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Workplace Survivor Syndrome

Workplace Survivor Syndrome

On 19 Nov 2014, in mental health, Workplace

We’ve all felt the impact of layoffs in one form or another, but people who have been spared the direct hit often find that being lucky never felt so bad. “Miserable” is how most downsizing survivors describe it – grinding through massive daily workloads while waiting anxiously for the other shoe to drop and wondering why it was the other guy, and not themselves, who ended up out of work.

What survivors are feeling is called “workplace survivor syndrome,” a term coined by organizational psychologists to describe the emotional, psychological and physical effects of employees who remain in the midst of company downsizing.

Is it real? Multiple studies suggest that job cuts are just as hard on the people left behind as they are on those who were downsized. One study showed an increase in alcohol consumption, smoking and workplace injury among layoff survivors. Other studies report depression, plummeting productivity and poor morale among surviving staff.

Compounding the problem is a scarcity of support for downsizing survivors. After all, shouldn’t layoff survivors just be grateful to be working? One research study reported that “guilt” was one of the top three words used by layoff survivors to describe their feelings. The other two were “anger” and “anxiety.”

It’s tough, there’s no question about it. Here are some strategies to help you cope:

  1. Allow yourself time to grieve. The emotional trauma of saying goodbye to long-time coworkers is very similar to losing a loved one.
  2. Resist the temptation to “avenge” lost coworkers. What’s done is done. Holding a grudge helps no one, least of all you.
  3. Ask for clarification on how job cuts were chosen. Understanding the reasoning behind each decision can help alleviate the guilt of being spared.
  4. Avoid office gossip about further cuts and who may go next. It only adds to stress and anxiety. Focus instead on being positive and productive.
  5. Find opportunity within adversity. Taking on additional work can be a stressor, but it can also open previously closed avenues. Use company shakeups to press for assignments that lead to professional growth and personal fulfillment.
  6. Take a mental break. Reconnect with friends and family. Take a short trip. Putting physical distance between yourself and work, even for a day, is a great way to distance yourself emotionally and gain perspective.
  7. Cut yourself some slack. Do your best each day, but don’t burden yourself with the expectation that it’s up to you to single-handedly save the company.
  8. Use BJC EAP. Their experienced consultants are specially trained to help you get through a rough time. Be sure to ask about programs and materials geared specifically toward coping with layoffs.
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