We’ve all had that friend with that messy relationship that doesn’t end well, and someone ends up seeking “closure”. And the closure-seeker is usually denied that: the other party has ghosted or cannot or will not give the answers the closure-seeker needs.
Closure is not for the person who left, closure is for the person who is left behind.
With the volume of layoffs out there, there are those who are leaving (and that sucks), and then there are those who are left behind. We need to acknowledge that also sucks. There are (broadly) two sets of folks left behind in the workplace after layoffs: managers, and individual contributors. Much as with Now What, this is the best I can do (for now) with some things to think about:
If you’re an “IC” it means you aren’t managing anyone but yourself, and your workload. In a post-layoff world, that’s a lot to manage, because you are also having to manage your response. You probably have survivor’s guilt: a combination of wanting to know why specific people/groups/etc. were picked, replaying in your head what decisions you would have made had you been in charge, worrying about if another shoe is going to drop, and trying to figure out what it all means. Things feel a little unstable, and that seems to seep into your everyday work, even after the team meetings and frank conversations have subsided.
- Understand that you will not get answers. It’s rare that the full weight of the decision-making or rationale will ever be exposed and you’re likely being protected from some uncomfortable choices that someone else had to make.
- Understand that it is not your fault. I grew up with the adage that “you cannot say it is not your fault if you cannot also say it is not your responsibility” and frankly, if you’re not a manager, you were not part of any decision-making process, and therefore it wasn’t your responsibility, and therefore it wasn’t your fault.
- Seek to control what you can control. You can control your response. You can set boundaries in your work and personal life. You can (hopefully) provide input *to* your management about what the next steps can/should be as you see them.
- Take a breath: this is unpleasant, yes, but it also affords you a swift spiritual kick to the gut: why are you here? I mean, yes, why are you here in the cosmic universe, etc., but also: why are you in this role, doing this thing? Do you still like it, even with its ugly bits? Is it time to *plan for* (not execute) a change in the coming months/years? What would you need for that, or if it isn’t time for a change, what do you need to double down in your current space?
- Give yourself time to grieve. Grief processing looks different for each person; in my case I carefully box it up and put it ‘way down while I focus on tasky and strategic things and then it blows up in my face some months later. I do not recommend this approach, but I identify with it.
- List what you learned. Especially if this is your first experience with layoffs, pay attention to what you learned – how did you respond, what do you wish you had prepared at home or in life for this, what conversations did you have to have at home or at work and what did you need or want for those?
Congratulations! You get to own the message. You may or may not have had a direct input into the decision-making process, but you’re in it and must execute on it, and now you are down one-to-N team members, and you have folks on your team who are scared, disoriented, or frankly freaking out. Typically, layoffs come with a “redirection” or “new focus” so you get to manage your team not only through this massive change in their/your dynamic but *also* potentially with new or altered charter.
- Acknowledge the elephant(s) in the room. Yes, there are/were layoffs. Yes, people are impacted. No, you don’t have answers and/or you can’t give answers. Yes, it sucks. Give yourself, and your team, a space to vent, ask questions, and work through their stages of grief. If you are only going to open that space for one meeting and move on, that’s your call, but be transparent about it.
- Support your team. This means providing that vent space, but also reminding them of any work benefits that provide therapy/counseling, reminding them of the need to take time, acknowledging the new work dynamic and doing your best to answer their questions about how things will work in the future.
- Clear, consistent, and candid convos: You do not have all the answers but that doesn’t mean clamming up is a good idea. There are going to be tough discussions ahead: who works on what, what work drops, or if somehow the expectation is that you do more with less, be candid about it. Euphemistic handwaving about a “brave new future” isn’t helpful when it comes with the same ginormous backlog.
- Recognize growth. As the team progresses through this event you will see signs of improvement and/or growth; recognize it and publicly appreciate it. This isn’t to say there won’t be folks who take longer to get through it, but when you see signs of progress do acknowledge it: grit deserves recognition.
- Everything that applies to an Individual Contributor also applies to you. Meaning, you need to give yourself time to grieve, you need to evaluate how you will approach this or what you learned, you need to take a breath. You did not stop being a human being when you became a manager and you may need to remind yourself of that.