Layoffs bring SARAH

The best leaders know how to handle demanding times. In this article, leadership coach John M McKee offers some perspective to those who may be in unchartered waters in this era of massive layoffs.

Do you know about the SARAH syndrome? If not, you should.

The US Labor Department reported 598,000 job losses in January 2009. That's the worst one-month decline in 35 years. The overall unemployment rate is now at a whopping 7.6 percent - the highest since 1992. To date, a total of 3.6 million jobs have been lost during this recession. Another report revealed some economists actually believe "the unemployment rate could hit 9 percent or 10 percent at the end of this year, even with a government stimulus and all-time low interest rates."

Now, add to that millions more who, out of desperation, are working part-time instead of full-time or have fallen off the unemployment payroll completely, and the full extent of the crisis hits home. As a result, many leaders and managers are going to be called upon to deal with challenges that they never had to consider earlier in their careers. Hopefully, you have made it through the layoffs unscathed and the outlook is fairly bright.

But, even if you or your employer, haven't been impacted by the economy; you should know about SARAH. That's because - with things unlikely to improve in the employment arena for the next couple of quarters at least - it's highly likely that you're going to know somebody who lost their job or saw it changed dramatically. You'll be in a better position to help them (or yourself) through the difficulties with an understanding of it.

SARAH is a syndrome. It's what people go through after they've been laid off: shock, anger, rejection, acceptance and help.

As a leader, you can help those affected:

First, recognize that it's important for people to go through all the steps. Skipping over one or two doesn't speed up one's recovery. It may serve to prolong their misery and forward movement. Second, when you see someone in the throes of it, tell them about SARAH. When in loss - of a loved one, or a job - it's helpful for us to understand that we are experiencing something profound and that it's OK to feel what we are feeling at that point.

During these especially-demanding times, professional help in the form of therapy (group / individual) can be especially important. If that's not an option, encourage them to read about what they are going through - I recommend the book, Transitions, by William Bridges. It can be a wonderful tool for anyone who's undergoing a loss.

Finally, help them to understand that life goes on. Although it may not seem like it to the affected individual, even if the future looks cloudy or downright depressing - better days will come.

How one reacts in difficult times is a good indicator of how quickly they can recover and move ahead. That goes for the manager and the individual who's been put out of work.


Leadership Coach