The Omega Careerist: Surviving a Post-Layoff Wasteland

by Vault Careers | October 25, 2010

It started quietly.

Rumors of ominous portent spread through the office, spoken in solemn whispers. But you paid no heed. You just kept on working.

The first to go was one of the IT staff. Then another went missing. An executive left with nary a word. One accountant bolted for the door, desperately muttering something about "Grad School." All that was left were a few dusty outlines on their desks, and some stale, half-eaten cake.

Suddenly, scores of people disappeared. All around you, one after another, coworkers were summoned away from their desks and were gone. A few emerged only for moments, visibly despondent as they tearfully clung to one another, and then never to be seen again.

Now you're alone. Much of your department has vanished. And, worst of all, you're saddled with their workload ...


The years since 2008's economic meltdown have been taxing and, at times, bleak for professionals. For those who kept their jobs, the realities of the "Great Recession" meant watching others lose their jobs, taking up overwhelming responsibilities, and facing a discouraging possibility that there may be no end in sight. It can seem like you've survived an atomic blast.

But, if you've studied thoroughly in preparation for these apocalyptic times, then you know there are ways to survive, even get by comfortably. Here are a few "End of the World" strategies you can apply at work.

 

Where the living envy the dead

The greatest blow has been to morale. After all, we lost our friends, our neighbors, our collaborators, our happy hour companions. And while the value of your work may have spared you from layoffs, you were perhaps left questioning if your career was still worth it.

Experts call it “Layoff Survivor's Guilt.” For companies that suffered heavy cuts, human resources departments reported declining company loyalty and esteem. Job stress has since been on the rise, and so too has a sense of inability and remorse.

It's up to employers to preserve unity amongst remaining staff. Following layoff rounds, employees should demand open communication from leadership about the state of the company and the road ahead. Group activities are also vital to rebuilding camaraderie; for instance, managers can organize outings to roam the desolate streets and scavenge for dry Post-Its and trophies in the abandoned offices of felled competitors. (Remember to wear your radiation suits!)

And for those who regret having survived while others got the ax: Fallen friends are still friends. Stay in touch via Facebook and LinkedIn, maintain contact, and remember them when news of an opening crosses your desk. You can benefit as well—the unemployed are always the first to know about free cupcakes and discounted manicures.

(As a point of etiquette, avoid griping to them about work—you risk prompting bitter retorts of “At least you have a job ...” Or perhaps they'll have gone cannibal, and hunt you for your delicious, employable flesh.)

 

“I had so much time...”

On the other hand, some less sociable professionals might welcome the solitude and peace of mind. Like the idyllic beginning of a Twilight Zone episode, just before the ironic twist. Now that all the chit-chat is over, you can go about your work undisturbed.

But not so fast. Without the others, management expects to “do more with less.” The “less” being you, laboring a whole lot more.

Should the increased workload prove too much, take a stand. Make it known that doing the work of two—even three or four!—people should mean being compensated accordingly. Were this truly a post-apocalyptic hellscape, it might entail increased food and gas rations; in reality, it's worth perhaps a 6 to 8 percent salary hike.

If that can't be done, or if the promise of greater pay won't ease the burden, then remember that companies are still hiring. Even with a ratio of 4.6 workers competing for every one job, you have an advantage (albeit an unfair one): You're a survivor. Employers give greater value to applicants who kept their heads above water throughout the last years' tumult; some outright shun unemployed candidates like infected mutant hordes.

Of course, these are just a couple of the scenarios to be explored. In the spirit of Halloween, we encourage Vault readers to join in. In the comments below, tell us some of the "apocalyptic" circumstances you've encountered since the recession. We'll mention the best ones on our Facebook page!


-- Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

Filed Under: Job Search


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