It’s true that Post-Traumatic Layoff Disorder isn’t recognized along the lines of real-life documented conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (not yet, anyway), but the aftershocks appear to be just as real.
In this case, the disorder isn’t referring to those who were unfortunate enough to receive pink slips (although that’s a separate trauma in and of itself).
The syndrome refers to those employees who are left at a company in the aftermath following a round of layoffs.
A recent article in Psychology Today, “Layoffs and the Stress Response”, talks about the mental and emotional effects that workers still employed with a company are left to sort out after job cuts occur. It turns out that there’s a lot we didn’t know—including the fact that “layoff survivor syndrome” is actually real, according to research. The article notes that “[i]t is a management fallacy that keeping people anxious about keeping their jobs, motivates them to perform better.” In fact, according to research, exactly the opposite is accurate. When employees are dealing with the aftereffects of a round of layoffs, the stress response kicks in and associated adverse health effects—even heart attacks, the article reports—are entirely possible outcomes. Plus, the article adds, there’s an association between employees’ weakening functioning at work and the decidedly downbeat environment created by cutbacks.
So what’s a concerned manager to do?
First of all, make sure calm heads prevail following a round of layoffs.
Such advice seems like a no-brainer, but the impulse to get carried away with the tense emotions of the moment can be strong. Even your body language in speaking about cutbacks to remaining employees can speak volumes. After all, managers are affected by layoffs as well. The article mentions a job stress study where managers complained of stress-related symptoms up to three years after layoffs 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 mind while demonstrating leadership are important steps to take when difficult times strike.
Secondly, don’t leave employees in the dark.
True, for confidentiality reasons it might not be possible to give employees all of the cold hard facts. But blanket generalities regarding the financial health and immediate outlook of the company is likely to come across to employees as ambiguous at best and disingenuous or mildly menacing at worst. (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 workers post-layoffs is important—even if you have to “fake it ‘til you make it.”
You may not be feeling at your most confident, but there’s nothing wrong with honesty coupled with reassurance.
False reassurance rings hollow, and also isn’t the same as genuinely letting employees know that they’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 remote possibility of a workplace-induced heart attack.
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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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