Survivors of a layoff don't fare well, either

09/08/2008 12:00 AM

09/08/2008 4:24 PM

In industries where pink slips are being passed out with abandon, the still-employed survivors are getting pretty bummed out.

A 2001 report, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, reviewed studies looking specifically at mental health and job insecurity – as opposed to outright unemployment. It found that job insecurity is a chronic stressor that leads to depression and anxiety.

“If people are threatened with losing their jobs, they report feeling bad. It ranges from demoralization to depression to more serious things,” says C. David Dooley, chairman of the department of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

That includes those still marching to their cubicles after a company downsizes.

“The employment survivors are worse off as well,” Dooley says. “They may be feeling survivor's guilt. Or they're overworked. Often, companies make the survivors do the work of everyone who used to work there.” In fact, he's found, the rate of depression among layoff survivors matches that of their former co-workers.

Anxiety over a downturn in the economy often doesn't have much to do with actual income, says Randi Riffkind, a Los Angeles psychologist. “It's their attitude that's the determining factor in how much stress they feel,” she says.

“Notice the thoughts and then consciously turn the message around. Not a Pollyanna kind of thing, but something realistic, like, ‘I've been through difficult times before, and I'll get through this.'”

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