Joanne Wojcik of Benefits Beat discusses a new report on post-layoff survivor syndrome. While the actual report is only available to members, the author suggests that managing survivor syndrome ” … is about taking a strategic approach before, during and after the downsizing so management teams will be able to extract greater employee motivation, engagement and productivity, and foster the performance of the business over the long term.”
Once the dust has settled after a layoff, the remaining employees may run through a gamut of emotions. As a manager, you should recognize that the the five stages of grief and loss may be at work. Expect anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and eventually acceptance. It’s common for surviving workers to have some or all of the following reactions:

  • Sadness at the loss of valued colleagues
  • Guilt that friends and colleagues are suffering hardship
  • Fear, anxiety, or worry that job loss could happen to them next
  • Anger at you or the company; mistrust, erosion of loyalty
  • Stress at having to assume a heavier workload or take on new duties
  • Lack of motivation or apathy

As a manager, you need to address these common reactions and find a way to move forward in a positive direction.

  • Recognize that people need to express their feelings of loss for valued colleagues.
  • Expect some venting. If employees express anger at you or the organization, don’t take it personally and don’t be defensive. Try to steer things in a positive direction.
  • Explain the business rationale for the cuts. Try to allay insecurity but don’t offer any false promises or misleading statements about their future security.
  • Help people adjust to new work roles – offer support and encouragement.
  • Work to rebuild trust. Encourage teamwork, set positive goals. It might be a good time for morale boosters like extra training sessions, pizza lunches, and recognition for a job well done.
  • Communicate frequently and honestly.
  • Watch for signs of continued stress and refer employees to your EAP if signs of stress persist.

See our past guide on Coping with Tough Times where we provide more resources on survivor guilt and helping your employees cope with change. Also see our post on some good ways to deliver bad news.

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