Redundancy Survivors

by Rus Slater

Spotting survivor syndrome

The symptoms of survivor syndrome may start to appear within a matter of hours or days of the announcements of redundancies. If the victims are working out notice periods, then this is also a prime incubation period, as the survivors have a constant reminder of their ‘guilt’.

Even when the leavers have gone, there will be some survivors who previously have not exhibited any symptoms, who will suddenly start to show signs of the 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!

Symptoms and behaviours

  • Feelings of insecurity about job
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Mistrust of management
  • Uncertain/doubtful of their 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 slowly as though underwater
  • Depressed, miserable or lethargic
  • Increased absenteeism or lateness
  • Presenteeism – the body is present, but the intelligent mind is somewhere else
  • Increased numbers of people smoking
  • Low morale, loss of sense of humour
  • Loss of pride in the organisation, loss of respect for organisational possessions
  • Increased resistance to change
  • Acts of sabotage.

Stress is the reaction to the pressure of extra workload and uncertainty.

Symptoms include headaches, muscular tension, backache and/or neck-ache, tiredness and sleep problems, digestive problems, feeling of being unable to cope, irritability and mood swings, disturbed eating patterns, finding it hard to concentrate and feeling less motivated.

In terms of groups, look out for sudden silences, lack of the usual ‘banter’ and the formation of secretive cliques.

Another question that arises is ‘How deep does a redundancy round need to go before the syndrome kicks in?’

  • 5 per cent of people?
  • 10 per cent?
  • More than 10 per cent?

Is that an ‘across the board’ figure or does it relate to the team or department (let’s face it: it is unlikely that a redundancy programme will actually cull the same percentage of people from each team – some will be hit harder than others).

Also, be aware that if a tight-knit or long-term team is broken, there are more likely to be syndrome sufferers than if a few people are let go from a loose work group.

Everyone matters

You should also remember to look beyond ‘PAYE Employees only’. You may have no legal obligations to contractors and temporary staff, but they are humans too.

  • If survivors see you terminate the contracts of their friends who happen to be temps in a callous and as-little-care-as-we-could-get-away-with fashion, this will increase the likelihood of survivor syndrome being triggered.
  • Similarly, if you only try to manage the syndrome amongst PAYE staff and leave out the surviving temps and contractors, this will speak unhelpful volumes to all.