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Work can be an integral part of the scaffolding we build to steady ourselves in uncertain times. It can also form a key part of our identity and part of our social system. It’s no wonder that if our jobs are threatened it can feel like the ground is falling away beneath us. Navigating through uncertainty and grief after layoffs is hard. So what can we do?

Scenarios where we watch our friends and colleagues being laid-off can leave us experiencing “Survivors Syndrome” where we are left feeling guilty. This can be compounded by a work culture that leaves you feeling unsupported and with an underlying message that you should be grateful for surviving the cull. Feelings such as anxiousness and sadness are understandable and if we are not mindful, we can easily burn out.

Whether directly impacted by losing your job or by being in a workspace that feels uncertain and unsteady, the feelings that arise can be akin to those of grief. Often when we think of grief the first thing that comes to mind is the loss of a loved one, but we can grieve anything that has played an important role in our lives.  We can grieve the loss of a job, colleagues who we have worked alongside or the familiarity of a workplace that always felt safe, and predictable. Psychological theories around grief often refer to stages, suggesting that grief is a linear process, in reality we often bounce from one stage to another. This can leave us feeling disoriented, overwhelmed, and exhausted. 

What are these stages of grief and what might they feel like? 

  • Shock and disbelief, feeling numb and disconnected from ourselves and our surroundings. We can struggle to believe what is happening.
  • Denial: denying to ourselves how much the experience is affecting us or that it is affecting us at all.
  • Guilt: feeling like we have let people down, or ‘survivors’ syndrome’ feeling bad for still being in role when others are not, this can be compounded by a culture that suggests you are lucky to be there.
  • Anger: being angry at the situation, people, or ourselves. It’s worth bearing in mind until the initial chemicals have dissipated, we are easily triggered back to anger.
  • Bargaining: we might find ourselves thinking if we just worked harder or stayed later. 
  • Sadness and despair: feeling hopeless, unmotivated, and alone.
  • Acceptance and hope: beginning to see a meaningful future and accept what is happening.
  • Processing grief: integrating the experience into our identity and can examine the impact it has had on us.

 Although it may be a real struggle to navigate uncertainty and grief in the workplace there are things we can do. Firstly, it is important to not minimise your feelings. We need to acknowledge our emotions and to feel them in a way that doesn’t overwhelm. We crave structure and routine and if work can’t offer that, we can try to build it ourselves. Finding simple ways to release stress to prevent burning out is also important. 

Here are some ideas that may help to navigate through these emotions. 

  • Talk to someone: humans are social animals, and it helps to  talk. Talking helps gain perspective and to work through what is happening. It also reminds us that we are not alone.
  • Reflection time or practice mindfulness: allow 5-10 minutes a day to check in with yourself. Simply ringfencing some time to just be still. Ask yourself how I am doing and what do I need? Another way to do this is practising mindfulness. There are plenty of apps or videos online that can help you establish mindfulness practice.
  • Write it out: writing can help us to acknowledge and process our emotions. This doesn’t need to be arduous. You could start doing a simple daily journal, writing down a couple of things that have happened and how they made you feel. You could also free-write for a few minutes daily allowing your uncensored thoughts and feelings to land on the page.
  • Set boundaries: work shouldn’t take over your personal life. It can help to design rituals to ring fence your day. This can be as simple as going for a walk after work or changing your clothes when you get in.
  • Create some joy, work is only part of us, it’s important to nourish the soul in other ways, put some things in the diary for you, go catch a movie, take a long relaxing bath, or see friends.
  • Spending time in nature, as little as 20 minutes a day or 2 hours a week in nature has been proven to reduce stress and sooth our nervous system.

For leaders who are trying to navigate companies through choppy seas it’s important to try to support your teams as much as possible, as well as look after yourselves! So be mindful to take care of yourself, maybe using some of the tips above. 

Here are some ideas to help build a supportive workspace in difficult times: 

  • Communicate, you may not have the answers, but you can still talk to your teams and acknowledge what’s happening.
  • Be transparent, keep your staff up to date. We are storytelling animals who tend to lean into the negative. If you leave information voids, it’s likely people will fill it with their own stories often led by anxiety.
  • Reflective space, these are spaces where people can talk things through and voice their concerns. It can be helpful to have an external facilitator to lead these spaces.

Whatever is happening at work, your wellbeing is crucial. Taking time to nourish your mind, body and spirit should be a priority. 

Lee White is a Psychotherapeutic counsellor, facilitator, trainer and Bright Collective member who has a depth of experience in working specifically with men and also employees in caring roles, helping them to nurture care and resilience for themselves. 

To find out how Bright can help you to facilitate a safe reflective space for your organisation to support your employees through turbulent times of change, get in touch.