Tsering Topgyal/AP Photo
- Surviving a round of job cuts can be a hard experience, layoff survivors say.
- Employees who were kept on told Insider they felt anxious about their job security and overworked.
- Their anxiety and grief for laid-off coworkers is not good for performance, research shows.
The drumbeat of layoffs continues as some of the biggest and best-known companies in the world, including Amazon, Google, and Goldman Sachs, cut workers.
And while those who’ve lost their jobs are experiencing tremendous financial and professional uncertainty, evidence suggests that workers who survive layoffs also suffer. Research in Harvard Business Review shows that remaining employees might struggle with insecurity, low morale, and survivor guilt. This, in turn, leads to disengagement and lower job performance.
Hannah, a senior account manager at a UK-based marketing company, is a prime example. In June 2020, Hannah was unexpectedly told she was being put into a redundancy pool with seven other colleagues.
The company had been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as several clients had pulled budget, putting the firm into turmoil.
“There wasn’t a lot of time to process the whole thing,” Hannah told Insider. “It was communicated that 75% of us would lose our jobs out of the pool of people.”
Hannah was pulled into a four-week redundancy process handled by an external agency that would score employees based on the company’s values as well as their knowledge. Questions included: “Are you the right fit for the company? Do you have the right attitude? Do you think about growth opportunities?”
Initially, a group chat was set up between the pool of people to help support each other find new jobs because “it was at that moment when we realized that we’re all in this situation together,” Hannah said.
But once people saw the scores at the end of the four weeks, the group chat “just went silent,” and the sense of unity collapsed. Hannah and another colleague scored highly and were kept on but, she said, the feeling was that the two had gone from “colleagues to contestants.”
Insider is not naming Hannah’s company to protect her privacy, but she said that the experience hurt her relationships with her colleagues and left her feeling the firm’s management lacked empathy. In the aftermath, she said, there was little acknowledgement of what the two layoff survivors had endured.
“It was just us to get on with stuff and you felt so thankful that you had the job that you were then willing to go totally above and beyond, but you felt depreciated because you’ve been through this process the last four weeks,” she said, adding that she and the remaining colleague feel fear whenever there’s a call with the managing director.
Waves of layoffs swept corporate America in the final months of 2022, and so far this year, companies from IBM to Microsoft to Dow have cut jobs as companies scramble to get ahead of a possible recession.
Amid more economic uncertainty, nearly 40% of US workers are “are nervous about being laid off,” according to a LinkedIn survey of more than 2,000 US employees conducted in December.
“You become very acutely aware that you are dispensable,” Hannah told Insider. “If they’re willing to put you through that process once, what’s to stop them from doing that again? So it definitely has changed your outlook in terms of your job security and that you need to look after yourself.”
A manager who took on the workload of laid-off staff was asked to take a pay cut
Emily, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, was working as a communications manager at a small publishing company in London in April 2020 when she learned that her entire team had been laid off because of the pandemic.
The company, which had employed 12 people at the time, largely slashed junior roles and laid off five people.
“The job role massively increased because I was doing three people’s work,” Emily said. “So I was doing my job, and the job of a publicist who would be underneath me and a marketing exec who would be underneath me as well.”
Her workload multiplied, but instead of a pay rise, management suggested a pay cut. She refused.
“Once the redundancies were gone and I was doing everyone else’s stuff, I was like, ‘well there’s no way they can get rid of me otherwise part of that business just disappears.'”
Emily described feeling “pretty unmotivated” in the aftermath because so many of her friends had been let go, and working remotely didn’t help. Additionally, her respect for management dropped because “there was clearly no thinking, no care towards the people, just a lack of organization, strategy, and poor management.”
With her team gone and fewer meetings, she said things “definitely changed culture-wise,” because she was “a lot more isolated.”
Emily left in 2021, saying the ordeal made her pay more attention to a company’s culture while job hunting.
Hannah, meanwhile, offered this advice: “Remind yourself that as much as you might be seen as valuable to the company, you are dispensable,” she said. “Don’t ever feel like you’re safe and secure.”
A version of this story published on September 21, 2022.