In education, I’ve noticed how important is for people to always be upbeat and positive. It’s a bit of a strain having to endure people doing their best to avoid losing it. If something bad happens, it’s important to acknowledge it.

“Big” Reasons for Layoffs. What do the numbers say?

  • U.S. companies announced over 90,000 job cuts in March 2024, marking a 7% increase from February.
  • The technology industry continues to see substantial layoffs, with over 46,000 layoffs reported in the first two months of 2024 alone
  • High-profile companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have made significant cuts
  • K-12 education is facing layoffs due to expiration of federal pandemic relief funds, declining enrollments, budget challenges, seniority-based layoffs, etc.

Dealing with It

But when you’re watching people drop around you, you wonder, “Shouldn’t we pause for a moment as a group of human beings to acknowledge what’s happening here? That person lost their job. That person decided to leave because of a toxic workplace. My goodness, why can’t we speak to each other about this except in hushed whispers in the parking lot?” You know what I mean. We’ve all been there.

I can remember the first time it happened. And the second. And the third. The morbid fascination of watching someone lose their job, get escorted to the door. Some times, it’s that gal who said she was suffering from workplace injuries but then danced her way to the door of her car in the parking lot when she thought no one was looking.

Except, too bad, so sad, the video feed to the parking was on and the top honcho saw it. That guy wasn’t happy. The injured, not really, person lost her job pretty quickly. You don’t feel much sympathy for her. She was lying.

But there are others who lose their jobs, and you know it’s politics or whatever. Incompetent leadership. Alleged insubordination. A refusal to let things go because the boss is wrong. Or, all those “big” reasons for layoffs. And, the feeling of that person’s separation is awful. You’re still there.

You survived.

Layoff Survivor Guilt

It’s a feeling I’ve had a few times over my career:

Layoff survivor guilt is a natural response to the emotional turmoil of witnessing colleagues lose their jobs while one remains employed. Surviving employees may experience a range of emotions in response, including relief, guilt, anxiety, and uncertainty about their own future within the organization (source).

What’s hilarious is the suggestion in the article above:

Organizations should prioritize open communication, emotional support, and professional development opportunities for surviving employees to help them cope with layoff survivor guilt.

As if. As if open communication was REALLY an option. As if PD, or even acknowledging the REAL problem was possible. I’ve been in workplaces like that, too. You know, where they say, “Hey everybody, if you need to talk about Jerry separating from here, come talk to me, the person who fired him. I can show you the way.”

Yeah. Right.

District Level Craziness

Anyone who works in schools has seen how principals get separated from their campuses. They get moved from one campus to the next. Then, they get a posh HR spot. Or put in charge of some area that they know nothing about. I had an assistant superintendent who ended up as assistant superintendent of technology SIMPLY BECAUSE they didn’t want him being in charge of schools. Why didn’t anyone ever demote me into a six figure paying job? Sheesh. ;-)

The goal, the newly minted CTO told me, was to humiliate him into leaving. He knew nothing about the job. Nothing. So, he grabbed a spoon and scooped up that humiliation and ate it right up. Terrible. School admins do it all the time.

Another situation is when a new superintendent walks in the door. For whatever the reason, the people in the job aren’t to his/her liking. So, the super decides to clean house, even though, these people are well-established and doing a wonderful job in their position. As they walk out the door at the end of the year (if they make it that long), they smile and wave and act like they aren’t getting screwed over by a megalomaniac supe who’s only going to be hitting the road him/herself in a few years because they couldn’t deliver on their crazy agenda.

I watch those people leave, and I can’t help but shake my head in disgust. You hope for divine justice, karma, or anything, but the truth is, there isn’t anything. It’s the way things are. You can continue doing your job, gather evidence that ends up being a hit job on the new boss (and it doesn’t work because the people who hired the new boss have too much ego and “face” invested in ensuring that person’s success), or just walk away yourself.

How To Deal with Survivor Guilt

After awhile, you learn to deal with the guilt of still having a job. You remind yourself that you’re still getting a paycheck. You throw yourself into your work, experiment with new ideas, get in touch with why you still love your work, even if the building is crumbling around you (building is a euphemism for culture in this self-talk). You make lists of all the things you enjoy doing, and how all that might go away if you decide to go somewhere else.

You wait for some mystical power (uh, no) to exercise retribution on the person(s) causing all the survivor guilt. When I think about “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” quote I realize how perfectly religion has been developed to keep us all conforming.

You can find tons of places that offer advice on how to survive the layoff of a coworker or more than one. I focus on being creative, on making stuff. I remind myself that as long as I keep creating, I’m employable. I also sharpen my resume, my portfolio site, make a list of new skills I want to learn.

Then, I mourn. I make a list of the people that are gone. I ask myself, “What did I do to ease their passing?” That might be a kind note, a letter of recommendation, a farewell lunch.

And, then…I let them go. I keep moving with my WHY firmly in mind. You realize that really, you set yourself up. You set yourself up with false expectations of what success is. You remember that…

11 Actions To Take

You decide to:

  1. Offer guidance to those who act without considering the consequences.

  2. Support and uplift those who are disheartened.

  3. Assist those in need and show patience to everyone.

  4. Ensure that harm is not returned with harm.

  5. Strive for the well-being of each other and all people.

  6. Find joy in every moment.

  7. Remain open-minded and grateful in all situations.

  8. Keep your enthusiasm and curiosity alive.

  9. Be open to new ideas and experiences, but critically evaluate them.

  10. Embrace what is beneficial.

  11. Avoid harmful actions and influences.

And, somehow, everything is OK.

“You shouldn’t give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don’t care at all.” —MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 7.38