Laid Off: 5 practices for those that stay

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Jan 02

The big news about a layoff is all about the people being laid off. The rumor mill focuses on all of those laid off, not with those that stay.

Typically, little attention is spent on the people who stay at the company and who were not laid off. Yet their position, I believe, is the more tenuous.

You see, a person laid off now has a much simplified goal: find another position. Sure, there is lots to do with finances and emotions and timing and applying; but, all of that relates to the work on finding a new position.

But for people who stay at their positions, a lot of things are now up in the air: who will do the work, how will the work get done, who do we go to now for support, and many other questions just like that are asked all of the time.

All that was working — good or bad — is no longer working. What’s a Cubicle Warrior to do?

Here are five practices to focus on when you are impacted by a layoff but stay in your position:

  1. Focus on performance. It is natural to step back, reassess, and even be concerned about the next shoe dropping — on you. But, keep working and focus on completion of tasks. Work needs to be done and managers are looking at people who are doing the work.
  2. Ask what should no longer be done. Assuming the people laid off were doing real work, there should now not be enough people to do the same amount of work. Your choice in this situation is to either work 80-hours a week to make up for those who are gone or question what should no longer be done. If a management team simply says we’ll do the same work with fewer people, they have a serious inability to judge what is important to the business and what is no longer important, transferring that inability to judge onto the number of hours that you work.
  3. Deal with ambiguity. For a while, the management team will not know how to put the pieces together again. It will take time to reassign work and to understand the implications of no longer doing things that were done before. This means having patience while the work sorts itself out. How well you deal with this ambiguity during this time is important for your sanity and your performance.
  4. Understand Corporate Speak. Management will come out with statements about the meaning of the layoff and what comes next. But the purpose of a layoff should not only be cutting costs, but also a redefinition of the direction of a department. If all you are communicated is to continue to focus on the work and you don’t hear any change in direction, be concerned that the worst isn’t over yet.
  5. Decide to stay or go. Layoffs can be a good thing for those that remain. If your management team re-defines the work, focuses on that which is important, and effectively moves on, there can be many opportunities for those that remain. If, on the other hand, all you are seeing and hearing is more of the same things you heard before the layoff, you need to seriously consider the long-term viability of your position in the company. A month after the layoff is complete, sit down and analyze what has changed and make a decision to stay or to go.

The stress levels of those that remain at company after a layoff go up significantly simply because of all of the unknowns that now exist from the management decision to lay people off. Working these five practices will help you maintain control of your work, reducing your stress, while protecting your interests.

  • Hi Scot,

    Hope you are well.

    I have been in both positions (stayed and laid-off) in my career and the 5 practices you list are spot-on.

    May I add one?

    If you see something not working as it was or a particular service is no longer being provided, bring it up and shout about it. People staying will ‘assume’ tasks are being picked up by someone; they may not be.


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  • Scot Herrick says:

    Rick The real challenge for management really is to come up with and execute a plan to redistribute the work. It’s a challenge because the management team that got you into a position where you had to lay people off are now the ones having to come up with a good plan to move on.

    There are good management teams that can do this, but your risk is the insane running the asylum…

    Paul You’re welcome. Stress is often a reflection of how much control and perspective you have in a given situation. The more control and perspective you have, the less the stress, even though the situation you are in may seem a bit dire. These five things are useful, I think, on the control side of things. I think I’ll write another on the perspective side…

  • Paul B says:

    Thanks for the sage advice, Scot. It has come at a very appropriate time for me and it helps provide some much needed focus in my “cube field” of chaos.

  • Rick says:

    When it comes to layoffs – and morale after the layoffs – there’s an old quote that sticks out in my mind: “The living will envy the dead.” That’s the sign of a doomed organization, or one in which management is clueless about how to reshuffle the workload after it has lopped off a few people from the payroll. One of the first things management should do after a layoff is allow remaining employees to grieve over the loss of former colleagues they enjoyed working with, then detail the opportunities to help move the organization forward. So, I agree with you that you can get something good out of something bad. But the onus is on management to come up with a detailed plan that shows what happens after the layoff; that is, what will be important and what won’t. Drop that ball and chances are some of the “survivors” will be working on their resumes.

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