Because work is a four letter word. But so is life. And so is love.

After The Downsizing: Taking Care of the Survivors

Recently I received a card from a former client: “Doing OK. Still have job.”

This man has worked for the same company, in the same department, for more than 20 years. Almost two years ago, however, nearly a third of his co-workers lost their jobs, casualties of downsizing and restructuring.

“Those people were like family to me”, he wrote. “And now they are gone.”

Nearly two years later, my client still hasn’t recovered from the lost of his colleagues. The truth is, there really is no way for him to feel any better any faster. In fact, surviving the loss of co-workers to a massive layoff triggers feelings similar to those experienced by persons surviving a fatal catastrophe.

First comes denial. The rumors can’t possibly be true: they’re not really going to cut half the department. Then, anger: how could they let Jim go just when his wife had a baby?

Next, guilt and depression. Why did they cut Jim instead of me? When are they going to cut me?

Finally, acceptance. Well, I lived through another tough one and was actually able to help a few others in the process.

There is no way to rush through this cycle. If you are going to come out truly all right in the end you can’t skip any phases. But what you can do is take steps to help move yourself through those phases with as little emotional trauma as possible:

  • Control stress. Don’t let it control you. Keep exercising. Keep breathing (watch how often you catch yourself holding your breath!) And don’t eagerly listen to every rumor flying around the shop.
  • Seize change as opportunity. Keep a journal of the coping skills you develop. Chronicle what you do to handle ambiguity and confusion. Then add these skills to your resume.
  • Take care of yourself. This is not the time to try to lose 10 pounds, but it’s not the time to start living on Twinkies, either.

It’s essential to hold onto the fact that work is not your life and you are not your job. Through it all, you are a being of intrinsic worth, capable of accepting the situation, harnessing your new found skills and carrying on.

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