Layoff Survivors Dealing With Mixed Emotions

By Staff

March 23, 2009

Workers surviving layoffs are experiencing physical and emotional symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress.

The Indianapolis Star reports that Barry Shore, a business professor at the University of New Hampshire, has coined a term called Post Downsizing Stress Syndrome. The condition includes anger towards management, health problems and a feeling of hopelessness. Unlike Survivor's Guilt, this syndrome can last longer and become more serious.

"When an anxiety-ridden environment continues for a long period of time, there seems to be a syndrome that develops," noted Shore. "If there's a prolonged external stimulus, like we're going through right now, you are basically hit over the head with it all the time."

Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Public Health, agreed that people who survive layoffs can experience psychiatric effects. "This downsizing syndrome really is a psychological reaction to a crisis," he noted in The Star. "We know that people behave in pretty predictable ways during disasters. And you are the survivor of a work disaster."

The Los Angeles Times reports that according to a study by the Institute of Behavioral Science on the physical and mental health effects of surviving layoffs, employees who survive layoffs are prone to greater role ambiguity and job demands that can contribute to increased alcohol consumption and depression. In addition, they often eat differently, smoke more, suffer from neck and back pain, and increase their use of sick days. The study also concluded that the psychological effects of surviving a layoff lasts six years, and the effects of surviving multiple layoffs are cumulative.

"None of the effects are good," said Frank Landy, author of Work in the 21st Century. "Layoffs clearly have emotional and practical consequences for companies and workers."

Kim Cameron, professor at the University of Michigan 's Ross School of Business, agreed that employees remaining at a company can be affected by many emotions, including anger about losing colleagues, disgruntlement at having to do extra work, fear of losing their own jobs, and envy of those who exited gracefully.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Cameron said that layoffs tend to have "negative long-term results: profitability, quality, efficiency and productivity are damaged. Human factors like loyalty and commitment tend to suffer when workers are viewed as liabilities to be cut."

The New York Times offers a list of ways that survivors can contend with their own guilt and help those who have lost their jobs. Some suggestions include helping laid-off colleagues network through the Web through LinkedIn or Facebook, offering desk space or printer access to assist with job searches, and extending playdate and dinner invitations.

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