Survivor syndrome – how redundancies affect the staff that remain

29 Aug 2017 By Janice Haddon

Boosting the morale of those left behind is crucial, says Janice Haddon

When a company decides it needs to cut costs, redundancies will often be top of the list of considerations. How organisations handle the redundancy process is key, not only to avoid unnecessary claims for unfair selection but also to give remaining staff confidence the organisation treats its employees fairly and with respect.

Research shows that when restructures and redundancies are announced, there can be an increase in performance, as individuals try to demonstrate their worth in the hope of retaining their jobs. This is short-lived, however, as worry and uncertainty soon take hold.

Getting your redundancy process right and supporting individuals who are leaving is also key to retaining your best employees. If you get it wrong, the staff you thought you would rely on will quickly put their own exit strategy into play.

The survivors

Survivor syndrome can be a common problem for organisations on the other side of redundancy. The pervading feeling for employees who have kept their jobs will be relief. But that can subside, giving way to anxiety over the future, illness if they have found the restructure process stressful and anger if they have seen colleagues and friends lose their jobs. Fear for the future compounds worry over the potential of further redundancies, and all of that can lead to a whole host of negative emotions. If not addressed, these anxieties can ripple right through a company’s remaining workforce, sending staff motivation and productivity into decline.

Research indicates that survivors of restructures are often the ones ignored during redundancies, as the focus is placed on the process and exiting people out of the business. Yet it is this group of employees who are the lynchpin to the organisation’s future success.

One of the most difficult tasks facing any manager, therefore, is how to motivate staff demoralised by recent redundancies. The worst thing a manager can do is ignore the issue.


Clear lines of communication are critical. The best thing to do is acknowledge what has taken place. Honest communication on a range of issues is what will bring people back from the brink. If people are not informed – or, worse still, misinformed – relationships will break down.

Communication is always key. A clear vision for the future that lets survivors see where their role fits in will be the foundation for boosting morale, raising performance and allowing the business to move forward.

Several things will have changed in the organisation and everyone will need to be kept informed. The business’s structure will have changed. People’s roles and their positions within the overall team will have changed. Staff will need to understand who is working where and who is now responsible for different processes. Procedures may be affected by the change so will need to be reviewed and communicated to avoid confusion.

Build teams

Teams will have changed. Every individual will need to understand their role, responsibilities and the expected performance standards. There may be extra demand as workloads will have altered, so people will need to understand the implications and expectations of that. Everyone will need a clear understanding of opportunities for future advancement and, at the very least, confirmation that no further redundancies are foreseen.

Getting communications right will allow management to put the brakes on the rumour mill, which is likely to have gone into overdrive following job losses. Allowing employees to ask questions is essential. When staff feel like their concerns are important, when they feel consulted, listened to and when they are provided with further information about the direction of the company, they are less likely to be fearful of the future.

While the budget probably won’t be there for extensive team-building exercises, it is important to do all you can to pull teams and the business together. Treat people with respect and communicate well and motivation and performance will soar.

Janice Haddon is a qualified coach and has more than 25 years’ experience in strategic and operational human resources and management consultancy

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