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Being the layoff survivor13 Jul 2009 08:45 am

help.jpgA friend of mine was on vacation last week and while she was out her employer laid off about 10 percent of the staff at her office. This after a recent series of major cuts.

She found out fairly quickly that she wasn’t on the chopping block, but she spent the rest of the day getting emails and text messages from co workers updating her on the carnage.

It was devastating for her to hear about so many friends getting axed, and you could see the agony on her face as she relived the day to me this past weekend. At some point, she said, she had to stop reading the messages. Even though she knew she was luckier than the employees that lost their jobs, the avalanche of bad news was too much to take.

Her biggest fear and dread was going in to work this morning because she knew the mood would be beyond sad.

I know she’s lucky because she still has a job, but layoff survivors go through their own world of hell and sometimes don’t know how to handle the fallout — dealing with coworkers, helping morale, saving your own job.

In this corporate layoff frenzy, about 81 percent of employed individuals believe their job security is poor to very poor, and 74 percent say morale is in the dumps, according to a survey by Telonu.com, a site that reviews workplaces.

“It is a culture that shifts the focus from motivation and collaboration to delegation and compliance. It is also a culture that expects those who remain to take over responsibility for the work done by those who have left,” says Barry Shore, professor of decision sciences at the UNH Whittemore School of Business and Economics. “Certainly, those who still hold their jobs feel grateful for being spared, but many also feel threatened, abandoned, burdened with more work, and subject to overall greater job stress.”

I figured this was a good time to offer some advice to workers and to managers left to deal with the layoff hurricane aftermath.

Joseph Grenny, coauthor of “Crucial Conversations:Tools for Talking When Stakes are High,” offers these tips managers can use for regrouping employees after a layoff:

1. The way you treat those leaving determines the trust you have with those staying. The audience of your downsizing performance is not just the downsized—but the survivors. They watch and draw conclusions about how you will treat them in tough times. So, be honest, proactive, generous and caring. If you come across any less, you’ll pay for it for years to come.

2. If you can’t offer job security offer job predictability. Be completely transparent about the timing of future reductions, where they will be targeted, and how much notice you will give employees. By helping people feel more in control you reduce the psychological costs of fearing the unknown while increasing trust.

3. Build confidence in the future as much as you share bad news about the present. Leaders become so defensive about announcing bad news that they hide from employees. Rather, leaders need to sell their plan to secure the future even more than they talk about the tough decisions of today. If they don’t, employees lose confidence and suffer “survivor’s syndrome” as they simply wait for the next shoe to drop.

And Jamie and Maren Showkeir, authors of “Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment“, offered these words of wisdom for employees:

1. You can blame everyone else — or be accountable for yourself.

Tip: Stop playing the blame game. Move on and accept accountability for your own role in improving the current situation.

2. You can keep quiet — or speak up.

Tip: Instead of “wandering and wondering” with your fears, take your questions and concerns to your manager or a higher-up who you know and trust.

3. You can feel helpless — or take action.

Tip: It’s tempting to play the victim and plead helplessness. Don’t. In the wise words of Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see.”

4. You can gossip — or do your job.

Tip: Odds are, your workplace is running rampant with gossip, rumors, and what-if conversations. Bypass such “fictional” chitchat and focus on your work.

5. You can look out for yourself — or consider others, too.

Tip: Looking out for “number one” is a short-sighted strategy. More important, it doesn’t work. Success, particularly in times of crisis, requires goodwill and collaboration.

6. You can tell others how to feel — or listen.

Tip: If you really want to support people, create a safe space for sharing and listening.

7. You can wallow in doom and gloom — or be hopeful.

Tip: It’s easy to be a downer in hard times. So rise up and take the road less traveled — conveying a grounded sense of hope and optimism.

I know, this morning is going to suck for many of you out there, but it’s just one bad morning in what hopefully will be a long happy career life for most of you out there. Whether you’ve lost your job, or dread dealing with the layoff aftermath, it will be better tomorrow…but you have to make it better.

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