COVID-19 Layoffs:Survivors Guilt

Photo by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash

It has been a few weeks since the initial announcement of layoffs at my workplace as a result of the devastating impact of COVID-19. Washington state, where I live and work, is now infamously recognized as “ground zero” for America’s Coronavirus outbreak. Each day, I intently follow the news and attempt to trace the trail of this seemingly invisible virus to see whom, what and how it will attempt to stake claim to another family’s peace.

I never thought to look into my closest circle, my workplace.

For years, I’ve served in the non-profit sector in different facets, from corporate relations to human resources. For nearly 3 years, I have worked with one of the Country’s most recognized non-profit member organizations. In my role, I have the privilege of connecting with every staff member as a Talent Development Manager. When I function as a diversity, equity and inclusion training facilitator, I have held and protected space for staff to be vulnerable, sharing stories of trauma and working through moments of racism and systemic oppression. There was a level of trust that I harnessed through authentic engagement and my own demonstrated vulnerability that strengthened teams and promoted unity at work.

The greatest reward in my role is getting to know the person beyond their title, role and email signature. There were no barriers of power and privilege that prevented me from truly connecting with our staff. More than being a fellow employee, we were family; sharing and safeguarding each other’s stories, identities and in some cases, secrets.

The announcement of layoff projections from the impact of COVID-19 shattered my work world. It was the first time that I had to think about myself and fellow staff mates as being “essential” or not. In my perspective, everyone was essential. The waiting period of discovery to see who would make the cut was causing me to spiral into paranoia, fear and anxiety that disrupted my own workflow and productivity. Already transitioned in a 100% virtual workplace, I had no way of physically pulse checking my environment to check-in or make eye contact with any fellow startled teammates.

In a matter of days, we were notified of the positions that were to be eliminated and given an expiration date of two weeks. To prepare myself for the untimely notice, I adopted the mantra of “no news is good news” as I reluctantly refreshed my emails to confirm receipt (or not) of a meeting invitation from my supervisor. To my surprise, my position is considered essential and my job was spared. This relief was short-lived as I my mind quickly shifted to imagining the worst for others on our org chart.

We lost half of our staff as a result of this epidemic. As one of a few staff remaining, I feel a terrible sense of guilt. COVID-19 has torn my work family apart. This survivor’s remorse, a sense of deep guilt, persistent mental and emotional stress that comes when someone survives an incident is effecting me and the few colleagues that remain at my organization. I have been paralyzed by this guilt and thwarted into extreme introversion.

My biggest struggle is deciding how to bid farewell to my colleagues knowing that I hold a privilege that they will not in a matter of days. The painful reality of unemployment and employer- sponsored healthcare, coupled with housing instability and economic survival in one of the Country’s most expensive places to live, deems any type of “you will be greatly missed” or “we appreciate your contribution” salutation insufficient and a virtual or electronic delivery adds insult to injury.

I want my colleagues to know that I value every relationship, training session and affinity space that we have shared. I hope that the core of our connections transcends beyond our reality of this moment. In our now virtual world, that we remain connected and in community with one another. As a survivor of the COVID-19 layoffs, I commit to continually preserving the culture that we created together and make every effort to ensure that your impacts will permeate through our organization.

To other survivors of COVID-19 layoffs, I encourage you to engage in self-care and mindfulness activities to counter the effects of this heavy guilt and leverage technology to remain connected to your network. There are many decisions beyond our control, but exercising humanity and empathy are not.




Human-being Activist & Author. People watcher and conversation starter. INFJ unicorn. Storyteller. Unapologetic Black Woman.

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Human-being Activist & Author. People watcher and conversation starter. INFJ unicorn. Storyteller. Unapologetic Black Woman.