How To Keep Your Composure After Surviving A Round Of Layoffs
Staying confident after surviving a round of layoffs is as important as it is challenging.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | February 12, 2023
For many employees, the ongoing layoff season can be an overwhelming experience. As we have recently seen with the news about Google employees, layoffs can cause significant stress and anxiety not only for those laid off but also those who survive the purge.
For instance, Google employees were left feeling anxious about their own job security after a move that saw approximately 6% of Alphabet Inc.'s full-time personnel laid off, including some high performers and those on immigration permits.
The lack of "psychological safety," according to one employee from the U.K., raised concerns, and they questioned how they were expected to feel safe again.
This seems to be a universal feeling. As a psychologist, I have seen an uptick in people coming to therapy with questions like:
- "How can I deal with the emotions of surviving a layoff in my high-pressure work environment?"
- "How can I regain my confidence and feel secure in my job given the uncertain nature of the current job market and industry layoffs?"
- "I feel so guilty when I think about how my friends are out of a job while I am not. How can I stop feeling this way?"
Here are two ways to reframe your thoughts to stabilize your mental health after a brutal layoff season.
#1. Let the quality of your work speak for itself
It can be difficult to focus on your work when you are uncertain about your future in your organization. It can feel futile to pour your energy into a project you may or may not see through to the end.
However, a review article published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that while uncertainty is often linked to negative emotions, it can also be a great motivator if you are able to process uncertainty from a "how could this potentially benefit me" viewpoint. The more positive you remain about your work and its quality and impact, the more confident you are going to be in the face of an uncertain situation.
Think of it this way. If you are terminated by your current organization, you will need to look for employment elsewhere. Showing your prospective employers that you remained dedicated, confident, and productive in stressful situations (like this layoff season) will be a great look for you.
On the other hand, if you crumble under the pressure and start neglecting your work, you are in for a double-trouble situation: your current organization may notice the drop in performance and may think of you as an easy target for the next time they resize and prospective employers could read it as a sign that you do not work well under pressure.
#2. Embrace change by upskilling yourself
When it comes to keeping your confidence up after a particularly brutal layoff season, upskilling is the name of the game.
While it is easy to get caught up in the guilt and the whys and the hows of your employment status versus that of your colleagues' who were affected by the downsizing, try to focus on the positives. You were offered a continued opportunity to grow in your current organization because you bring unique skills and contributions that are prized by your employer. One way to make yourself even more indispensable is to pick up skills beyond your areas of expertise.
Let's take the example of the layoffs at Microsoft and Google. These companies are betting big on artificial intelligence (AI), and this seems to have partially precipitated the recent layoffs.
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, has referred to AI as the most transformative technology of all time and has claimed that the company's plan in making the layoffs will be to "focus our talent and capital to our highest priorities."
Although it hasn't laid it out as concretely, Microsoft may have similar goals. The company let go of around 10000 of its employees, while almost simultaneously investing $10 billion in OpenAI, a pioneer in the AI space.
A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Human Resource Management argues that upskilling yourself to accommodate the changes brought about by AI is crucial. Forecasting a work environment where human-AI interaction will be widespread, the study found five sought-after skills to add to your repertoire:
- Data analysis skills
- Digital competency
- Complex cognitive skills
- Decision making
- Continuous learning
Even if your job doesn't have anything to do with technology, it is important to keep abreast of the developments in the technology space, because AI is here to stay and it will change how we think about work.
Surviving a layoff season in your industry can be challenging. There's a level of guilt that comes with being a survivor, and layoff anxiety is real and lasting. Sometimes, the best way to deal with the distress this can bring about is to speak to a mental health professional. Understand that it's possible to come out stronger and more resilient on the other side. By focusing on your work, staying confident, and upskilling yourself, you can weather the storm and be prepared for new opportunities in the future.