Redundancy Survivors

by Rus Slater

In a nutshell

1. Downsizing and redundancies

Downsizing is the term coined for an intentional reduction in the size of a workforce at all staffing levels, to survive a downturn, improve efficiencies, or become a more attractive candidate for acquisition or merger. Some people make a distinction between downsizing and layoff:

  • Downsizing intended to be a permanent reduction in headcount
  • A layoff is intended to be a temporary reduction, with the understanding that employees may later be rehired.


2. When downsizing backfires

The overall picture of the financial effects of downsizing is negative. Although a few organisations have reported financial savings, the majority have failed to report increased levels of longer-term efficiency, effectiveness, productivity and profitability.

  • Your customers and clients must continue to receive the same level of service and your shareholders will continue to expect a reasonable return on investment.
  • Non-downsized firms financially outperform downsized firms in the short, medium and long terms.
  • To avoid negative results, survivors need help to overcome their loss of trust and commitment.
  • They need clear-cut job descriptions and good performance management to cope with the restructuring and extra workloads.


3. The effects of downsizing on staff

When organisations downsize, for what whatever reason, a range of different people – in fact, all your staff – will be affected, though in different ways.

  • Managers have to break the news to staff with whom they may be friends; they may be labelled the villains of the piece and may be suffering from survivor syndrome.
  • The redundant staff are losing their jobs and perhaps some self esteem, though they may be financially compensated in several ways.
  • Remaining staff may suffer from feelings of guilt, loss of confidence in the job and management, fears for the future and overload.


4. Spotting survivor syndrome

If you or someone you manage, or a peer, has any of the symptoms listed below, or demonstrates any of these behaviours, suspect survivor syndrome and take action at once!

  • Feelings of insecurity about the job
  • Uncertain/doubtful of their own skills and abilities
  • Lack of loyalty to firm, manager or colleagues
  • High stress levels
  • Low self-esteem
  • Narrow-minded and risk averse
  • Low productivity, sometimes appears to be working underwater
  • Increased absenteeism or lateness


5. Minimise survivor syndrome

There is a five-pronged approach to managing survivors:

  • Plan – work out sensible schedules for reassigning tasks and responsibilities
  • Take time to explain how the organisation plans to recover and grow and what role the employees can play
  • Listen empathetically to them as they air their feelings
  • To rebuild trust, act with integrity and offer support
  • Arrange for additional training, where appropriate


6. Self help for survivors

Even if you are a manager, the likelihood is that you are a survivor as well, so you may well need to do a bit of self-diagnosis and self help along the way.

  • Find someone with whom you can talk
  • Accept your feelings
  • Be proactive about managing your workload
  • Start thinking about your career