Layoff Survivor's Guilt

For the first time in my life, I've been part of a "right-sizing" situation. Last week, my firm took steps to control our costs. Among other smart actions, two people were laid off. I had no idea how tough it would be. I'm sure it's not nearly as difficult for me as for the people who lost their jobs. Still there is definitely a set of emotions that go along with watching people you've labored beside go home from work for the last time, not because of their own performance, but for purely financial reasons. And my coworkers were treated with dignity, not handed a box for their stuff and then escorted to the door like other friends of mine who have recently lost their jobs.

Much has been written for those who have been laid off. Little attention is paid to those left behind because even though they have likely taken cuts in pay or benefits - or taken on an extra load of work - they at least have jobs. But the emotions experienced by the survivors is real. For me personally, there has been a certain amount of questioning why I wasn't chosen and worrying about the emotional health of the newly unemployed, wondering what I can do to make it easier for them.

Enter the term "layoff survivor's guilt." CNN recently posted an article about dealing with layoff survivor's guilt. Time Magazine had one titled After Layoffs, There's Survivor's Guilt. Businessweek posted another article directed at senior managers about stopping survivor guilt.

According to a few articles I've read, besides survivor's guilt (why him and not me?), there are at least two other specific emotional responses to surviving layoffs including survivor's envy (wishing you'd been cut, too) and emotional contagion (picking up and displaying the negative emotions of others).

My former coworkers are talented and smart people who will surely create opportunities out of this situation. They'll land somewhere new and create new works bonds. And, when the economy recovers (and it will, even if not as artificially robust as before) the euphoria of success will wipe away the pain of the layoffs.