For Those Left Behind


We are well into the year 2016. There’s no need to pull any punches, in the oil and gas industry there has been precious little good news. There has been, and will likely continue to be, some pretty painful job cuts. Having said that, there’s nothing new about this in our industry. It’s one of the reasons the industry pays so well; in exchange for cyclical employment stability.

This has led to all sorts of support, recognition and resources for those who have been let go, re-deployed or utterly out of work. But what about those who still have their jobs? Suddenly you are asked to do more with less. Your department may have lost 75% of the team and you, the chosen, are left to do the same amount of work with fewer of you left. I don’t want to understate the impact of job loss on those who have lost theirs, but the point of this article is to help those left behind.

Your managers, supervisors or even directors are under similar burden. Their stress levels are through the roof because they’re under scrutiny to deliver “results for stakeholders”. They may even seem to “suddenly show their true colors”; become mean, jerks or other expletives that can’t be professionally printed here. For those left behind this can feel oppressive.

For those left behind, there is loss. Loss of friends, comrades in arms and compatriots. There is also a sense of loss of freedom, comfort and camaraderie.

You may have even had “good loss” – such as losing that annoying unproductive unhappy coworker, but they at least did some work and that is now on your plate. But still it’s all part of the sense of loss. You were already running flat out with full days now you have to do the work of 2, 3, or even 4 people. It’s overwhelming.

For those left behind the effect is a lot like a PTSD reaction or possibly survivor’s guilt depending on your circumstances. I don’t say this lightly. As a parent of a high anxiety child I’m keenly aware of what the physical manifestations of fear and stress does to both emotions and the physical body. Not as a clinical expert but as a real life expert.

Being left behind can be, perhaps really is, overwhelming, stressful and quite complex emotionally. You can also have guilt. Guilt that you have a job while your friends don’t. Guilt that you are having negative thoughts about the job you used to enjoy or the boss that turned callous on the team.

If you are still employed after a significant round of layoffs, you are probably also feeling a lot of fear, have a sense of being trapped and have huge uncertainty…”are they done the cuts?”, “what will happen in 6/9 months, next year?”. Ultimately the foundation of security you had in your position has been fundamentally shaken and that is unsettling.

It’s important to know, this is normal. Most people find change unsettling, and job loss is one of the most significantly unsettling changes that can occur in a business. Especially significant amounts of job loss. But the question is how can you cope or adapt quickly to make the emotions go away?

  1. Be present. Don’t try to make the emotions go away. Feel them. Acknowledge them. Give them voice, to yourself, to close friends, your support system. Being present at its simplest is little more than focusing on breathing from your diaphragm, taking inventory of what you are feeling and where in your body you are feeling it, and embracing the moment you are in.
  2. Ask for help. Talk to your supervisor, manager or director. Make use of your mental health services offered through your benefits. If you don’t know, your HR department should be able to safely and discretely direct you to resources available to you. Alberta Mental Health services offers drop in help. It takes great strength to ask for help. Ask for it knowing you are strong for doing it.
  3. Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Do not “suck it up buttercup”. Do not “take it like a man”. Do not put on your “big girl panties”. These efforts only “stuff your emotions” which make your body like an emotional pressure vessel. It will eventually need to be released…the question is; will it be a slow controlled release or an explosion? Continually stuffing your emotions will eventually explode.
  4. Find a way to see positives for yourself to help you change your attitude about your situation. Everyone is a little different, but maybe this is a good opportunity to further your career, to learn something new that you can add to your resume. Be creative. Adjusting your own attitude is the most significant way to change your situation…by changing your perception of your situation. It’s not as easy to do as this article might imply, but it is the most effective.
  5. Have an honest conversation about the realities of the new teams capabilities with your manager(s). Recognize that a good supervisor will understand the new situation but they will also seek to stretch the team to push limits. That’s okay. You’re a high performance team member in a high performance team. What better way to build your own strength than to push your own performance boundaries. Identify ways to be more efficient.
  6. Do not sink into rumour, gossip and hearsay. These just feed the negative. Your job, besides your duties, is to find ways to focus on the positive.
  7. Work with your supervisor to develop a strategic plan and set goals for your role, however it has changed. Create a clear and reasonable path toward success for you in your role.
  8. Ask for training. You may hear there is no budget. But the government has financial programs that can make training quite affordable, even covering more than 60% of the training costs.

Good training to consider is time management, skills upgrading or goal setting, or “how to perform at your best”.

Ultimately it’s about becoming more comfortable in this new unique uncomfortable situation of not feeling left behind, but reaching positively toward a new more certain future.

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