How to Cope if You've Had to Lay People Off
First of all, let’s get one thing straight. You’re not a terrible person.
I know this because I’ve been in your shoes. I once had to spend a day laying off 27 people one at a time from a magazine that I created, and that had failed. It was an awful day. I had nightmares about it for weeks, and even now, more than a decade later, despite the fact that each of those 27 people landed somewhere else, I feel the burden of it.
More than half of the people and clients I talk to these days have been forced to let staff go. And each and every one of them is heartbroken. And in pain. None of them wanted this. All of them tried to find a better solution. But, it had to be done.
I feel terribly for those who have lost their jobs in the past few weeks. But I also have enormous compassion for those who had to do the deed. There's emotional trauma on both sides of this dreadful equation.
So, if you’ve had to do the unthinkable, here’s how to cope so that when this mess is over, you can get back on track as quickly as possible (and hopefully rehire those you’ve lost).
Take time for yourself.
Take a walk, have a bath, a glass of wine, a cookie (or all three), watch something lovely on TV (Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist is highly recommended by moi. Trust me, it’s exactly what you need right now. Also, the movie About Time – delightful!). You may feel like you don’t deserve these gestures of self-kindness, but you do. Because even though you've done the worst bit, there's still plenty of difficult inner work to be done.
Give yourself space to grieve.
You will miss the people you laid off. You’ll worry about them, and that's okay, good even, because you’re a good person. Acknowledge the situation for what it is – a terrible loss of people you spent most of your waking hours with, people you laughed with, people you got mad at from time to time, and most importantly, people who helped you achieve your purpose, mission and vision for your organization.
This won't be easy. Because it means...
You have to feel the feelings.
Shutting your feelings down will only cause them to arise at a later time (hence me and my nightmares way back when). Lasting trauma isn’t caused by what happens but rather by how we deal with what happens. Feel it. Have a cry. Have more cries. Don’t call up the people you laid off and cry all over them though. They’ve got their own path to walk. Do cry with your spouse, or call up a trusted friend and family member.
Get it out.
And then, get to work. Don’t feel like it? Try this…
Start each day in the cadence of a walk.
Perhaps you're used to galloping. Perhaps you think the only way is fast and hard, or you'll never get to where you need to go. And perhaps you believe that if you can't gallop, you might as well give up.
But maybe for now, there's another way. Maybe, just for a while, you could try a walk. Maybe you could just go slow, deliberately moving from one thing to the next thing reverently, without frenzy, without scatter-brain and without projecting too far into the future. And maybe, before you know it, you'll be getting things done again.
And then maybe have another glass of wine.
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