“My Colleagues Were Laid Off. Am I Next?”
Another day, another round of layoffs. At least, this is how it may appear to anyone who watches the news or works in the technology industry. The current trend of mass layoffs has many in technology, media, and other sectors asking themselves, “Am I next?” In an unstable economic environment, how do we find a healthy balance between preparedness and panic?
In a corporate culture already plagued by toxic competitiveness, distrust, and burnout, the current tsunami of layoffs is a perfect recipe for fueling some of the worst kinds of collateral psychological damage: imposter syndrome, perfectionism or feelings of not-good-enoughness, self-criticism, and overall worsening mental health.
Along with death, divorce or separation, moving, and major illness or injury, the loss of a job is one of the top five life stressors. We know that job insecurity can negatively affect our mental, and thereby physical, health, so in an environment of mass layoffs and economic instability, how do we protect ourselves?
Psychological and emotional effects of job insecurity
Economists, psychologists, and sociologists have been studying job insecurity and their implications for decades. One study identified feelings of powerlessness and lack of agency as two contributors to the emotional distress caused by job instability. Moreover, the study’s authors found self-perceived job insecurity to be negatively correlated with mental well-being, “making this stressor an important feature in predicting the emergence of psychological distress (i.e., feelings of anxiety or depression) among the workforce.”
Researchers in France studied the mental health effects of mass layoffs on plant workers. They examined the adverse effects of mass layoffs not only on those who lost their jobs but also on the workers who remained: the survivors. These effects included feelings of guilt and grief, increased workload, and heightened anxiety about work performance.
Whether you have experienced a layoff yourself or have co-workers who have been laid off, some of this may resonate with you. If you are struggling with any of these adverse emotional effects, here are some ways that you might cope.
1. Nurture aspects of your life outside of work. During the pandemic, one thing that fueled the ensuing “great resignation” was a growing realization among people about what truly mattered. As the world shut down and COVID put health and lives at risk, work and career no longer seemed as vital. Though a resignation is by choice, a layoff can still be a time to rethink priorities. It can be a time to nurture the significant relationships in your life, explore outside interests, and reconnect with parts of yourself that you may have lost sight of.
2. Track negative self-talk that may worsen the situation. It is not what happens to us that causes distress; it is the meaning to which we attribute it. Some negative thoughts may sound like: “If I am laid off, does that mean I am not good enough? If I am not good enough, does that mean I will never work again? And that nobody will want me?” And on and on down the rabbit hole toward a deep feeling of worthlessness.
First, be aware that these are just thoughts and not facts. Then, challenge their validity. Also, ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen? If it did happen, could I manage? Have I gotten through difficult times in the past? How did I survive then?”
3. Decouple your identity from your job status. Unfortunately, many people equate their career status with their worth as human beings. When we buy into this distorted thought process and allow our sense of self to become dependent on external circumstances out of our control, we become vulnerable to depression. Who were you before you became employed at your current job? Who are you outside of work? Ask your friends and family and those who know you outside of the office.
4. Build your emotional support network. Professional networking is important when re-entering the job market, but perhaps more important in uncertain economic times is accessing your emotional network. Your skills and experience are not the only factors that will determine your success in the job search. Your mental well-being is essential, as it will enable you to do your best work and forge healthy relationships. In addition to reaching out to close friends and loved ones, consider joining or forming a support group with others who may be in the same boat as you.
5. Look for the opportunity in the adversity. A layoff can be a catalyst for change. Sometimes decisions that are made for us can propel us forward and move us in directions we may not have otherwise ventured. If you have been unhappy or sleepwalking through your job, a layoff can jolt you awake. It can be an opportunity for forced reflection—a chance to reflect on your best, authentic self. Why is this important or relevant? First, authenticity enables us to interact positively with others. Further, when we live a life aligned with our core values, we are less likely to become depressed. Reflecting on and connecting with our true selves allows us to move out of our comfort zone toward our potential and self-actualization.
This article was originally published on Psychology Today.