After job cuts, do survivors pay a bigger emotional toll than those laid off?

Is the emotional toll from job cuts worse on those who get laid off or those who survive?

New research says, perhaps surprisingly, that survivors can suffer just as much, if not more, than colleagues who get laid off, Business Week reports.

Researchers embedded themselves at Boeing from 1996 to 2006, a tumultuous decade during which the company laid off tens of thousands, Business Week says. The results of the study will appear next year in a Yale University Press book called “Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers and Managers.”

“How much better off the laid-off were was stunning and shocking to us,” says Sarah Moore, a University of Puget Sound industrial psychology professor who is one of the book’s four authors. “So much of the literature talks about how dreadful unemployment is.”

But the researchers discovered that the people who had been laid off often were happier than those left behind, Business Week reports. Many had new jobs, even if they didn’t always pay as well.

Over and over, Moore says, average depression scores were nearly twice as great for those who stayed with Boeing vs. those who left. The laid-off were less likely to binge drink, often slept better, and had fewer chronic health problems.

Human resources specialist Frank Zemek was the researchers’ main contact. He recalled “the survivor’s guilt of the people who were left, who were waiting and not knowing if the hatchet was going to fall on them. They experienced the worst stress,” Business Week reports.

What do you think of the results? Plausible? Remember, the economy is a lot worse now than when the study period ended in 2006.

20 comments Add your comment


October 29th, 2009
6:48 am

You can also make yourself more marketable by earning a degree in Crime Scene investigation check


October 29th, 2009
8:50 am

And in how many cases have the employees been complaining about the job? Too many hours, not enough help, bad communication, bad supervisors. The layoff is the push they need to do something about it. I’ve been the survivor and the one laid off and neither is a pleasant experience, but sometimes, you need that kick to get things going.

F-105 Thunderchief

October 29th, 2009
9:05 am

“What do you think of the results? Plausible?”

Of course it’s plausible. Is it plausible you might ask a real question, instead of a lazy throwaway? Apparently not.


October 29th, 2009
9:15 am

I’m not sure I agree with that research. I have been fortunate enough to survive becoming laidoff with 2 fairly large companies in the past 15 years, but did lose a job when laid off from a company (approx 20 years ago). I certainly felt badly for the individuals who did lose their job. And to some degree the question, “Could it be me next” certainly came to mind.
However, the layoff experience certainly caused more personal stress to me. Fortunatley my wife was still employed, but we had to deal with a 55% decrease in our income. Additionally, can the stress of getting out and finding a new job. Interviews were hard to get, because no one was hiring. It took approx 4 months to find something.

middler and so tired of all the rhetoric :

October 29th, 2009
9:28 am

I was “laid off” (what a nice euphemism) in 2002 as my company “downsized” from 140,000 to less than 20,000 (and is now totally “downsized” as the remaining pieces are being sold off and no one has a job there). I had awards from my company and our customers. I had promotions and raises. Didn’t mean a thing! Dumbing down my resume, without lying, did not help me find a job. One company wanted me for a comparable position but had me bring in my last pay stub to verify the salary I claimed. I had lied, but to make it less. The director over the VP who wanted me then said he wouldn’t have anyone working for him who had made more than he had. My resulting depression at losing 3/4 of our family’s income and benefits, and inability to find a job for several years (Walmart, Kroger, Big Ten 10 didn’t want me anymore than BellSouth, IBM, and Bank of America) was in a different universe from the suffering of my colleagues still left at Nortel. My industry and position which I worked long and hard for over 18 years were pariahs as no other company wanted to be tainted by the telecom bust. My friends and former colleagues lucky enough to hang on for a bit longer worked hard, stayed late, and worried about when the inevitable ax would fall. But being able to remain in their homes, educate their children and go to a doctor for their stress related illnesses didn’t compare to those of us trying to find any job at all, trying to sell our homes, no longer being able to pay for our kids’ education or weddings, and most of all being unable to afford COBRA or go to a doctor. Tell the people who died of heart attacks and other stress related ailments, the people who committed suicide, the people who drank and had wrecks killing their wives, who lost their homes and everything they had and will never again have much of anything, that their still employed colleagues are worse off. If one is 30 and gets a “kick in the pants” one may be able to recoup (when the economy recovers) and one may very well “get things going.” But the over 40s, over 50s, over 60s who faced the same kick will not “get things going.” While AARP touts older Americans’ desirability the message falls short of reaching corporate America. I was lucky. I eventually borrowed $1500 to take a paralegal course. Of course, with no experience and being over 50 no law firm wanted me until an acquaintance from church was desperate for someone. I can’t afford my mortgage or even another cheaper home. I have no benefits. I pray daily that my heart and blood pressure and cholesterol and depression conditions don’t kill me prior to aging to get Medicare. The reality is that most people complain at work like they do about their spouses. It doesn’t mean they really want another job or divorce. They just want a job that pays enough to live on and lets them give some kind of decent life to their family and then retire at age 70 without being in poverty. So if you really think that it’s better to be “laid off” why don’t you give up your job and try it? The person who doesn’t get laid off as a result will bless you. And government please don’t use this study to deal with what’s going on today; it is in no way relevant.

Thirdwheel Loser

October 29th, 2009
9:37 am

I was recently laid off from my position 3 weeks ago and it hurts like hell. I gave my all in my position and everyone liked me well except the person who laid me off but this person doesn’t like other people of color. Anyway being laid off is worse than surrving in the place that is doing the layoff. Atleast the person still has a job!!! I am now having to decide if I can pay rent or pay my car note. Next week it will be can I afford to eat or pay some more bills. Thank God I have an understanding boyfriend but he can leave at any time since we are not married. It really sucks being laid off and I pray everyday that that company that did this to me goes under….

Mike D

October 29th, 2009
9:54 am

I put my manager on a list of people Id like kill before I die list. I hope that the POS gets a slow spiraling cancerous death.


October 29th, 2009
10:08 am

It’s also plausible when the survivors are expected to do their job and the job of a laid off co-worker. Now, that’s stressful.


October 29th, 2009
10:09 am

Do you work at the Post Office Mike D?


October 29th, 2009
10:10 am

Wow Mike D.

At least you’ve given law enforcement a nice place to start if anything ever happens to this guy in investigating his death… Or this blog will become a part of the news story. Cool.


October 29th, 2009
10:28 am

let see being laid off = severance, and free unemployment money for 6 months or more to look for a better job or start somethign up yourself. Ive been laid off twice and foudn a better job each time.

Being a survivor = no raise, having a bonus that is 5% of your salary cut weeks before you were to get it, more work, rushing to the dr, dentist etc to get work done before you get laid off yourself…

makes sense to me


October 29th, 2009
10:28 am

Doing that right now GeoffDawg for lower pay than the laid off employee made too! I am now basically repsonsible for 3 peoples jobs and yet still not one penny more for doing it… and if I could find something better out there I would quit in a heartbeat but there doesn’t seem to be too much out there.


October 29th, 2009
10:32 am

I lost my job,along with 600 other people, as our company decided to close its doors. At first it was nice, as I filed for unemplyment for the first time in my life. I moved to a larger city, with the severance pay, and bought a house because I did not want to rent. I found lots of jobs, H&R Blocks tax service will hire anyone. I worked for United Airlines, and then I went into retail selling in the mall. I took the summers off and drew unemployment, and in the fall I went back to the mall for Holiday Seasonal help, until I started spending too much. Now I work part time at a retail store and I really don’t like it. They can’t keep people, and we have to always cover other departments. We work every weekend, so there goes time with the family. Being laid off is no picnic.

Thirdwheel Loser

October 29th, 2009
10:32 am

I know for a fact my excoworkers are having the time of their lives… Not one of them is worried about losing their job. In fact my ex boss just hired someone else who starts next week. So tell me if being laid is better again…. I have no health insurance, no income but unemployment and I have no where to go in the morning… yeah unemployment rocks!! NOT!!


October 29th, 2009
10:35 am

to ‘new world’ bite me jerk

Keep Trying!

October 29th, 2009
10:58 am


You made lots of good points and there are many people who are similarly situated (former telecom, >50, etc.). That, however, doesn’t make it better because misery doesn’t love company. It is bothersome that when one completes an employment application, he must check the race/gender, etc. boxes–but there are no boxes for people over 40 or 50. Not coincidentally, males are being fired disproportionately in the workplace as employers have gotten the message from government that certain groups are not to be laid off. This is not the pursuit of victimhood, rather just the reality in 2009.

I believe that most companies won’t consider older workers even though they offer unmatched experience that, when applied correctly, will help their bottom line.

Many of the folks in management of most large telecom companies possessed the monopoly mindset that gave birth to these companies. They lacked the commitment to customers that is necessary for long-term survival. They chose not to transform their companies even though new technologies changed their environments. Unfortunately, millions of workers paid the price.

I remember desperately trying to get management to consider new products and services for our customers–but like our customers, I was ignored. Eventually, I chose to leave them because I knew the ultimate path these companies would take. Consolidation. Layoffs. Repeat.

The good news is that the Invisible Hand worked, but millions of people have not yet recovered from the fallout.

All I can say is good luck to you. Keep trying and pushing. I’ll be there doing the same.


October 29th, 2009
11:16 am

sure the survivors still have a job. When dedicated employees are thrown to the wayside due to cutting back for others to survive. Try losing your dream..your home, your job, income, your credit, the animals you cared for then moving to an area where you have to put your kids on the floor when hearing bullets ring out in trying to survive on unemployment…yeah the survivors are traumatized. The ironicy is that stimulus money went to the banking culprits that forced a person to lose everything by predatory lending. You report to the commission of banks and your told get a lawyer with little to no income to go after rescued banks connected with AIG….and their flocks of lawyers picking up the pieces for piecemeals of balancing assets/liabilities of profit from the losses they created for the homeowners…then the vultures come in to take your home so happy to get a deal on your dream home from foreclosure while you have nothing left..but memories of what used to be…the banks are bailed out while the taxpayer sinks into oblivion

Thinking Out Loud

October 29th, 2009
2:56 pm

No Joy in Mudville!


October 30th, 2009
1:25 pm

About the only useful information the research offers is to stimulate debate. Otherwise, seems to be a lot of BS. Ask those of us who were laid off and have been unemployed for 6 months or more with no prospect of a job in sight how much more stressed we would feel if had survived a layoff and we still had our jobs. Sorry but feeling guilty about being a survivor just doesn’t compare to being blindsided by a layoff, never mind the complications presented due to one’s age, industry travails, etc. at the time of a layoff…


November 17th, 2009
8:20 am

Having been the taqrget of layoff 5 times I can definately say, the survivors do suffer, but not nearly so much as the target of the layoff. Each and every situation is different as is each individual. I can definately say that your attitude has a great deal to do with how well your thrive. To Mike D I would strongly suggest that you seek counseling, to harbor that must anger and resentment is detremental to your health and to your chance of finding a new position.

This study sounds like just another way for our Government to waste our tax money on stupid and frivilous studys to boost their own egos and try to make us think that they are sympathetic and are trying to do something for us. If they truly cared they they would be doing things to help, not just doing worthless studies. Our government has been doing this to us for far too long and it is time for us to vote the clowns out and put people into office who will stop this nonsense. How can we continue to allow our jobs to be shipped overseas, Banks to merge and lay off larger and larger workforces, and our business climate to decline to the point where corporations have no choice but to lay off workers. I say it is time to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of our government and demand that they begin to turn this situation around.