How To Channel Your Survivor Guilt Into Something Positive Amidst The Mass Layoffs


It started late last year. In November of 2022, Meta laid-off 13% of their workforce. Then Amazon had mass layoffs, then Doordash, followed by Salesforce, Google, IBM, Spotify, Microsoft, Paypal, Disney, and Zoom, with rumors that Meta will again be laying off thousands of employees. That’s a fraction of the list of companies that have had mass layoffs, and we’re still in Q1.

The impact of mass layoffs tends to focus on the organization that is doing the laying off and the individuals themselves who have been laid off, but what about the employees who survived? If you recently survived your company’s mass layoff, you may have initially felt a sense of relief.

Unfortunately, that sense of relief can quickly disappear when reality hits you.

The Reality Behind Mass Layoffs For Survivors

As a mass layoff survivor, you’re now faced with a new set of problems and concerns. The first is a feeling of overwhelm. You’re still processing the loss of your colleagues and friends, only to discover you’re now responsible for several of your former colleagues’ projects and daily tasks. Suddenly you’re now doing the jobs of 2-3 people, and you’re more visible by your boss, which is putting extra stress and pressure on you to get the jobs done, so you’re not next to be laid off.

You start to feel really unhappy about the entire situation. Survivor guilt is real. Survivor guilt or survivor syndrome is a symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When someone survives something traumatic while others do not, it can trigger feelings of, “Why them and not me?” While the survivor may no longer have to worry about getting laid off right now, they can start to experience feelings of stress, withdrawal and performance anxiety. It doesn’t matter if you enjoyed your job before the layoffs or not; you’re definitely not enjoying it now.

Finally, you’re left questioning everything you thought you had already figured out. You’ve been working hard since school to build a career that is rewarding and meaningful which also provides you with a sense of security, and then everything you thought you knew for sure is gone. You never thought your organization would lay-off so many people, and definitely not one of your best friends who has been a superstar in your department for over ten years. Suddenly you’re left wondering if you know what the company truly values in an employee.

All of your feelings are real, and they’re all valid. It’s shocking when something happens you didn’t see coming, and it’s hard to feel in control of your life when things that are out of your control are negatively impacting you on a daily basis. It’s important to give yourself time to process your feelings.

Once you’ve had time to reflect and process, the next step is to focus on how to channel your guilt into something positive for you and your career. You may initially feel like you’re being selfish if you focus on the positive but it’s how you can take back control of something you had no control over. Instead of letting your survivor guilt tell you to be afraid, which will only hurt you and your job performance, take that energy and focus on the ways in which you can grow and learn from this experience.

The solution is to take back control.

Here Are Five Things You Can Focus On To Help You Regain Control:

Show Off Your Leadership Skills.

While this may not have happened the way you envisioned, your company is morphing and changing in new ways, which gives you the opportunity to stretch and grow in your new role. During mass layoffs, managers are often let go, which gives individual contributors a chance to interact with executives they’ve never had face-to-face time with in the past. This may be the perfect time to show off your leadership skills and prove to the people around you that you’re ready to handle more responsibility with additional work.

Refine Your Communication Skills.

You may now have 2-3x the amount of work as before, which also means you have to be strategic and thoughtful about how you communicate with leadership around what you can truly handle. You don’t want to get into a situation where you smile and nod as the higher-ups dump work on you because they know you can “handle it.”

Become A Visionary.

Many times who is laid off in these situations is decided by people who have very little knowledge of how laying off certain employees will affect the entire department. This is your chance to show you can see the big picture and offer solutions others can’t see with initiative and confidence.

Know Your Limits.

Before you jump in and start saying “yes” to everything you’re being asked, take a look at what you’re now responsible for and think about what makes the most sense for you and the organization. Think about how much you know you can handle, and handle well, and create a plan of action to bring to leadership.

Get Noticed By Senior Leaders.

You’ve now created an opportunity for yourself which is to build relationships with people you may have been overlooked by in the past. If you’ve been overlooked for promotions in the past and felt like your manager wasn’t being your biggest champion, this is your chance to sing your praises and show your talents.

Just like in “Hamilton,” everyone wants to be in the room where it happens, and this may be your moment to find your voice and bring your ideas to the table. Going through something challenging and seeing people you care about struggle is never easy. Yet it’s these moments in time that truly define us and how we choose to see the world around us. We have a choice; we can stay in the fear and anger of not having control, or we decide to make lemonade out of the lemons we’re given.

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