When downsizing must happen, the emotional toll is heavy on everyone in the company as well as everyone close to it. Layoff survivors, those who are left after a round of layoffs, are in a stressful situation. In fact, those who still have their jobs experience similar anxiety and decline in well-being to those who have been laid off, but that negativity is more persistent and prolonged.
This negativity occurs thanks to emotional contagion – which is the tendency for an emotion to spread. Of course, emotional contagion can be good during profitable times, but it is especially dangerous when there is cynicism throughout the organization. Imagine the impact on not only satisfaction and company culture but also on performance and collaboration!
To deal with the issue, the negative emotions that are being experienced must be addressed:
- There is guilt. “How do I deserve to keep my job when hard-working Joe who has a family and has been here for fifteen years is gone?”
- There is fear about the future. “That could have been me. And what will happen if we go through this situation next year as well? Is my job at stake too?”
- There is burnout. The increase in workload demand on top of these other emotions just feeds the stress hormones even more.
That sounds pretty bad. But social support can help — there are things we can do for each other that will lessen the impact:
- Moving quickly. The easiest way to cope with a transition is, quite frankly, to just make the change already. Take action swiftly, and don’t stay in the state of contemplation for a delayed period.
- Perception of fairness. Explain the decision-making process that went on in determining who was let go. If it follows a logical path, it can be easier to deal with as it helps retains a sense of control and fairness.
- Communication about career. A contributing stressor during downsizing is perceived job insecurity. Address this fear with an honest talk about career progression and positive things to come.
The options for coping with a difficult time include both negative and positive strategies. Things like positive thinking, direct action, and soliciting support are positive ways to cope with change. But it is also common to become disengaged, angry, and want to turn to a new job or to a new company to avoid the situation.
Clearly, positive coping strategies are better for everyone involved – the hurting individual as well as the hurting organization. What can you do to increase the likelihood that your team will cope well? What have you done that has helped someone cope with a difficult transition?