Survivors Remorse

Nearly 6 million Canadians have either lost their job or been impacted because of the pandemic so far. That’s nearly 1 of every 6 people in the country. Words that are floating around like “unprecedented” don’t even accurately describe what is going on. I think we have to invent a whole new vocabulary in order to capture the impact this virus is having on the country, let alone the world.

The company I work for did what it could to keep the entire team intact. No layoffs were announced when we boarded up our offices and started working from home. We hunkered in place for almost 7 weeks until the time came that layoffs would happen. Almost 1000 people were let go and close to 300 were put on temporary leave until we reopen our offices. 22% of the workforce. As with every company that has gone through this over the few months, this was hard. We had to say goodbye to members of our team and then somehow roll up our sleeves and start the hard work again.

Companies often talk about their values. They print cards out and hand them to eager new starts or they paint it on a wall in their office for everyone to see. Good companies imbue their values by consistent action that reflect those values. The company I work for does just that. While the fire was raging in the economy around us, they calmed us and did their absolute best to keep us as one team. Only once it was very clear that business as usual wasn’t going to come back any time soon, it was time to take action and make sure the company remained healthy until the world eventually emerged from behind our doors.

Values aren’t slogans, they are actions that are consistently demonstrated. The company I work for lives by its values and they were on display during the worst of times.

The majority of us made it through the cuts but are still reeling from it. Amid the disarray that are layoffs and half finished projects now with no leads, we need to pick things up and begin running again. All the while the little voice in our heads were asking the questions to ourselves that we are afraid for the answers if we verbalize them. They are questions that wonder why we got the nod to stay instead of our co-worker? Why we survived and they didn’t.

Survivors remorse.

This is a combination of anxiety for your co-workers that were let go, tinged with sadness for them mixed with an overwhelming sense of relief that it wasn’t you. This has played out everywhere there were layoffs. The intense jubilation that your job is intact suppressed by the knowledge that other jobs were not. High and low at the same time.

It’s also a sense of uneasiness because it could happen again, at any time. We are at the mercy of someone else’s decision making. We don’t control the situation. Often mass layoffs seem arbitrary and it is hard to rationalize. When I had to do layoffs it was an exercise of refocusing at the core. Like the heart that stops pumping blood to your extremities in an act of self-preservation, layoffs do the same thing for the business. Protect the heart to keep it pumping while we figure the rest out. Some people that get let go are low performers. Others aren’t. There is no pattern other than protection. In a large company there isn’t enough time to adjust employee size on merit. It would be endless debates between the leadership fighting for good people. Layoffs are hard and they hurt everyone but there has to be impartiality — you have to suspend your humanity for a second to be able to see the light and the impact and the future.

Then you can have remorse. Then you can wonder why. But just for a second. After that, it is time to pull up your socks, check the fear and anger at the door and get to work so this doesn’t happen again.