really screw up so they can choose their next layoff targets. (That’s generally not true, but it feels true when you are going though the experience.) You can also experience physical illness as the immune system starts to break down from prolonged stress.
In addition, I’ve found that it’s not only a direct co-worker layoff that can stress you out (though that is the worst) – our local nonprofit sector is such a small, tightly-knit place that anytime a friend or colleague loses his or her job, you can experience layoff survivor symptoms (albeit likely to a lesser degree).
With our growing workload and the increasing need for our programming, nonprofits can ill-afford employee paralysis and tense atmospheres in our workplaces. In order to get our country and economy back on track, we need people in high performance mode – not fearful and lying low, tense and irritable, and unhappy but putting on a good show.
The nonprofit sector is not exempt from this. We are direly needed at this critical time in history and we need to be fully present and functioning. That means, among other things, managing the effects of layoff survivor syndrome.
Here are some good articles for additional information:
- Coping Strategies for Layoff Survivors
- Guilty and Stressed – Layoff Survivors Suffer Too
- Downsizing Survivors: Motivating the Employees Who Remain After Layoffs
- Layoff Survivor Syndrome (PowerPoint)
- Layoff Survivor Syndrome in the Workplace