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On the Job and Feeling Guilty

Survivors are also vulnerable to the pink-slip blues.

Everyone knows that getting laid off stinks. But you might be surprised to learn that sidestepping the pink slip can also be traumatic. Survivor syndrome, according to organizational psychologists, mixes a host of unwelcome emotions -- fear, anger, grief, guilt, disillusionment -- with the relief of being spared the ax. “It’s similar to when someone dies,” says Pat Bredenberg, a software engineer in Denver, who has witnessed multiple rounds of job cuts at Sun Microsystems. “Close friends and teammates were let go, and once my manager was laid off. Looking at empty desks is hard.”

The irony is that just when companies need survivors to be their most creative and innovative, many tend to become more risk-averse. After all, failure could land them atop the next downsizing list. Stress levels soar as workloads increase and budgets shrink.

Manage stress first by staying healthy -- eat well, get plenty of sleep and avoid too much alcohol. Steer clear of joining morale-sucking water-cooler gossip. Venting is important, but you’ll do better to call an employee-assistance hotline, if one is available to you.

Management should explain how layoffs will help the company going forward and offer a strategy for restoring profitability. Failure to do so is a red flag. Ask your boss what your priorities should be, and take advantage of opportunities to broaden your skills. Don’t jump ship reflexively, but empower yourself by updating your résumé, working with a financial adviser or exploring going back to school.