May 17th, 2016

Survivor Guilt: How Layoffs Can Change The Workplace For Those Who Remain

It may not be something you think about all the time, but your coworkers can often become a second family. You see them almost every day and they become part of your life and even sometimes close friends.

With the downturn in the Alberta economy, more and more people have been experiencing layoffs and work ‘families’ have been torn apart.

Download Our Guide On How To Protect Yourself In This Economy

Something that is not talked about enough when it comes to layoffs is what psychologists have termed ‘survivors guilt.’  There are a number of ways people deal with the layoff of a co-worker, but there are some symptoms that managers and fellow coworkers should be aware of.

Struggle with guilt

There is the thought of ‘why was that person let go and not me?’ that is so often associated with survivors guilt. It can be a confusing time because of the relief workers feel when they are not let go, but then the grief they feel for their fellow coworkers. When that coworker is laid off, it can feel like the loss of a friend or loved one and that can have an extreme emotional toll on individuals and the entire office.

Psychologists have pointed out that people with survivors guilt may also suffer from emotional contagion, known as the tendency ‘pick up your laid-off colleagues’ feelings of gloom and desperation.’ This can be especially hard for union workers who may have a ‘recall right’ in their collective agreement, meaning ‘the right of an employee on a layoff to be called back to work by his or her employer under a term or condition of employment.’ Seeing them again may only add to that guilt and the stress felt by people still there.

Increase to workload and burnout

Not only are people dealing with the loss of a coworker, but they are often expected to pick up the extra workload and inherit a lot of new responsibilities from the people who have left. There can be a situation where the person may have been removed, but all of their workload remains only adding to the stress of the people who still work there.

Anxiety and Pressure 

Once layoffs start happening, the pressure to keep a job creates a cut-throat culture.  With cuts looming throughout Alberta, many employees can’t help but wonder if they are next. This can lead to anxiety and a complete change in identity for the entire company. This can sometimes be more damaging than what the person who was laid-off may feel themselves.

Download Our Guide On How To Protect Yourself In This Economy

Expected to Jump Back in the Saddle

When coworkers are laid off, there is no time for grieving the loss. You have to get back to work, especially if your workload is increased. However, the anxiety and stress that people feel from survivors guilt can often lead to ‘reduced commitment and productivity.’ The fear of being the next one to go can cause many to ‘freeze up’ and get less work done or have to work longer hours to get it done.

If you or someone you know is really struggling with anxiety or depression during these economic times it is important to reach out for help. In Calgary you can call the Distress Centre 24 hour crisis line at 403-266-4357 and in Edmonton 780-482- 4357.


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