What a great expression to describe the fact that we may be in an ‘at risk’ situation with hundreds of others. Our response to the situation, however, is uniquely individual. The emotional reaction associated with those employees who remain at the company after a period of redundancy, has come to be known as survivor syndrome and can certainly feel like a stormy sea. It can feel a bit dramatic to call it this, as we more readily associate this condition with recovery from serious illness, abuse, or a life changing accident; but for many, the threat of redundancy is truly comparable. Change is something that happens to people, even if they do not agree with it and that is mostly true for redundancy. Transition, on the other hand, is internal: it’s what happens in people’s minds as they go through the change. Change can happen very quickly, depending on the size and scale of the redundancies (it can be a matter of only weeks), while emotional transition usually occurs more slowly, can be hidden from others and is often happening on a subconscious level.
Every week in the news we hear of more and more organisations putting often huge numbers of employees at risk due to the financial pressures of the pandemic. Coupled with the ongoing anxiety surrounding the virus and measures to keep it under control (which further impacts lives and puts pressure on the ability to remain connected with others), it goes without saying that the number of people displaying survivor syndrome is set to increase. A good quality outplacement offering will give those leaving an organization some coaching support to work through their emotions, but what is available for those left behind, those ‘survivors’ who are expected to carry on sailing the sea?
For some it can feel like they are never going to recover from the emotional upheaval and uncertainty of the ‘at risk’ process. With the ongoing financial pressures the UK economy will face as a result of Covid and Brexit, they may be left feeling… what if it’s me next?
To enable employees to manage their emotional transition there are 3 key needs that must be met to enable them to remain motivated, engaged and able to move forward.
When redundancies occur, the very nature of the process upheaves people’s sense of psychological safety, whether they are directly included in the ‘at risk’ group or not. One of the key ways to restore this is to create an environment where people are free and safe to express their feelings and to be heard. This requires a human approach from leaders and needs to consider individual’s needs. To achieve this, communication needs to be focussed on feelings and emotions as well as just the practical facts. Another way to restore psychological safety is to re-establish people’s roles and responsibilities within the new organisational structure so they are clear on their boundaries. So often there is an assumption that people will know what they need to do, but this may have changed significantly and there may be a need for further training or mentoring. Making this clear helps people remain productive and continue to be able to make decisions quickly and effectively. People can’t move on with the new until they have fully let go of what went before and feel safe to do so.
To further build on the above, organisations need to help people see how they fit with the vision of the organisation. This may have shifted as a result of the changing external environment and employees need to know that they are part of something, that means something to them. If employees are to stay with an organisation, then they need to feel a sense of inspiration for the future, with an understanding of why the change has occurred. Organisations can’t guarantee against future redundancies, but they can make sure they are communicating frequently and authentically with their employees about progress against organisational goals to build trust. People can’t move on with the new until they can see and feel what they are moving on to.
The current Covid landscape means that social contact is restricted and the challenge of managing work and home life boundaries is magnified. When overlaid with involvement in a redundancy process, this means that the well-being of employees has never been more under threat. Organisations need to think harder about how they are supporting their employees with their wellbeing. There are the practical aspects such as having comprehensive EAP provision, but how are people being supported to maintain their wellbeing on a day to day basis? Leaders and teams play a huge part in this. What conversations need to happen and what virtual space needs to be created to ensure employees feel cared for by their manager and teammates? Furthermore, what strategies are they being taught to enable them to practice self-care so they can remain resilient and adaptable to change? People won’t be able to thrive in their new world unless they feel supported and cared for.
Redundancy survivors are the ones who will ultimately get your organisation back to where you want it to be. So, supporting them to work through the emotional transition of change should be a key point on the people agenda for any organisational change team, alongside world class outplacement support of course!