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The Emotional Side of a Layoff - The Role HR Can Play

The Emotional Side of a Layoff - The Role HR Can Play

September 25, 2018
Submitted By Nida Sea

Layoffs occur for several reasons, with mergers, relocation, and the need to cut costs at the top of the list. Each year, about 14% of layoffs occur from all industries in the U.S., but it doesn’t make it easier for laid-off workers, the remaining workforce or employers to cope.

Despite the emotional turmoil that a layoff creates, companies do try to make the situation as swift and discreet as possible. However, strong emotions can follow any employee who has undergone an involuntary separation and those emotions can be detrimental to positive action.

Even if a person is immediately slotted into a new job, the effects of a layoff from the previous employer can linger and tear down a person’s self-esteem. What many people don’t realize is that people who have been laid off often experience it as they would the loss of a loved one - experiencing the stages of grief. The most common post-layoff emotions include anger, sadness, fear and despair, as well as irritability, depression, denial and shame.

Here is some insight into the emotional side of a layoff and a few things HR leaders can do to help their impacted employees cope:

Layoff emotion #1: Shock and confusion

When layoffs occur, it’s very common for those impacted to feel shocked and confused. People may ask themselves:

  • Why am I being let go?
  • What did I do wrong?
  • Why doesn’t my employer value me?
  • Why isn’t a different person being impacted?

It’s never directly the employee’s fault that a layoff has occurred. Though most companies do their best to handle a layoff, many employees will feel as though they were let go due to individual performance. Ensuring that the layoff process is handled professionally and according to best practices is the hallmark of a good employer and one that will continue to attract the best talent.

Layoff emotion #2: Worthlessness

Once the initial shock of the layoff has died down, feelings of worthlessness can set in. Imagine being at a job for over 20 years - you feel like you're part of the work-family, have gained great experience and made good connections, but one day you're told that your services are no longer required.

The feeling of worthlessness easily creeps in, and such emotions are hard on employees. It can be even harder for older employees who may find it difficult to secure a new job. Providing people with a career coach who can immediately focus their energies on positive thoughts and actions can help to alleviate some of these negative thought patterns.

Related content: 5 Reasons Virtual Career Coaching Works

Layoff emotion #3: Anger

Feelings of anger about a layoff often begin with resentment for the years of dedication to the company - the complications and frustrations of not having a job only make it worse. Some employees may choose to lash out in anger at the manager or supervisor, while others may clam up and stay quiet, unable to channel their anger accordingly.

It’s normal for employees to respond in anger upon receiving a layoff notification. The important part of the equation is how well managers are prepared to deal with these emotions. There are a few things managers can do to ease those feelings of anger:

  • Show empathy without commiserating with the employee
  • Be transparent with messaging and clearly state the reasons for the layoff
  • Emphasize the elimination of the position, not the person

Providing managers with notification training and working with an outplacement services partner is essential. This will help to craft a clear message with accurate information, smoothing the process for everyone involved. This training can also help lessen the likelihood of extreme emotional reactions.

Related content: Avoid these 5 Layoff Notification blunders

Solution: Acknowledge feelings

It’s not healthy for any employee to bury their emotions after a layoff, as this can cause the individual to harbor bad feelings and lash out unnecessarily. Instead, help employees to understand that it’s OK to feel upset, irritated, ashamed and afraid—they’ve just lost their job.

Beyond providing advice and assistance to land a new job, career coaches can offer the emotional support your employees need to work through the tough feelings that come with a layoff. While employees are often anxious to get a new resume, make their first networking call and apply to new positions, career coaches play a critical role in directing job seekers to take a step back and discover where they want to go next.

Taking a moment to reflect and take a clear look at career objectives is one of the irreplaceable values a career coach can bring to the job search process. By applying tried and true methodologies, the right career coach can lead a person from a place of emotional turmoil to a feeling of goal setting and purpose.

While many organizations have accepted the importance of caring for laid-off employees, many are still forgetting those who remain – the survivors.

Solution: Don’t forget the survivors

A layoff can also cause problems for the remaining employees.  In hopes of being in a more secure position, some may be ready to jump to another job. Others may begin to harbor ill feelings toward their employer, or start feeling as if their contributions don’t matter.

Related content: Downsizing with Dignity: Don’t Forget the Survivors

The work performance of remaining employees can cause individual performance to suffer or hinder team participation. Signs of this can include:

  • Distrust of supervisors and higher management
  • Increased anxiety and the constant worry of being next
  • Fear of vocalizing opinions 
  • Sudden lack of confidence or motivation

Providing resiliency training for the remaining employees and managers is a proven method of shortening the time to productivity and engagement.

In addition, human resources can utilize services such as Employee Assistance Programs (EPA) to help with counseling and the emotional effects that stem from a layoff. Managers and supervisors should also be trained in guiding and supporting remaining employees.

It’s important to inform layoff survivors just how the company is operating in relation to workers that have been let go. Employers should also give remaining employees context to help them understand that they’re still needed, and that their contributions are important to the company - especially with fewer workers.

Solution: A holistic approach

Employers must work even harder after a layoff to maintain a positive employer brand and to ensure future business success. At every stage of the employee journey, it’s important for organizations to live out their stated values and show employees they care. These tenets to success are never more important than before and after a layoff.

Layoffs affect everyone from the outgoing employee to the company CEO. It’s not an easy transition, but with enough support and follow-through, companies and employees can bounce back.

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