I am one in four. One in four people suffers from severe anxiety that can be crippling to the mind at times — concerned over the little things and the big things in life. Recently being laid off has brought on sleepless nights, a lot of self-doubt and shame, and overall, a massive shift in my confidence. While we close out Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve become more aware of my anxiety and its effects on my body. Add that to a recent layoff, and the stress of not knowing what is next — can be too much.
As I go through another layoff, I’m finding the impact of a release enacted nearly daily will have a long-term, detrimental effect on workers’ mental health and emotional well-being, according to the American Psychological Association. Downsizing can lead to elevated stress, anxiety, and an increase in low self-esteem due to the stigma of being out of work and losing your daily routine and identity. There are financial concerns, as Bloomberg reported that white-collar professionals earning $100k or more increasingly live paycheck to paycheck.
In addition to financial insecurity, there are fears of diminished future earning potential. Those who are long-term unemployed fall through the cracks. In my recruiting experience, companies generally prefer to hire someone currently working. While unfair and biased, the thought process is “there must be something wrong with the person for being out of work for so long.”
The more time a person spends between roles, the worse it gets. Their confidence erodes. They become afraid and frustrated and develop learned helplessness. These factors further compound the problems, as the laid-off person comes across poorly in the interview because of their anxieties, resentment over being terminated, and can’t hide their animosity against their former employers and co-workers.
The Cold, Top-Heavy Sickle
In late January, Google let go of 12,000 white-collar professionals by email. The affected employees were stunned, shocked, and disappointed. The glaring lack of empathy left people feeling vulnerable and disposable. If one of the top companies in the world summarily dispatched brilliant, experienced tech professionals, it could happen to anyone. This creates a culture of fear, uncertainty, and a lack of faith in companies and corporate leadership.
Stress and anxiety accompany a job loss, and it’s now exasperated as the downsizing trend continues unabated. Stoking fear, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has targeted managers for layoffs. Zuckerberg contends that having multiple layers of managers is antithetical to growth and increases costs. The chief executive called out the inefficiencies within the giant social media platform, which is also happening at other large tech companies, stating, “I don’t think you want a management structure that’s just managers managing managers, managing managers, managing managers, managing the people who are doing the work.”
The Hammer of Burnout, Insecurity, And Fear
Korn Ferry, a high-end executive search firm, surveyed the workplace and found that almost 90% of professionals self-report suffering from burnout. More than 81% said they feel more burned out now than during the pandemic. The Workforce Institute at UKG surveyed 3,400 people across ten countries to gauge employees’ mental health. The results are telling: 43% of employees reported being chronically exhausted, and the daily stress adversely impacts their work and home life. A recent global Randstad survey of 35,000 workers indicated that over 50% of respondents are concerned about the economy and job security.
It’s not just the workers who are feeling burned out. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern previously announced her resignation, admitting she felt depleted after managing her country through the Covid-19 crisis, a mass shooting, deadly volcanic eruption and coping with the unrelenting pressure and public scrutiny associated with being a leader of her country.
The Long-Term Impact
Many studies show that unemployed people are more distressed, are less satisfied with their lives, marriages, and families, and have a greater likelihood of psychological problems than employed people. Losing your job is linked to a higher risk of suicide and elevated rates of mortality decades after being let go. The fast-and-furious shift from a stable economy to the pandemic and a boom in 2021 leading to a bust in late 2022 leaves people punch-drunk.
It felt like there was a bait and switch going on. People were told by their employers how valuable they were during the pandemic, and now they’re suddenly dispensable. The dramatic turn of events makes people feel ill at ease, and helpless.
It would make sense for employees to double their efforts to make management feel they are needed. However, it’s hard for people who feel betrayed and lose the trust of business leaders to put in all the extra time and energy while worried that on any day, they could receive the ax, especially as they experience increased burnout. This mindset leads to movements, like acting your wage, quiet quitting, and rage applying to jobs.
Battle the Burnout
You don’t have to feel embarrassed. Thousands of other white-collar professionals are going through the same process. Avoid withdrawing from social engagements. Share what you are going through with trusted family and friends.
Practice self-care. Be kind to yourself, limit stress, and try to relax — experiment with what works best to destress. Focus on things that are within your control. Take short breaks during the day to clear your head. Go on long walks outside to absorb sunlight and appreciate the outdoors and fresh air. Engage in the hobbies and sports you enjoy. Ensure you eat healthily, sleep well, and engage in physical activities. If you are currently working, request some time off for mental health days. When the stress level peaks, start planning for a job or career change. If you continue having difficulties, seek out professional help.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance use crisis, or emotional distress, reach out 24/7 to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) by dialing or texting 988 or using chat services at suicidepreventionlifeline.org to connect to a trained crisis counselor. You can also get crisis text support via the Crisis Text Line by texting NAMI to 741741.