BlogHer.com's Paula Gregorowicz, a life and business coach, explains why some people think it's actually better to be laid off than avoid the ax.

Your company just went through another round of layoffs. So many of your colleagues are gone, just like that. You breathe a sigh of relief. At least you still have a job. Yet, are you really better off? According to a recent MSNBC article, the opposite may be true.

In the BusinessWeek article "Can being laid off really make you better off?" Michelle Conlin reports on research from Boeing over the span of 10 years which showed that axed workers were healthier than those left behind. In a study from 1996 to 2006, a tumultuous decade when Boeing laid off tens of thousands, research shows that the survivors suffered just as much, if not more than colleagues who got laid off.

"How much better off the laid-off were was stunning and shocking to us," says Sarah Moore, a University of Puget Sound industrial psychology professor who is one of the book's four authors.

What is the cause of this? Consider this familiar scenario to anyone who has ever survived a round of layoffs.

Survivor's Guilt
With each round of layoffs, the survivors hustled to reinvent themselves. They re-proved, re-auditioned, and re-positioned, only to watch yet another new manager -- pushing the fad du jour -- parade through the door. Employees who had once seen themselves in every plane that flew overhead were now trading in gallows humor. As in, "Dead worker walking."

Human resources specialist Frank Zemek was the researchers' main contact. In an interview, he recalled "the survivor's guilt of the people who were left, who were waiting and not knowing if the hatchet was going to fall on them. They experienced the worst stress."

As someone who has both survived numerous layoffs and has been laid off, I have to say that being a survivor isn't without its grief. Who in the workforce in the last ten years hasn't been told "we'll just have to do more with less". I mean really. By the time you are doing the job of two, three, four, five, ten other people, it is literally impossible not to burn out or have health problems unless you are extremely resilient and adamant about your personal boundaries.

Caustic Cubicles

This is not to say that being laid off is not without its challenges. For those unable to find work or in financial distress, no one is going to convince you that your layoff had a silver lining. Just check out the disparity of comments on getting laid off being a blessing in disguise. (The "hog" comments are a whole new form of venting). Yet, no matter what happens in life, it is what we do with it that determines our current experience and future possibilities. This holds true for the surviving employees as well, but the environment can be wildly toxic.

In "After the Ax: As layoffs hit the in-house bar, lawyers struggle but stay hopeful" Lauren Williamson speaks to the plight of in-house lawyers.

Since law departments are so thinly staffed to begin with, letting go of just a few attorneys can have a big impact. Vidal says there aren't too many options to fill the gaps. "It's just old-fashioned hard work, and you have to take on more than you had in the past," she says. "It's a difficult proposition."

Ripple Effects
If you're struggling to find work, I'm sure you find yourself saying to those you know who kept their jobs, "But at least you still have a job." Yet those very words only add to the stress of those who stay. "Layoffs Also Difficult for Those Who Stay" offers a good reality check for those who feel Pollyanna-ish about those who kept their job:

Yes, those who survive the all-too frequent layoffs these days are grateful for their work, but studies show the stress from all the upheaval can wreak havoc on their health, morale and productivity. And don't expect them to work harder out of sheer gratitude, a recent survey suggests.

Deborah Dunn, a stress-management counselor who worked with survivors of the shootings at Virginia Tech and Hurricane Katrina, says dealing with the recession and ongoing fears of being laid off can be as difficult as dealing with a disaster. "It's a killer," she says.

These people have lost good friends, vast quantities of institutional knowledge, pay raises, benefits – plus, they're being asked to add other people's work to their own load. And they're expected to be upbeat about it.

"There's that low-level anxiety, vulnerability to colds and flu, aches and pains, sleeping difficulties. When you're anxious, waiting for that next shoe to drop, your body stays in a kind of fight-or-flight mode," Dunn said. "Your body is overproducing adrenaline, cortisol, the hormones you need to sustain yourself during a crisis ... Those substances your body is producing are very toxic."

Waiting for the Shoe to Drop
Let's face it, those left behind have no security either. You might be as secure as your next paycheck, if that. So it is like living in a triage area and it comes with all the rah-rah motivation of executives trying to keep the ship afloat. I know in the experiences I had, when the top brass said "We're all in this together" there was a collective eye-roll.

It's not just perceived stress either. Psychology today talks in depth about layoffs and the stress response. That fear-based management technique running rampant? Well, it actually backfires.

It is a management fallacy that keeping people anxious about keeping their jobs, motivates them to perform better. The evidence shows the reverse is true. Researchers have shown that people exposed to prolonged job stress face twice the risk of having a heart attack as non-stressed workers. In companies where layoffs have been implemented, there is a tendency by leaders to assume the survivors need little or no attention, and should believe they are "lucky to have a job."

You got that right -- twice the risk of a heart attack. I don't know about you but those odds are not inspiring.

The bottom line message here is that if you have survived a round of layoffs, you need to practice as much self-care as someone who has been laid off. Sure you need to still perform at your job, but you also need to realize you are still human. There is only so much one person can do. It really is impossible to just "pick up the slack" no matter what anyone thinks. So if you're one of those left behind after a layoff keep it all in perspective. Succumbing to the stress doesn't serve anyone.

BlogHer is the leading participatory news, entertainment and information network for women online. Follow us at BlogHer.com, on Twitter (@Blogher) and on Facebook.


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