Living in fear of being fired can be paralyzing. Proactively facing your anxiety about being fired is the best way to keep fears from overtaking you. The author offers strategies for managing your mind when facing layoff anxiety: 1) separate fact from fiction, 2) take constructive action, 3) deploy defensive pessimism, 4) muster your resilience, and 5) invest in self-complexity. .
Great resignation has given way to great apprehension, as more than half of American companies are actively reducing their staff or planning to do so in the coming months. As a result, anxiety about layoffs is palpable among workers. More than 39,000 workers were laid off in the US tech sector alone through August, including employees of industry titans like Peloton, Shopify and Netflix.
As an executive coach, I get an inside look at the unease running through the workforce and how it’s affecting performance and mental health. Take for example my client Janice, an accomplished VP of customer experience who told me, “Every day feels like a waiting game. I live in fear of the morning when I check my email and find out I’ve been blocked.” Or Noah, a content manager, who said, “My impostor syndrome has skyrocketed. I am working more and later to prove my worth and prove that I am worthy to stay on board.”
If you relate to the examples of Janice or Noah, then you are not alone. Nearly 80% of American workers fear job security as recession concerns loom. The constant worry about losing your job is not only discouraging, it can also take a significant toll on your well-being. Studies have shown that job insecurity can negatively affect your concentration and motivation and lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.
Worst of all, layoff anxiety can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If he feels powerless in the face of turmoil at his company, he may back off and back off his efforts, making him a more likely candidate for cutbacks. I’ve also seen people’s insecurities drive them to work harder and more frantically. This may inadvertently indicate that they lack prioritization and self-leadership, two skills employers look for in the workers they retain.
Worrying about losing your job to the point of overthinking can be detrimental. Proactively facing your anxiety about being fired is the best way to keep fears from overtaking you. That is how.
Separate fact from fiction.
The stories you tell yourself may not always reflect reality, so keep an eye on your internal dialogue. As Noah began to pay more attention to his thoughts, he noticed that he often jumped to conclusions. For example, if Noah’s boss responded to an email more slowly than usual, Noah would feel paranoid that he was falling from grace. I encouraged Noah to question this assumption. Noah realized that he was being victimized by confirmation bias, misinterpreting his boss’s behavior as evidence that he was going to be fired from him.
Examine what evidence you have that points to the likelihood of a layoff and whether or not it would be affected. Consider:
- Has your manager asked you to implement cost-saving measures?
- Has the company instituted a hiring freeze?
- Are sales constantly down?
- Is your workload lighter than usual?
- Are you being kicked out of meetings you previously participated in?
If the answer to most of the questions above is “no,” then you probably have less to worry about. If you still find your thoughts racing, try breathing mindfully, imagining letting go of useless thoughts on your exhale.
Take constructive action.
If you feel signs of a layoff, get more information and assess your situation. Are your projects of high value? Does your work generate income? Are you assigned to initiatives that senior management considers important? If not, talk to your boss about modifying your workload to make sure your time is well spent. It’s also wise to cultivate relationships with internal stakeholders and keep an eye out for news of reorganizations or restructurings.
Likewise, don’t wait to start reconnecting your network. Reconnect with old colleagues and managers. Join an industry group or trade association. You will feel more comfortable about a possible change if you have supportive people by your side. Set aside a few hours to make sure your resume, portfolio, and LinkedIn profile are up to date. Even if the layoffs don’t come, you’ll take comfort in knowing you can make a move at any time.
Display defensive pessimism.
Make worry work for you by taking your fear to the extreme. Ask yourself what you would do if you were fired. What are the next steps you would take? Walk through your plan in detail. Anticipate how you would deal with obstacles such as your finances, health care, and finding a new job.
This may sound like a shady exercise, but it can be very powerful. Research shows that mentally rehearsing your response to worst-case scenarios helps control anxiety instead of allowing it to harm you, a strategy known as defensive pessimism. Creating contingency plans creates a sense of control in the midst of an uncertain situation.
Gather your resilience.
I asked Janice, one of the clients mentioned at the beginning of this article, to tell me about the three hardest things she had ever overcome. She looked at me curiously, then she played along and shared, “Well, I got rejected from the university of my choice. I had a hard time getting a job due to my non-traditional background. And just a few years ago I went through a divorce.” “What did those experiences teach you?” I asked. Janice replied, “I am stronger than I ever thought and I always bounce back.” At the time, her Janice recognized that she, too, had the resourcefulness to bounce back from a layoff, should it affect her.
Reminding yourself of how you have faced and overcome adversity in the past is a well-proven resilience strategy. In one study, participants who reflected on how they had grown through life’s challenges showed higher levels of psychological well-being. So think of a time when you were faced with disappointment, pain, or difficulty. What strengths allowed you to get ahead? What doors were opened after?
Invest in self-complexity.
It’s important that your work be part of who you are, but it’s risky to make it your entire identity. Consider a study in the journal frontiers of psychology. The researchers found that people who narrowed down to a single attribute, their job, felt dehumanized, like nothing more than a machine or tool, and had higher levels of disconnection, depression, and burnout.
Now compare this to a concept in psychology known as self-complexity, which, simply put, reflects the number and diversity of attributes that make up significant aspects of who you are. The greater your personal complexity, the more resilient you are.
That’s why it’s important to think about diversifying your sense of self, just as you would diversify your finances. You can diversify your identity and create self-complexity by investing in different areas of your life. That way, when things go wrong at work, you don’t lose your entire sense of identity. You can choose to spend time on your hobbies, your spirituality, or your health.
Living in fear of being fired can be paralyzing. By managing your mind and taking proactive steps, you can ease your worries and prepare to respond to whatever the future holds.