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by Emily Wiegand | February 21, 2023


Many companies have recently downsized their workforces, which has understandably caused a lot of employees anxiety. While some people fear that a layoff could be coming their way, others struggle with survivors' guilt as they’ve seen their valued colleagues packing up their offices with an uncertain future ahead of them. If you find yourself in this situation, here are three things you can do to help you through this difficult time. 

1. Work through your emotions 

When a feeling such as guilt arises, it’s easy to want to ignore it, hoping it will go away. Unfortunately, that’s not how emotions work. Ignoring how you feel will only lead to built-up emotions, and it will be even more difficult to fully process how you’re feeling.

How exactly to sort through what you’re feeling looks different for everyone. You could take steps such as speaking with a therapist who will help you wrap your mind around what you’re feeling and offer some insight on how to move forward. Or maybe all you need is a coffee date with some of your friends to vent so you can finally get some of your thoughts out in the open. Talking to someone about how you’re feeling will help you move forward and keep you from ruminating these thoughts in your head. 

No matter what course you take, one of the most important things to remember when processing how you feel is that this isn’t your fault. You keeping your job isn’t the reason your friend was let go. Unless you‘re the one making the decisions, you’re not in control of what actions your company takes.

2. Provide support 

Helping a former colleague during their search for a new role after a layoff can be beneficial for both parties. Your friend could land a job quicker with your help, and knowing you helped someone during their tough time can provide you with some more peace about the situation. 

Helping someone on their job search doesn’t mean simply looking for jobs. A key role you can play is help establish or increase their credibility and highlight what makes them an asset to potential companies. This can mean you write them a letter of recommendation, introduce them to your relevant contacts, review their resume, or even endorse them on LinkedIn. 

Most important, let them know that you care and are here to support them. Most likely your former colleague is feeling like the company turned their back on them. If you can show that you still have their back, you both will be able to navigate the situation with a little less guilt and stress. 

3. Continue to work hard 

It’s important not to change how you work after a layoff. A recent study from Leadership IQ found that 74 percent of employees who survived a layoff were less productive afterwards. While this number doesn’t claim survivors' guilt to be the cause, it still accurately represents how entire companies are affected when a portion of their workforce is laid off. 

One thought commonly associated with survivor's guilt is believing that you don’t deserve to keep your job. And if you begin to be less productive and accomplish less during your workdays, the feeling of not deserving to stay could be intensified. So, instead of letting your feelings consume you and impact your work, use this time as a motivator to work hard (while still taking your mental health into account, of course). The more successful you are at your job, the more you’ll begin to believe that you do deserve to stick around through downsizing, which is 100 percent the case.

Finding exactly what to work on probably won’t be too hard, because you might find that you have to take on some of your former colleagues' work. While the additional responsibilities can increase your stress and anxiety, successfully completing this added work can also help you feel accomplished—and more than deserving of your job.