Surviving layoffs has its downside

Peggy Penberthy’s brother-in-law finds it hard to walk the halls at his company these days.

“It’s difficult to walk past empty offices,” he told her.

Penberthy, a representative of the Mountain States Employers Council organizational development and learning department, used her relative as an example of how staying employed after colleagues are laid off can be depressing, too.

During an MSEC fall conference this week at Two Rivers Convention Center, Penberthy presented a survival guide for Colorado employers to help workers through a transitional period.

Employees can feel scared, angry, uncertain, frustrated, sad, guilty, betrayed, stressed and resentful after a layoff, Penberthy said. And those are the employees that kept their jobs.

Creativity can go downhill as employees attempt to keep their heads down and their risky ideas to themselves. Employees can feel less attached to their company and colleagues, either as a coping mechanism when preparing for the worst or out of loyalty to a friend that was let go. Dedication and loyalty may be shaken. Expertise can leave the building with each layoff, and employees may struggle with added workload or learning new tasks and computer software.

An “us versus them” mentality can occur as employees go through the three stages of survival: relief at dodging a bullet; feeling overwhelmed; and anger or apathy as people feel no one notices the extra work they’re doing.

Penberthy said employers should be prepared for some instances of poor attendance, a slowdown in productivity, risk avoidance and gossiping.

Penberthy said the office doesn’t have to be a source of tension, though. Instead of waiting for employees who may fear appearing incompetent to ask how something should be done, she encouraged employers to make themselves available. Walk by cubicles, ask how people are doing and keep an open door policy, Penberthy suggested.

“Make the environment feel safe enough that they can ask if they’re not sure about something,” she said.

Being honest is also important, she added. People may not be entirely comforted by the truth, but it’s better than allowing the rumor mill to churn and potentially divide the office or hurt job loyalty.


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