Work Zone: Layoffs spur emotions in those left on the job

Coping with loss

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Remember when companies fired people?

Then the language was softened to "laid off."

Now the wording has gotten more technical: There aren't layoffs anymore, now there is a "reduction in force."

But to those who are no longer receiving a paycheck, and for those who are left looking at the empty desks where their friends used to sit, the emotions are the same even if the language has changed.

David C. Hammerle, a minister and counselor for New Day Inc. in Altoona, said a severe feeling of grief usually follows the shock of a pink slip.

"Grief is not about death; grief is about loss," he said. "A lot of what happens with a layoff happens with a death."

He said grief is typical in any circumstance in which something is taken away and life is irretrievably changed.

So, when that happens, the best thing a person can do, he said is "rather than focus on the loss, focus on what I still have."

In any reduction in force, the actual moment when employees learn they are going to lose their jobs is a small part of the overall process.

Beth N. Carvin, the president of Nobscott Corp., a Honolulu-based human relations firm, said layoffs also cost companies, which usually is why they are a last resort option.

The first factor in deciding about layoffs and who has to lose their jobs should be to determine how it can be done fairly, she said. If every woman and every member of a minority is let go, leaving no one but the white men behind, the process will not only be viewed as unfair by those the people who lost their jobs, but also may open up the company to lawsuits.

Once the list is drawn up, a company also has to come up with a severance package and provide help finding new employment for those being laid off.

Ms. Carvin said the mistake many companies make is to focus so much on the people who are losing their jobs that they forget about the employees left behind.

She said the people who "survive" a layoff can have a range of emotions that include sadness about the people let go, jealousy that their former co-workers are receiving a severance package, and anger toward the company for the stress of having people lose their jobs.

Another common response is: "Shoot, I have so much work to do, and I have less people. How am I going to get my work done?" she said. "They may be nervous about the future."

The irony of all that is if the "reduction in force" is not handled right for the people left behind, Ms. Carvin said, a layoff is often followed by resignations from other workers who now, feeling insecure in their employment, find other jobs.

Ann Belser can be reached at or 412-263-1699.


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