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How to cope with guilt if you've dodged redundancy

Man consoling his working colleagues being fired lost the job
Losing your job can be devastating. And even those who survive the cut can still feel uneasy. Photo: Getty (Twenty47studio via Getty Images)

With redundancies at Amazon, Twitter, Tesco, Royal Mail and more in the news, concerns surrounding job security are rife. Last year, a survey commissioned by Acas found that nearly one in five employers were likely to make lay-offs over the following year.

Losing a job can be one of the most difficult challenges you can face. Not only can redundancy lead to financial anxiety, it can knock your confidence and make it difficult to land your next role.

However, it can also be difficult to keep your job when those around you are being let go. Feelings of guilt are common and you may question why you were kept on, while your colleagues were not. Survivors of a lay-off may feel a sense of injustice, which can lead to a loss of trust in their employer and reduced motivation.

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“Seeing your colleagues being made redundant can bring up many emotions of hurt on their behalf, guilt, fear of job security, and a loss of trust towards the business and its leaders,” says Mark Pearce, head of service development and delivery at mental health charity Caba.

“These feelings can quickly turn into an ‘us vs them’ mentality which can affect your productivity and mental wellbeing.”

Read more: When to follow-up with an employer after a job interview

You might also be asked to take on added responsibilities and extra workloads which can result in increased stress.

“It will feel even more severe if you lose your work best friend in the redundancy process,” says Pearce. “Not everyone knows what to do or say to colleagues who have been made redundant. You may be panicking about your job security while feeling guilty that your colleagues are made redundant.”

These emotions are natural but your support can act as a lifeline for them professionally and emotionally. “Your colleague leaving the company isn’t the same as them completely exiting your life,” explains Pearce.

“You can still try to stay connected and support each other by sharing your experiences. Remember that it’s no different than what you might do for a friend struggling in life; imagine what would be most helpful to you in this position.”

If you’re struggling with survivor’s guilt, there are several steps you can take to ease these negative emotions.

First, it’s essential to understand the reasons that lead to the redundancies at your company. Finding out more about why your colleagues were made redundant can limit so-called ‘sinking ship syndrome’ – the feeling that you’re going to lose your own job if the company is struggling.

“Communicate your concerns and ask what led to this decision to understand the company's perspective,” says Pearce. Even if you don’t agree with the decisions that have been made by the employer, having more information is always important to ease mistrust.

You can also help colleagues who have been laid off by introducing them to your professional network, or making recommendations if you've worked with them directly on any projects.

“Simply lending a listening ear to help them realign their careers can help,” says Pearce. “You may not be expected to take sides at this point, so it’s OK to offer your support where needed without your loyalty being questioned on either side.”

Read more: What is 'career cushioning' and can it help you safeguard your job?

Additionally, employers need to take steps to ease the negative impact of redundancies too. Bad news should be given carefully and in person, so people can ask questions and voice concerns – despite the recent trend for mass lay-offs being announced via email. Lay-offs are always difficult and will impact employees negatively, but good redundancy packages and fair warning can give people time to start looking for work elsewhere.

Employees still working at the company should be given guidance on how to deal with any extra work as a result of colleagues leaving. Confidential counselling sessions and support can help people process difficult emotions too.

Before organisations adopt redundancy as a cost saving strategy, it is important to recognise that lay-offs often lead to a fall in profitability and productivity. Research also suggests that redundancies sometimes fail to reduce costs due to the effect on the remaining employees and the business as a whole.

Employers need to be sure that redundancies are the right move – and if lay-offs are the only option, to do them fairly and with respect.

Watch: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?

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