Q: Yesterday I had to help clean out the office of a laid off co-worker. He was well-liked, so this is hard for all of us who are still here; what can we do to adjust and move forward?
A: Even though you still have a position, it's hard to be a layoff survivor.
The inner game
Let yourself feel what you feel. It's unrealistic to think that the stress of a layoff period won't affect you, and the effects will linger more if you suppress them. Try setting aside some time to reflect on the experience, the losses you feel, and the emotions you're having. You may feel guilt, relief, anger or any combination. And you may feel uncomfortable about those feelings. Just acknowledge them, accept that they are there, and then let them go. Some breathing exercises may help you feel grounded, as well.
Now envision the weeks that he's gone. If you worked together on projects, determine whether you have the information you need about the transition plan. If your interactions were more social, think about alternatives so that you don't feel isolated
Moving beyond your feelings about the departure of this particular colleague, how are you feeling about your company? Do you feel that the layoff was handled respectfully and compassionately, or did the process itself leave some bruises? It's common for remaining employees to feel less secure — how solid do you feel about your job?
The outer game
While much of the adjustment to this type of change is internal, there are external steps that can help.
Ask for transparency from your company by talking to your boss to be sure you understand the business factors that drove the layoff, keeping in mind that confidentiality may limit his/her ability to share some details. If you're worried about your job security, ask! Your boss may be surprised that you're even concerned, especially if you're a high performer. Employers are well aware that they can lose quality employees after a layoff and may welcome the chance to set your mind at ease.
Together with other team members, be sure that you're maintaining the social aspects of the workplace. Especially if he was part of the social "glue" that kept the team together, it's important to invest in your interpersonal relationships.
Remain engaged with the work you do. While you need to process the team change, dwelling on it in excess isn't healthy and will tap your energy. If this is happening, find ways to focus on the content of your work — it's amazing how energizing it can be to feel busy and productive.
If the relationship with the departed employee is meaningful, find ways to stay in touch. Be a networking resource in his job search, and reach out with coffee or lunch invitations.
And if anxiety about this becomes sufficiently problematic, don't be hesitant about seeking professional support to help you move on.
The last word
Acknowledge the challenges from losing a team member to layoff, and turn to others so that you can move forward as a team.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.