Post-Traumatic Layoff Disorder?

by | November 09, 2009

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It’s true that Post-Traumatic Layoff Disorder isn’trecognized along the lines of real-life documented conditions such asPost-Traumatic Stress Disorder (not yet, anyway), but the aftershocks appear tobe just as real.

In this case, the disorder isn’t referring to those who wereunfortunate enough to receive pink slips (although that’s a separate trauma inand of itself).  The syndrome refersto those employees who are left at a company in the aftermath following a roundof layoffs.  A recent article in Psychology Today,“Layoffs and the Stress Response,” talks about the mental and emotional effectsthat workers still employed with a company are left to sort out after job cutsoccur.  It turns out that there’s alot we didn’t know—including the fact that “layoff survivor syndrome” isactually real, according to research. The article notes that “[i]t is a management fallacy that keeping peopleanxious about keeping their jobs, motivates them to perform better.”  In fact, according to research, exactlythe opposite is accurate.  Whenemployees are dealing with the aftereffects of a round of layoffs, the stressresponse kicks in and associated adverse health effects—even heart attacks, thearticle reports—are entirely possible outcomes.  Plus, the article adds, there’s an association betweenemployees’ weakening functioning at work and the decidedly downbeat environmentcreated by cutbacks.

So what’s a concerned manager to do?  First of all, make sure calm headsprevail following a round of layoffs.  Such advice seems like a no-brainer, but the impulse to getcarried away with the tense emotions of the moment can be strong.  Even your body language in speakingabout cutbacks to remaining employees can speak volumes.  After all, managers are affected bylayoffs as well.  The article mentions a job stress study where managerscomplained of stress-related symptoms up to three years afterlayoffs occur—more proof that out of sight is certainly not out of mind. In dealing with employees, humanistic behavior is the way to go, experts say. Showing your concern for your employees’ (probably frazzled) state of mindwhile demonstrating  leadership areimportant steps to take when difficult times strike. 

Secondly, don’t leave employees in the dark.  True, forconfidentiality reasons it might not be possible to give employees allof the cold hard facts.  But blanket generalities regarding thefinancial health and immediate outlook of the company is likely to come acrossto employees as ambiguous at best and disingenuous or mildly menacing atworst.  (And it’s tough to blame them, really—given little information,what are they supposed to think but the worst?)

Setting an example from the top down for workerspost-layoffs is important—even if you have to “fake it ‘til you make it.”  You may not be feeling at your mostconfident, but there’s nothing wrong with honesty coupled withreassurance.  False reassurancerings hollow, and also isn’t the same as genuinely letting employees know thatthey’re valued—gestures any worker will appreciate.  What employees see—and even what comes across in tone—they’re likely to take to heart. Which is, as we all know, a thousand times better than even the remotepossibility of a workplace-induced heart attack. 

Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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