Alex Wilson, Group HR Director of BT decreed that there was no such thing as survivor syndrome resulting from redundancy programmes. If there is guilt and depression among staff it is because the change programme has failed and been mismanaged. However, who has not planned the change programme meticulously, drawn up the gantt charts, developed the communication work streams alongside coms professionals only to have our plans thrown off course by a breach of confidential info by Unions, Members, by unforeseen absences of key personnel, upheld appeals, protests from the electorate or reversals of plans? Even the best laid plans can run aground and the literature on successful management places a huge onus on line managers who may themselves be affected and not performing at their best. And whilst some of these eventualities can be added to the project risk register and contingency plans prepared, many add delay and uncertainty to the process and which causes more stress and distress to staff.
So the reality of change management programmes is that they can leave staff feeling that it has all taken too long, that the wrong people were not retained and that those who left were the lucky ones; the ones who did not have to face increased workloads, more irate customers or feel the loss of old friends. Individuals whose colleagues have left can feel sorrow, guilt, battered and bruised. One interim manager, brought in after a team had been halved, said that the 60 staff who were left felt devalued by the process… they had had to compete for their roles in a series of psychometric tests. It would appear a very objective process, but suggested to the staff that the management did not have any confidence in their own ability to identify the most able and left the remaining staff feeling undervalued and demoralised.
According to Psychologist John Loughran those who keep their jobs when colleagues lose theirs often display guilt, reduced self-esteem and their productivity and sense of involvement decreases. In addition there is increased anxiety, distrust, stress evident in many workplaces. Medical research suggests that major downsizing leads to increases in sickness absence and cardiovascular deaths among the remaining employees. What’s more research in the 1990s suggested that firms who downsized did not become more efficient and productive but performance declined and continued to do so for two years.
So whether the survivor syndrome is a product of poorly managed change or inevitable there are are clearly issues we need to address in order to move the organisation forward. Change is not going to stop and our staff need to be confident and flexible to embrace it. One solution that has been developed is the concept of ‘serene survivors’ that Maryhopecoaching and OneStep Career Transitions are working on. Using the techniques of outplacement they are re-energizing the survivors and building their confidence in themselves. Research by Fiona Campbell at University of Wolverhampton identified that those survivors with high levels of self esteem and with confidence in their own marketability react less negatively.
Having examined what builds confidence in those who are leaving organisations, Mary Hope and One Step have translated those techniques into a programme for the survivors. Each participant is given an indepth session with a consultant, during this they begin to identify the skills they have, their career drivers, their development needs, their stress triggers and their stress relievers. The programme works hand in hand with line managers, the training strategy and employee assistance/occupational health guidance. Mary Hope commented: ‘the focussed attention of a coach – a non judgemental, confidential relationship helping an individual to identify their transferable skills can have a really positive impact – and make them realise their value to the organisation in a way that line managers find difficult to do, it really does build self esteem.. people just don’t know their own potential. This work will really prevent some of the negative impact of downsizing. ’ The programme is shortly being delivered to some staff in Woking BC.