Layoff Survivor: How I See It

I know it’s tough to be laid off, and scary to be without a paycheck.

The market’s tight and the competition’s stiff.

It’s hard on the person getting the news and the family that has to deal with the aftermath.

          I’m a layoff “survivor”. That means I’ve lived through several organizational cut backs, deep and shallow, and I’m still here, working, until they cut me loose. Before you tell me how lucky I am, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but please, save your breath. I’m miserable and so are my colleagues. I’m not asking you to feel sorry for us; I just want you to know what it’s like to be the walking wounded.

Carol’s asked me to share her story and her perspective because she believes that it’s reflective of many people in her situation.  To protect her identity and her company’s, I’ve changed her name.

Carol is a production manager for a mid sized manufacturer. She’s  survived nine cutbacks and half as many transfers in the 15 years she’s worked there. She says she’s a “company loyalist”; someone who willingly gives all she has to her company because she feels that in turn, she will be treated fairly, compensated appropriately, and dealt with honestly.

Lately, despite her continued sense of dedication and obligation to her employers, she questions their treatment of her co-workers as they have struggled through what appears to be an unrelenting series of cutbacks.

She says that her bosses used to manage by walking around, now she hardly sees them. Communication is impersonal. Long, rambling emails or terse memos have replaced one on one conversations and group discussions. Employees struggle with the ambiguity of their respective situations and can’t find anyone in authority willing to tell them what to expect.

We realize that our bosses might not know what’s going to happen next and if they do, might not feel that they can communicate that to us. What we want is face- time. Even if they tell us that there’s nothing to tell, we want them to take the time to listen to our concerns, to let us vent, and to experience, even second hand, what we’re facing day to day. And if they know that the news is bad, we’d rather hear it from them, in person, in an honest and compassionate way, than from a human resources representative with outplacement people standing by.

She says that employees feel as though they’re numbers instead of people. Traditional company values, like relationships, longevity, and dedication, no longer have currency.

Any survivor knows that if you want to keep your job, you don’t say “layoff” at work. You keep your head down, look busy, act serious, move through open areas quickly, and keep your wits about you. Well, that may be how the game is played, but it’s a game that’s killing us. We want to be able to discuss our challenges openly. We want to continue to believe that we add value to this organization, that we’re  part of the solution, not part of the problem. We may not have a seat at the table but we want to be inside the room where issues are discussed and futures are determined.

We want to enjoy our work for as long as we have work. We want to be able to crack a joke, and laugh out loud, and take a break without worrying about how it looks to someone who either wants our job or wants to take it away from us.

She remembers when time had a direct relationship to efficiency and productivity. When the future was a combination of vision, mission and strategy.    When we talk about time now, it’s in sentences like,  “When’s the last time you heard something?” “What time do you think we’ll hear something?”

Most of us are too distracted to get anything done. It’s hard to push yourself, stay motivated, and have the energy to encourage others. And the future? That’s Friday. “Do you think we’ll get laid off Friday?”

We’ll make it through this tough time. The journey’s easier and the recovery’s faster when you can share the bumps with the people who invited you aboard.

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Joyce Richman ( has been specializing in executive and career coaching since she started her own practice in 1982. She works in a variety of environments including: higher education, manufacturing, sales, marketing, media, technology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, banking and finance, service, IT, and non-profit sectors. A member of the adjunct faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, Joyce is certified to administer a number of feedback and psychological instruments. Joyce has appeared regularly on WFMY-TV and is the career columnist for The Greensboro News & Record. She is the author of Roads, Routes and Ruts: A Guidebook to Career Success and co-author of Getting Your Kid Out of the House and Into a Job. A popular speaker, Richman conducts seminars and workshops throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Her coaching profile can be found at