So You Survived The Job Cuts – A Survivor’s Guide

What a rough past month it has been for public servants from across Canada. All told, around 12,000 notices have gone out to public servants represented by the Public Service Commission. Personally, I am unaffected by the recent job cuts. During these tough times, it is hard to not feel survivor’s guilt as the process plays itself out. As we continue down this tough and turbulent road, I wish all affected public servants the best of luck on their Selection for Retention or Layoff Processes. The following post is not meant to undermine the struggles and heartaches being felt by surplused or affected employees but rather address some issues that are arising among those unaffected.

Job losses are not easy for anyone whether affected or not. At some distant point in the future, business will go back to normal and the organization will continue forward. For the immediate few months, the focus of many employees will be ensuring future employment. Now, assuming you are unaffected by the recent round of cuts you are relieved in one sense since you have job but for some reason the stress doesn’t seem any lower. In fact, you might be depressed, or suffer from headaches, ulcers and insomnia at a higher rate than your affected co-workers.

As the process sorts itself out, the survivors are facing more work, the loss of their co-workers and the lingering suspicion that they might be hit in round two. There is a sense of relief that they survived the first round of cuts but tension continues to build as they wonder if future cuts will impact their positions. In addition, they must watch as their friends and colleagues struggle through the workforce adjustment processes trying to be as supportive as possible while at the same time handling increased workload or dealing with building anxiety over being a survivor. For those affected, the finality of being told that your job is affected reduces a lot of built up stress accumulated during the “waiting” period, where you know that job losses are coming but you don’t know who will be affected. As an employee who is unaffected, the “waiting” period continues well past the first round of notices. Future rounds of job cuts could still affect you. In fact, the stress can be so dramatic that employees begin to exhibit symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. One public servant I know described the whole process as a large social experiment. Looking at the whole process in that light, you do start to see patterns of behaviour both positive and negative. For those who are unaffected, I offer some tips to surviving the social experiment that is workforce adjustment.

Altrendo / Getty

1. Take control

No matter what, stay in control of your life and career. As an unaffected employee, you may feel like you haven’t regained your feeling of mastery or life control. This is because you haven’t. If you’re miserable at your current position in the public service, it might be time to find somewhere else to work. As recommended in a previous blog post, you have to reflect deeply on whether the public service (or your current job in the public service) is your true passion. If it’s not, maybe it’s time to move on and let a truly passionate public servant keep their job.

2. Communicate.

As the process continues on, it will be important to keep communication open with your manager. While they won’t have all the details for you, they will be able to provide guidance and support during a very difficult time. Honesty and transparency from your manager will go a long way to keep you calm and not freak out.

Also, talk to your manager every day to do a quick check-in to make sure you’re on the same page about priorities and projects. You always want to be working on projects that are of the most importance, that you don’t waste time on projects that have been eliminated or can’t start, and that you fully understand your manager’s expectations.

Lastly, make sure you talk with someone (manager, spouse, friend, parent, counselor) anyone really to talk out all the different emotions and feelings that you are going through. This is especially important as you fear for your own job and watch your friends and colleagues lose their jobs.

3. Avoid Negativity

You’ll feel a strong desire to complain about management or the process in general. However, this can turn into a vicious cycle of complaining and despair, leaving you more despondent than energized. There are more productive uses of your time and if you do need a break, head outside and get some fresh air. Always remain vigilant of support groups that ultimately deteriorate into bitching fests. These will not help your situation.

4. Don’t Burnout

Between the emotional stress and the increased workload, it will be very easy to tip the work life balance in favour of work. Make sure to remember time for the small things and take time for yourself. The work does not need to be done right away and the additional emotional stresses caused by a layoff process will only add to the normal work stress.
5. Get a Life.

Maintain that work life balance with something that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. As a survivor, you might find that your life’s passion shifts from your job to family, friends or leisure. There is nothing wrong with this change. It certainly beats obsessing about your job all the time. Years down the road, while you are laying on your deathbed, what do you want your legacy to be? “I handed every briefing note by deadline.” is not a good legacy to leave.

So as the workforce adjustment process continues, I hope this can help some of you out there who have survived the recent round of cuts. I wish everyone affected by the job cuts the best of luck in their respective processes.

Scott McNaughton, thenewbureaucracy.ca and govstories.tumblr.com

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Dick Davies

This is the first I’ve seen on the importance of how to get back to work after a cataclysmic event. Excellent advice!