As a young man, I worked in a factory which had 2,000 employees at the time I was hired, and less than 500 by the time I left. I was there through the recession of the early 1980s, and watched as my co-workers were laid off by the hundreds. Each round of downsizing left those of us who had dodged the Turk more stressed and depressed.
While I don't mean to compare my experience to that of the soldier who loses his buddies in battle, survivor's guilt is a good description for what goes through the mind of someone who keeps his job while his coworkers are cut free. This condition is one of many workplace hazards that can affect you on the job.
Every time the grime reaper passed me by, I realized again just how much fear I had been harboring -- fear of the unknown, fear of the damage to my self-image that comes with the loss of a job, fear for my family members who would share in my hardship.
I was also disturbed to see sent to the pavement co-workers who I knew to be diligent and productive workers, and it made me question my own worthiness. Why should I have kept my job when those I considered my betters were losing theirs? And since so many of them were young men and women with small children at home, their need made me feel doubly guilty.
I also remember selfishly worrying that the work these people had been doing would now be put on the shoulders of those of us who remained. I was all too aware, also, that one round of cutbacks was no guarantee that another wouldn't follow, so my fear soon returned. An atmosphere of doom pervaded the plant, and many of us viewed the entire economy through this perspective. Few of us were confident that the government could avoid a full-blown depression.
Eventually, the ax fell on me, but, thanks to my wife and unemployment benefits, we were able to weather the seven months of my joblessness before I was able to get back to work. So if I learned one thing through this process, it is that survivor's guilt can cause you to despair about the future.
But the fact is, there are better days ahead. Believe it.
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