Dealing With Survivor Guilt
You Are Safe, Now What?
By Aisha Newton
Monster Contributing Writer
All is quiet. In the distance you can hear the sound of a didgeridoo. Waves are crashing on the sandy beach. There is a rag tag group of men and women. None of them look prepared for what is about to happen. Next, they are divided into groups, where they play games, compete in challenges and brave the elements.
There is a handsome host running commentary and overseeing the action. Everyone is working towards the ultimate goal of being crowned the sole survivor.
What I just described is the 7-time Emmy-award winning reality series Survivor. Part of the reason for the show’s success is the way it mirrors our everyday work life.
An office environment is a lot like the reality tv series. You have a random group of strangers that get thrown together a.k.a. your co-workers. Instead of being separated into tribes like Kalabaw & Tandang you have different departments. Think marketing versus accounting. There aren't any departmental challenges; but oftentimes you do have to strategize and there is lots of teamwork and compromise.
Instead of a handsome host you have your boss and the human resources department. They serve as a substitute tribal council. They are the ones with the rulebook. Those two entities are the ones with the power to snuff out your torch. Another similarity is that people are forced to leave the game. Some may leave due to illness and others may throw in the towel.
However in today’s economy leaving the game is happening more and more each day. Sadly, layoffs are becoming all too common. Sometimes entire departments are let go and other times, it’s just a percentage of the workforce. So what can you do when you are one of the last people left and how can you avoid survivor guilt?
First, take a deep breath. You are not alone, layoffs can be tough. I have witnessed a few layoffs and been on the receiving end of one, twice before. In my personal experience there were people crying, some were angry and a few were escorted out by security guards.
The mood in the office changes. People are nervous that they could be next and worry about their future in the company. Others are riddled with guilt because they got to keep their jobs.
In most circumstances a promotion is cause for celebration, but it is a truly hollow victory to get promoted because someone else lost their job.
Another major issue is stress: When a department of 100 people gets cut down to 23 the remaining people may experience a substantial increase to their workload. I worked at a company where they went through waves of layoffs across the company. Things were pretty tense for a while. A somber atmosphere filled the air for weeks afterwards. It was hard to shake the lingering sense of sadness. When people get laid off it can be shocking and sudden.
Almost as if you are experiencing a death. Colleagues go through what can be likened to a mourning process. You may have been working together for a very long time. This could be the person with whom you had lunch every day. In many instances you may find that you spend more time with your coworkers than you do with your family.
So what can you do? There is no reason to dwell on the sadness or feel guilty. Stop beating yourself up. There is nothing that you could have done. Focus on adjusting to your new situation.
Speak to your family and friends and seek counseling if necessary. Remember just because you are no longer colleagues doesn’t mean you can’t still be friends. Call them to check in or touch base. They may need a shoulder to cry on. You can always meet up for coffee or go have dinner together.
When I was laid off I felt lost. Without a job I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Luckily I had the support of friends and family to help me get through it. As a matter of fact, I am still in touch with many of my former colleagues to this day.
Just like the TV show you must seize this opportunity to forge new alliances with other employees. In times of uncertainty there is strength in numbers. Getting to know some of the other co-workers can’t hurt.
Things will get better; don’t lose sight of the fact that you still have a job to do. In the end you have managed to outwit, outplay and outlast the others. You may not be the sole survivor but at the very least you are still on the island and still in the game.