It’s no secret that the game industry is experiencing a significant wave of layoffs. It’s estimated there have been more than 6,000 game industry jobs lost in 2023, with even more layoffs predicted via parent companies like Meta and Microsoft. The game industry has historically been an industry beset by job instability and turnover, but lately it feels like it’s reached historic levels.
In an effort to better assess current industry challenges related to the recent wave of layoffs, Take This is conducting a brief 3 question survey of those who have been impacted by game industry layoffs.
Unsurprisingly, layoffs are linked to a variety of poor mental health outcomes, disproportionately affecting those of lower socioeconomic status. For those laid off, layoffs can undermine a person’s sense of stability, their sense of professional value, and their sense of optimism about the future, especially if they are one of the approximately two-thirds of US adults who live paycheck to paycheck with minimal savings to help them get through emergencies and periods of unemployment. Layoffs also impact the mental well-being of the people who remain at the company and can include feelings of “survivors guilt”, loss of sense of safety or security, increased pressure to perform and additional stress of taking on responsibilities necessitated by having a smaller staff.
While there are steps employers can take to help reduce long term negative mental health outcomes (e.g., being transparent about layoff processes and selection process; offering generous severance, mental health benefits, and job placement services to those who are laid off; as well as offering mental health resources and support for those who remain at the company and on whose shoulders the future of the company rests), layoffs are never easy.
While there are a multitude of topics and groups we could examine, in terms of layoffs and mental health, this piece focuses primarily on two groups of people: those laid off and those remaining at the company.
For Those Laid Off
If you are on the receiving end of layoffs, there are so many physical and emotional challenges. Likely surprising no one, these challenges tend to be intertwined because our mental health suffers when our physical safety is undermined. It’s worth noting that the US has weaker unemployment protections compared to comparably developed nations and the greatest income inequality of any G-7 nation, both of which serve to increase the level of physical and emotional distress experienced by those laid off.
As a metaphor for some of the frequent experiences in the aftermath of a layoff, we might think of people commonly in one of two cognitive and emotional “zones”: the Feelings Zone or the Fix-it Zone. The Feelings Zone is where people, as you might guess, experience a lot of intense feelings related to the aftermath of the layoff. The Fix-it Zone is where people experience the cognitive energy to take solution-based steps to try to ease the effects of layoffs and try to find a new job. Some people might vacillate between the two zones. Some might start with one and progress to the other. Some might find themselves experiencing both at the same time, with one driving the other (e.g., fear-based solution finding).
The Feelings Zone
Feelings of confusion, helplessness, and betrayal are common emotional responses to being laid off. Layoffs are often executed with little, if any, warning and the shock and distress of a layoff means that people often don’t know what to say, ask, or do in the after receiving their notice. If you find yourself experiencing a great deal of emotional distress in the aftermath of layoffs, it may be worth reminding yourself of a few points:
- You don’t have to fix everything all at once. In fact, you may be less effective in doing so if you try.
- You are not alone; there are a lot of other people going through something similar right now.
- It feels overwhelming because it is overwhelming.
- Layoffs are the result of a failed system, not a personal failure.
- Your worth is not tied to your productivity. You are more than your job.
Two common strategies for navigating the Feeling Zone include leaning on your social supports and working with a mental health provider. Social connections and support are some of the most powerful tools in boosting people’s mental wellness and resilience against stressors. Mental health providers are people whose whole job is to focus on you and your emotional needs. If you’re already working with a therapist, ask them about possibly reducing their session rate as part of a temporary hardship accommodation. For those seeking mental health services, numerous therapist directories allow you to search for providers who offer low-cost/no-cost sessions. A variety of US-based directories and other mental health resources are available on Take This’ resource page.
The Fix-it Zone
If and when you find yourself with the cognitive motivation to take more solution-based steps to fix some of the challenges associated with layoffs, this is the Fix-it Zone. There are several parts of the layoff process where different solutions are needed.
The Harvard Business Review published an article in 2020, as COVID-related layoffs began, about some logistical questions to ask about the layoff process. If your company provides severance, it is also worth asking if or how severance affects your unemployment benefits, as different states in the US have different laws. One article noted that people do not always have to sign severance agreements immediately, and requiring employees to do so may be illegal in some cases. They suggest that people pay attention to the dates by which laid-off employees are required to sign severance agreements, so employees can take a breather to consider their options outside the high-emotion context of having just been laid off.
On the topic of unemployment benefits, every state has different rules and regulations, but the US Department of Labor recommends that you apply for unemployment as soon as possible. To make that easier, they offer an overview and links to unemployment divisions in all 50 US States. As with any process involving a bureaucracy as large as the government, this can be a slow and frustrating process, sometimes taking months, made worse by the lingering emotions and anxieties in the wake of the layoff experience. Those bureaucratic difficulties are part of the reason it’s recommended that people complete the application process as soon as possible. One piece of advice we received is that, if your payments are taking too long, people can reach out via email to their local state representatives to see if the process can be expedited.
Once the initial shock wears off, networking and job resources are often the next step for folks. One of the reasons networking is so important is that the majority of jobs are obtained through personal connections instead of public listings. Online groups like the Game Industry Gathering, can provide opportunities to network and commiserate with others in similar circumstances, as well as pool resources for finding jobs. While not game industry specific, other online groups like the unofficial USCIS Discord provide resources to US-based workers who have been laid off but are in the US on work visas. German game dev Jacky Martin compiled a list of both US and international websites and groups focused on finding jobs in the game industry. US game dev Amir Satvat also keeps a list of game industry job resources.
As part of Take This’ efforts to advocate for better mental wellness policies in the game industry, we’ve put together an approximately 5-minute survey to gather data on who has been laid off to see if there are any specific trends in the types of jobs and size of studios which have been impacted. If you would like to participate in this survey, please follow this link.
For Those Remaining at the Company
The well-being of those who remain at a company is often overlooked. Remaining employees must often absorb other people’s work on top of your own, and your perception of job security may be undermined. Your wellbeing matters too.
People who remain at the company may experience a sense of confusion and guilt, especially if the layoff selection criteria are not transparent or the company chooses methods of layoff that are more unpredictable – such as shutting off access cards and email access before alerting people of layoffs. The sense of community and connection in the workplace is disrupted, workloads may have increased without added pay, and feelings of helplessness and anxiety are common.. All of these are contributing factors to burnout, and burnout results in lowered workplace performance. This may become a vicious, feedback loop.
Provided you have access to company medical benefits, one suggestion we received was to reach out to a qualified mental health professional immediately in the wake of layoffs. A qualified mental health professional can help to navigate complex feelings and stressors, and even help you to create a preemptive backup plan, if your workplace remains unstable and unpredictable.
Another tip we received was to connect, as best you can, with others who remain at the company. They’re likely experiencing some of the same feelings you are, and mutual connection may help to normalize this and help you to feel less isolated.
At the most basic level, being laid off is a deeply distressing loss which catalyzes a cascade of additional losses. Losing one’s job means a loss of financial security but also the loss of community and social support, the loss of access to healthcare, and the loss of housing security. Job loss can also trigger a loss in confidence, self-esteem, and sense of purpose. All of these concurrent losses can feel overwhelming and, unsurprisingly, evoke feelings of grief, sadness, despair, and fear. It’s important to remember that these feelings are valid and appropriate, even the big ones and the uncomfortable ones.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice or professional counseling. While we at Take This want to provide you with resources, we do not recommend or endorse any particular site, treatment, therapy, or resource. We provide these links at our sole discretion but have not necessarily vetted or reviewed any particular resource. We assume no liability for the use of the information or resources on these sites and encourage you to use your own best judgment when reviewing these resources.
If you live in the US and you’re having suicidal thoughts, reach out to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or call/text 988. If you’re outside the US, you can find local crisis lines at Suicide.org. If you’re even debating whether you should call them, you should call them. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline handles all psychological crises, not just suicide.