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Life In Workplace Limbo: Waiting Can Be Brutal

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The waiting, in the immortal language of rocker Tom Petty, is often the hardest part.

At its heart, anticipatory anxiety is a very real thing.

Waiting for what feels like the other proverbial unemployment shoe to drop and ultimately render one jobless, is a very real fear in the current business climate.

And for the workers who are still getting a regular paycheck in this economy, there’s more than a healthy dose of job-related paranoia going around. As such, no one needs to tell you that there’s no concrete way to know if you’ll still be employed in six months’ time.

Your Job, Your Life | A CNBC Special Report
Your Job, Your Life | A CNBC Special Report

But what’s worse: getting laid off or waiting for a possible pink slip?

True, living in what might accurately be described as job limbo can be agonizing. Time magazine recently explored the issue in the article “Is It Less Stressful to Get Laid Off Than Stay On?”.

Turns out, those who are worried about their job security aren’t just overly paranoid. Research from the University of Cambridge suggested that workers who remain employed while remaining under a steady risk of being laid off experience a bigger drop in their psychological well-being than their laid-off counterparts. How does that work, exactly? Apparently an individual who has just lost his or her job typically has their mental health “bottom out” after six months and then begin to show progress.

But those who are constantly anxious about losing their livelihood have their mental condition continue “to deteriorate, getting worse and worse," Cambridge sociologist Brendan Burchell said of the study results.

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What does this mean for the average worker trying to come to grips with a current position that may soon evaporate?

Being blindly fatalistic and waiting for the axe, of course, probably isn’t the answer. But even introducing a measure of autonomy and proactivity can help. Conserving where you can right now and keeping things in perspective is important. If worse comes to worst and you lose your current job, you will get another. It may not happen in a week. It may not be in the field in which you’re currently employed. It may not be in the city in which you currently live. But you will get another job. Looking at the possibility of a worst-case situation in a realistic light and preparing accordingly—whether that means socking more money away where you can or dusting off the contact information of associates you may not have had communication with in a while—is helpful. Even being mentally prepared for the worst makes a difference. It’s somewhat of a cliché, but you are not your job.

A layoff, if or when it happens, doesn’t have to be debilitating if you are aware of your options.

Make no mistake—this isn’t a situation that simply involves waiting around to get cut. Being defeatist is not the name of the game. Neither is Pollyanna-esque blind enthusiasm. But you’re not a statistic.

A sense of self-worth and assurance—even when the worst strikes—has the promise of going a long way.

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Stephanie R. Myers is a staff writer for Vault.com. She possesses a bachelor’s of journalism from the University of Texas and resides in Brooklyn, New York.
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