May 2023
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TD Magazine

Surviving the Times

Monday, May 1, 2023

After layoffs, how an employer treats the remaining workers affects trust, engagement, and morale.

When layoffs happen, people tend to think about the effects on the workers who lost their jobs. But what about employees who remain after a wave of pink slips?


At the beginning of the year, tech giants cut thousands of jobs: Microsoft laid off 10,000 workers, Alphabet (Google's parent company) let go of 12,000 employees, Amazon cut 18,000 jobs, and Salesforce reduced its workforce by 10 percent. With that recent trend of laid-off tech workers, remaining employees may feel a form of survivor's guilt that employers should acknowledge.

According to psychologist Elizabeth Nair's CNA article, "Survivor's Guilt in the Workplace as Massive Tech Job Cuts Continue," there's a psychological contract companies need to be aware of when rounds of layoffs occur.

Nair writes that workplace psychological contracts are unwritten and nonexplicit rules based on behavioral expectations that employers and employees hold of each other. During layoffs, everything within an organization feels like it is in flux; as such, that psychological contract is not static. The uncertainty can lead to declining performance because of anxiety and survivor's guilt.

Case in point: Bizreport's 2022 Layoff Aftermath Survey found that more than half of the 2,162 respondents felt guilty about keeping their jobs while others were laid off. In addition, a majority of layoff survivors said that their work motivation has declined, and they have been overworked since the layoff.

To deal with the guilty feelings remaining workers may feel, Nair suggests more active listening from leaders in the workplace because it can increase employees' perception of control and decrease their sense of job insecurity.


Layoffs likewise can affect team morale and trust, Anna Shields points out in her Forbes article "How To Rebuild Team Relationships After Layoffs."

"To help the team rebuild trust, managers can create space for teams to air their concerns in a safe environment," Shields writes. "It's also important to create psychological safety."

In addition, employers should encourage training managers to be better listeners to reduce the detrimental impact of organizational change.

Nair says employers should keep fundamental expectations with their remaining employees that center around a sense of fairness and balance in the relationship. Feelings of guilt are much less likely when employers are open and transparent.

About the Author

Bobby Lewis is a writer for ATD; [email protected].

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