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How do you cope with Survivor Syndrome?

Over the last few years, many of us have been affected in some way by redundancies as our economy has dipped in and out of recession. Redundancy can bring challenges and hardship to those who are made redundant, but the ‘survivors’ can also suffer. Survivor Syndrome describes the feelings of those left behind, who may suddenly find themselves out of their comfort zones and having to pick up new responsibilities, while dealing with a range of feelings.

Organisations need to flex and change to respond to shifting environmental circumstances. Such organisational change may include downsizing, right sizing, de-layering, outsourcing and restructuring. This may be as a result of economic pressure, mergers, acquisitions, buy outs or strategic refocus. The shape of businesses is also changing as workforces become increasingly mobile and remote.

When organisational change results in a reduction in staff, the future success of the business relies on the remaining staff - the Survivors! While provisions are made for departing employees - packages, outplacements, job seeking support - little thought can be given to those who remain to pick up the slack. If the survivors are not adequately managed through the change process, the situation could go from bad to worse.

Common objectives behind a downsizing programme include:

  • Reduce operating costs
  • Improve productivity
  • Increase efficiency
  • Consolidate following a merger / acquisition
  • Streamline operations in response to competitive threat

So if the survivors are not well managed, they may become de-motivated and productivity may drop, which will prove counter effective to at least three of those objectives.

Survivors may experience a range of emotions following a restructure, including grief for loss of colleagues and guilt for surviving. Individuals could well have lost friends in the process and find their social networks and support networks diminished, and their loyalties torn.

It is natural for survivors to worry that there may be a second round of restructuring causing stress about job security, and mistrust of the management. If the process is not well managed and communicated, there could be a lack of management credibility and anger over the situation. The resulting dissatisfactions and fear of further change can lead to damaging consequences for the organisation:

  • Decrease in motivation
  • Increase in absenteeism
  • Reduced job motivation
  • Reduced speed of decision making
  • Apathy
  • Reduced risk taking
  • Decreased productivity and efficiency
  • Increased work related stress levels
  • Increased bullying

The flipside of survivor guilt is survivor glee. Those that don’t feel empathy towards their departed colleagues may feel a sense of power at being chosen to stay, which could lead to inflated egos or a sense of apathy.

Restructuring an organisation is highly emotive and these feelings must be taken into account. Clear, open and ongoing communication is key throughout the process so there is no mystery, no speculation and no mistrust. Transparency at each stage demonstrates to survivors that the process was fair and their position is deserved. Survivors will need support, clear objectives and a shared vision. They will need to know that the changes taking place will safeguard the future of the organisation and therefore the future of their jobs.

Tips to manage survivors:

  • Communicate regularly with teams to monitor progress
  • Equip managers with the skills to recognise stress, concerns and problems within their team
  • Provide adequate training to enable survivors to cope with the new tasks required of them

For further help in managing survivors, take a look at our one day Managing Survivors workshop.

Contact Training4Fusion

All our workshops are fun, interactive and full of activities, self assessment questionnaires, individual and group work to maximise your learning experience. Everyone takes away an action plan to implement in the workplace. Our highly experienced and friendly trainers tailor the day to the group training objectives and needs of the organisation.

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