When You Es­cape Fire, but Land on the Fry­ing Pan

Symp­toms in­clude guilt, anx­i­ety and con­stant fear of be­ing the next in the fir­ing line

The Economic Times - - Front Page -

Mum­bai | New Delhi: What’s the next worst thing to sud­denly los­ing your job with­out an al­ter­na­tive in hand? A grow­ing num­ber of In­di­ans are find­ing this out the hard way, even as they may have sur­vived lay­offs of late across sec­tors such as ecom­merce, tele­com, fi­nan­cial ser­vices, in­fra­struc­ture and IT. An ex­ec­u­tive with a lifestyle goods com­pany, for in­stance, com­plained of a re­cur­ring dream, ever since three of his col­leagues were fired, that the ceil­ing was cav­ing in on him. In an­other case, an ex­ec­u­tive near­ing the end of her ma­ter­nity leave couldn’t bear to re­turn to work since two of her clos­est col­leagues had been asked to quit while she was away.

Such peo­ple suf­fer from what psy­chol­o­gists term ‘lay­off sur­vivors’ syn­drome’ and live in con­stant dread that their heads will be the next on the chop­ping block while grap­pling with a sap­ping mix of guilt, anx­i­ety and low morale.

“A lot of young peo­ple, es­pe­cially in their 20s, in In­dia are go­ing into de­pres­sion as companies are down­siz­ing their staff… They’re not able to fo­cus,” said Dr Seema Hin­gor­rany, a Mum­bai-based clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and trauma re­searcher. “Such cases are much higher since de­mon­eti­sa­tion… Since Novem­ber last year, 35-40% more peo­ple have reached out to me.” Marico chair­man Harsh Mari­wala, who helps pro­mote a coun­selling helpline run by the Tata In­sti­tute of So­cial Sciences, how­ever, said this phe­nom­e­non is re­flec­tive of In­dia catch­ing up with the more de­vel­oped world in terms of cor­po­rate prac­tices. “It’s a VUCA (acro­nym for volatil­ity, un­cer­tainty, com­plex­ity and am­bi­gu­ity) world, and this is a part and par­cel of that jour­ney. It’s hap­pen­ing more in new-age jobs.” De­fend­ing the spate of down­siz­ing, Jairo Fer­nan­dez, se­nior V-P, HR, SAP Asia-Pa­cific and Ja­pan, said, “There’s a need to once in a while make de­ci­sions on in­di­vid­u­als. If the HR per­son doesn’t take one de­ci­sion to­day, it may lead to a de­ci­sion on 10 in­di­vid­u­als to­mor­row.”

Be that as it may, in some cases the lay­off sur­vivors’ syn­drome af­fects the en­tire fam­ily as those af­fected vent their anx­i­ety by lash­ing out at home, as in the case of an ex­ec­u­tive with a Gur­gaon startup that was plan­ning to shift base to Pune af­ter sack­ing a bunch of his col­leagues.

The ex­ec­u­tive’s wife took him for coun­selling af­ter their 10-year-old son re­ported vi­o­lent out­bursts in school, some­thing that the teacher told the par­ents was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the fa­ther’s phys­i­cally abu­sive be­hav­iour to­wards both his son and his wife.

So­ci­ol­o­gist GK Karanth at­trib­uted the phe­nom­e­non to the sheer pace of change, say­ing the big­gest chal­lenge to­day is that the process of in­no­va­tion and in­ven­tion is hap­pen­ing so rapidly that work­ers do not know where to be­long and what skill to pos­sess. “Work­ers are con­stantly read­just­ing their ca­pa­bil­ity and their psy­che. They have no idea what is com­ing next,” he said.

For those suf­fer­ing from the mal­ady, though, there is help at hand.

Delhi-based psy­chol­o­gist Gee­tan­jali Ku­mar pre­scribed med­i­ca­tion for sleep and blood pres­sure to the ex­ec­u­tive with the lifestyle goods com­pany cited ear­lier to cope with the stress of hav­ing his friends laid off. “Yes, there is a rea­son to fear the fear but I tell him, if he keeps fear­ing it, then how will he sur­vive? He needs to greet and cheat the fear,” she said.

While lay­off sur­vivors with fam­i­lies to sup­port, loans to re­pay and no solid backup plan are more likely to fall vic­tim, psy­chol­o­gists said the only way to cope even­tu­ally is to ac­cept re­al­ity and try to move on to the best of one’s abil­ity. Af­ter all, in these times of in­creas­ing au­to­ma­tion and trans­for­ma­tive changes across sec­tors, un­cer­tainty for work­ers is here to stay.

Sreer­adha D Basu & Varuni Khosla ANIR­BAN BORA

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