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February 2, 2014

5 Ways to Deal with Survivor Guilt During a Layoff. ~ Lee Sears

business man

Due to a perfect storm of internal company changes, I knew my days were numbered as the last-hired employee on the books in my division; in fact, the ax over my head seemed to grow bigger and more threatening by the day.

Ironically, the parallel reality on the ground beneath this ax-shaped thunderhead was one of tremendous job growth and fast-paced learning in the two plus months of waiting for the inevitable.

Of course, deep down, I knew I would be job-hunting in a sluggish economy with my most recent job history being one of stay-at-home-mom, the “job” everyone pretends to honor but the job that, in truth, gets you squat in the world of paid employment.

In fact, being a stay-at-home-mom is a major strike against a woman in her career—or, at least, that’s what I have discovered along with other women I know, like me, who have returned to the work force after taking time away.

So, when I saw the corporate tides turn, I made a snap decision. Instead of grabbing free moments to launch a full scale job search, I decided, “To hell with it, I am going to throw myself at this job and learn as much as I possibly can.” Learn I did. Amazingly, some of my colleagues—perhaps taking my lead—devoted themselves to teaching me everything they could about multiple facets of the business before the final cut.

Here are the ways you can help your colleagues (and yourself) during a time of potential layoff, and the ways my colleagues helped me through what could have been a rough few months:

Not all the players at this particular company were singing Kumbaya in a circle around my desk. The key decision-makers (maybe two to three people up the new chain of command) did all they could to prevent me from being able to perform simple key tasks in my job description. I suppose this was a strategy to begin to control private information and to make sure that key tasks were not in limbo at the time of my layoff.

However, one engineer took it upon himself to coach me through, and include me in the process of, project management on complex multi-million-dollar engineering installations. I learned so much my head was spinning—it was like cramming for exams every day, but I loved it.

  • Be available to your colleague instead of avoiding them out of guilt and discomfort.

Another highly-trained specialist always returned my calls and emails and gave me as much time as I needed to ask questions and learn obscure laws and rules on international commerce and shipping.

  •  If you think you might be able to teach your colleague more skills before they leave or if you can throw them a project that can add to their dossier, by all means do so. Every single new skill and completed project counts.

Managers from the factory in Europe took valuable time from their days to answer my questions and coach me from afar. They continued to ask me to do things on their behalf.

  • Continue to include the colleague in flow charts until the layoff occurs!

The reason I knew for sure my days were numbered is that the high-ranking person who visited our group to announce the changes presented a slide show of what our group would look like in the coming weeks and months. The most important components of my position were typed in under managers outside our group!

After this, another manager in our group designed new corporate structure charts for his own division and made a point of putting my name on all of them.

  • When the final day arrives, please look your colleague in the eye, smile, say good-bye and stay in touch in the following few days and weeks to offer any support you think you can give. The tiniest little thing you do at this time will be greatly appreciated and remembered forever.

In the end, I felt highly supported and, well, loved—in a collegial, mentor-ish sort of way. So, when the day finally came, I walked out with the proverbial box of belongings feeling a profound sense of gratitude. I mean, yes, I knew I was facing a job search with all those highly-prized mommy skills—yet, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I’d just gone through the most intense, challenging and heart-felt boot camp I’d ever experienced.

For sure, it could have been highly demoralizing for me, had I not been given the encouragement of and, frankly, significant work load from other managers who were completely slammed and needed help.

Thankfully, as it turned out, I felt useful and learned a ton of valuable skills I have been able to use and will continue to be able to use in my career.

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Assistant Editor: Bronwyn Petry / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Gokhan Bayraktar/Pixoto

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