In my last layoff-related post, I tried to talk through some of the emotions you’ll feel, and why no question you’ll ask will get an answer that will satisfy you. Well, I’ve still been thinking about them, and how we navigate them.
A layoff confronts us with suffering we can’t turn away from, can’t reason with, and can’t help but see ourselves in.
When there’s a disaster or tragedy, we can turn off the news. When there’s a scandal, we can console ourselves that we’d never be that stupid. When our company gets hit with a layoff, and people we’ve worked with closely are just not there anymore, there’s no way you can turn it off or reason it away – because it could have easily happened to us. You have to confront it, and for some of us, that’s really difficult.
The questions we ask after a layoff all map pretty cleanly to the five stages of grief. They’re difficult to sit through. We’ve had two large meetings since last Wednesday at Gusto and I squirmed through both Q&A sessions.
Mostly because I knew the answers would be at best unsatisfying, and at worst, confusing. But, thinking on it over the weekend, I think the part that felt the worst was seeing the suffering beneath the question. People were angry. They were trying to negotiate with the grief, by trying to figure out ways to bring people back. And none of that’s going to work…
By the time a layoff happens, it’s almost always too late (“almost” is there just to account for Elon Musk’s Twitter, though I’ve experienced one other layoff where management realized they let go of too many people and brought some of them back, but it was almost the same situation – someone who had no business being in charge making decisions without enough information).
As “survivors”, we have to go through that mourning process before we can get to acceptance and rebuild (because a reorg pretty much always follows a layoff). Trying to skip that part, either management trying to prematurely rally everyone, or you not giving yourself time and space to mourn, always ends in more sadness.
I think it’s doubly hard to rebuild trust in a company after a layoff. Layoffs usually result in people renegotiating their place in it – and more people will leave, this time voluntarily.
But, if you stay, the resulting chaos of the reorg can be a lot of fun. For me, they always feel like the first day of school – who am I going to be? What am I going to do differently? What can I jettison or claim in the chaos that will make my life easier / better / more fun?
It’s OK if you’re not ready to think about that yet – but, there will come a time, hopefully sometime soon, when you get to the acceptance stage and can decide what you want to do. If you’re not there yet, please know you’ll get there eventually, even if it’s somewhere else with a fresh start.