Layoff. Reduction in Force. Resizing.
No matter the term, it is an incredibly difficult process. Most employers experience heartache as they try to figure out the most compassionate way to treat employees who will lose their jobs. Business leaders are often racking their brains as they figure out how to provide support to soften the blow.
But what about the people who are left behind?
The people who keep their jobs.
What do they need after the dust settles?
It would be natural to think that keeping their job is enough. That employees will experience an intense sense of relief from the tension that leads up to a layoff.
But, that is not always the case. The people who are spared can develop a form of survivor’s guilt. Survivor guilt, also known as survivor syndrome, was first identified during the 1960s and occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.
Sally Spencer-Thomas, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in mental health advocacy in organizations, believes workplace survivor syndrome can have a significant effect. It can lead to increased absenteeism, anxiety, depression, poor morale, indecision, disengagement and burnout.
According to Spencer-Thomas, it can be driven by a “mixture of grief from losing colleagues, anxiety regarding their [own] job security, overwhelm from needing to pick up more work, and distress from deteriorating psychological safety.”
Addressing workplace survivor syndrome isn’t about looking at the bright side, or convincing staff that it is going to be better than ever. It is about guiding employees through the transition and being respectful of the stress they are under.
What does this look like in practice? While every company’s situation will be unique, there are several best practices that you can employ to help during this difficult transition.
Communicate: Paying attention to how you communicate during this time is essential. Making sure all communication about staff changes is clear, identifying the impact of those changes and articulating your understanding that staff will need time to adjust is the crucial first step.
Bring in Support: Tap into resources to provide the employees who remain tools to work through their feelings. Use any existing employee assistance programs or bring in consultants to provide transitional guidance to help diffuse intense emotion and help people refocus.
Define the Transition Period: Pushing remaining employees to pretend everything is business-as-usual is not realistic. Reassess goals and outline the steps to realign processes, benchmarks and timelines. If possible, provide flexibility in how the work gets done during this transition period.
Following these steps can build back the trust that is shaken during a reduction in force.
Also, pay attention to the effect the layoff has on you, as a leader. You will have your own emotional reaction as you move through the process. Be sure you have someone to confide in, practice self care and give yourself some grace as you reset your leadership to the new reality. Taking care of yourself and your employees will help your business move along the bumpy road of resizing as you find your new direction.
G2 Solutions supports businesses in transition. Contact us and we will provide the support that you need.