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Lay-Off Survivor Guilt: Coping with guilt when a co-worker is laid off!

Updated: Aug 4, 2022

Imagine this- 'You work at a reputed company. You like your job because you enjoy the work you get to do and everything else is smooth flowing too. You have a good source of income. Colleagues are friendly and supportive. One day, you witness that the colleague you just had your lunch with was called by your boss. He was laid off. He comes out of the boss’ cabin teary- eyed.' How would you feel then?

Welcome to reality! According to a study, more than 11k Indian employees have been laid off recently in their startups (Kashyap, 2022). Experts also found that 90% of 47 crore employees got zero lay-off compensation i.e., monetary benefits or secure job placements in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. The current economic crisis can make anyone fear layoffs.

You must have heard about the 'survivor’s guilt', right? It is the emotion of intense guilt that one feels after witnessing a life-threatening event (e.g., a natural disaster or a serious accident) and surviving through it however, feeling guilty after realizing that the other person didn’t. Similar to this, is what we call “Lay-Off Survivor Guilt”. It’s a guilt feeling we get when we witness a co-worker who has worked in the organization for a long term, being laid-off, restructured or fired from the job.

Sally Spencer-Thomas, a Clinical Psychologist elaborates about this syndrome as “mixture of grief from losing colleagues, anxiety regarding their (own) job security, overwhelm from needing to pick up more work, and distress from deteriorating psychological safety.”

So, if you have survived a layoff and feeling guilty, that's okay!

This new and sudden change in the workplace can affect anyone's life! We may feel disheartened, demotivated and find it hard to focus on work. It's no wonder that productivity is prone to be hampered. It is important then to keep our emotional well-being in check.

Here are some ways to help you:

1) Do not ignore your feelings!

It is okay to feel what you are feeling right now. Ignoring or criticizing your feelings will only make you feel worse in the long run. Acknowledge that these are difficult feelings and that they need time to process. Give yourself enough space from time to time let these feelings settle.

2) Stay in touch with laid off colleagues.

Check up with your colleagues. Talk to them about how this sudden change is affecting them. Also, be honest about how you feel. Try to be there for them and help them find connections that would get them a new job. This will help you feel assured about their condition and may reduce the guilty feelings.