Monday, December 15, 2008

The Laid-Off Know Only One Thing: It's Better To Be Employed

Ready for the latest tale from the newest group of victims of the misery and woe wrought by the economic downturn? Who it this time you might ask? People who lost their homes? People who lost their jobs? People who lost their retirement savings? Try people who survived layoffs:

Organizational psychologists call it "layoff survivor syndrome," the collection of emotional, psychological and physical reactions long documented in workers who remain on the job. Being left behind, they say, can sometimes be as distressing as being let go.

Now I've been pretty lucky to have only been through a couple of layoffs during my career. However, one of them was quite serious as a number of co-workers received news that their days were numbered. The atmosphere at work on the day of the layoff was black and for some time afterward remained quite gloomy.

But at the end of the day whatever mental anguish us "survivors" went through was minimal compared with that suffered by those who actually lost their jobs. It's a bummer when the guy in the adjacent cube gets laid off. It's a trauma when you're the one suddenly out in the street.

"In fact, the survivors are also victims," said Harold G. Kaufman, a professor of management and director of the organizational behavior program at the Polytechnic University of New York.

Like people who escape harm when others are hurt in a natural disaster or terrible accident, employees who keep their jobs in downturn often feel guilty, said Mitchell Marks, an associate professor of management at the San Francisco State University College of business.

"It's exactly as when you lose a good friend or a sibling," he said. "You feel responsible in some way."

One of your co-workers loses their job and a good friend dies. Yeah, pretty much the same emotional impact there professor.

There are enough real victims of the recession out there who are actually really suffering the consequences. Can we stop inventing new ones?

UPDATE-- Tom e-mails with an explanation:

This reminds me of those reports that only in the U.S. are there such high rates of ADHD and Restless Leg Syndrome. We are becoming a nation of victims just aching for our chance to make our victimhood known. House payment to big? Victim. Can't fit in your airline seat? Victim. Can't get the fair trade coffee you prefer? Victim.

It is likely that the professor who claimed that having a fellow employee laid off is the same as losing a friend or sibling has neither lost a friend or sibling himself or for that matter been around a business during a layoff. How many times have you heard about a university having a layoff? Birth rates rise and fall, but the universities keep on chugging along and keep getting bigger with yet more larger facilities, dorm's and student centers.