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Image Survivor’s Guilt

Alexia, one of my coaching clients, was recently promoted to manage her sales unit. Good news, you might think, until she realized that she was now expected to take on responsibility for not only her unit but also that of another manager who had been summarily fired to cut costs.

"Not only am I now expected to do two people's jobs," she says in despair, "I'm getting paid less than my ex-boss, the other unit isn't happy about how their manager was let go and I'm supposed to be grateful that I've still got a job!"

Despite the blessing of avoiding the unemployment queues, not being laid off does not automatically create joy in the hearts of those surviving the massive job cuts taking place in some organizations. Nor is it, according to a recent survey in the USA, going to result in an increase in productivity.

'Survivor's Stress'

The findings of the new study* showed that 74% of employees who kept their job amidst a corporate layoff say their own productivity has declined since the layoff. And 69% say the quality of their company's product or service has declined since the layoffs.

Despite the blessing of avoiding the unemployment queues, not being laid off does not automatically create joy in the hearts of those surviving the massive job cuts.

The survey covered 4,172 workers who remain employed following a corporate layoff. Drawn from 318 companies that have undertaken layoffs in the past 6 months, these employees were asked questions about productivity, product quality, workforce issues and management effectiveness. Some of the key findings included the fact that 87% of surviving workers say they are less likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work, while 64% of the surviving workers felt the productivity of their colleagues had also declined. The overwhelming majority felt that the service that customers receive had declined, with 61% of those questioned saying they believe their company's future prospects are worse.

When asked how they felt personally about the layoffs, the three most common words used by the survivors were 'guilt', 'anxiety' and 'anger'. Mark Murphy, Chairman of Leadership IQ, who conducted the study, named this phenomenon "Survivor Stress".

So, why is there so much stress involved in surviving a job cull?

In Alexia's case, although she understands the need for the business to review its cost base, the pleasure she would normally have gained from her promotion has been swamped by her frustration at being seen by the company as 'the cheaper option' (her words).

So, while on the one hand, she is thankful that she still has a job and glad that she was promoted; on the other hand, she feels guilty about how her extended job role was achieved, angry about having to take on more work for less money than her predecessors earned, anxious about looking incompetent if she asks for support, and guilty about complaining about her situation when she, at least, has a job.

In my experience of managing corporate restructuring projects and resultant job losses, the issue of survivor's guilt is a very real one. The way in which redundancies are carried out will have a huge impact on those who remain. When employees are fired without notice or any attempts to redeploy their skills, those left behind frequently feel vulnerable and anxious - as well as stressed by the sudden increases in workload.

When asked how they felt personally about the layoffs, the three most common words used by the survivors were 'guilt', 'anxiety' and 'anger'.

On the other hand, organisations that are open in their communications, that make their redundancy selections fairly and transparently and that assist outgoing staff with financial or career support packages are much more likely to keep their remaining staff engaged and hopeful about their future.

Managing the Guilt

It is not enough for companies to assume that all will be well for those who remain employed. The survey suggests that companies that provide training for their managers in how to manage the redundancy process and to deal with what can be a traumatic aftermath are less likely to see a breakdown in service quality, productivity and morale.

But, whatever the response of their company, how can an individual manage their sense of guilt, frustration and anxiety?

The study organisers recommend that survivors should focus only on what they can personally control. By engaging colleagues in conversations about positive strategies for their current situation, people can talk themselves ‘up’ rather than ‘down’. They also recommend keeping the focus on the activities that add real value to customers and the organization and differentiating between 'important and unimportant activities'.

Taking one day at a time is not only a helpful approach for recovering alcoholics, but for everyone going through periods of stress and trauma. Identifying at the start of each day what needs to be accomplished for that day to be successful will help one stay focused on the present and on achieving a continuous sense of positive outcomes.

Taking one day at a time is not only a helpful approach for recovering alcoholics, but for everyone going through periods of stress and trauma.

Alexia's company may think it has found a more cost-effective solution by promoting Alexia and doubling her workload. But their approach, to my mind, is one that will cost them dearly in the long-term. Because my bet is that as soon as the economy picks up, my client will be off to find another employer who values her and lets her feel good about herself.

In This Issue

In this issue we publish Selorm Adadevoh's analysis of Kenya and Africa's dream of becoming the outsourcing destination of choice. Selorm assesses whether African countries should follow India’s model or create a new position in the global outsourcing space.

A host of changes in UK Immigration law over the last two years has placed greater emphasis on UK employers' responsibilities if they need to recruit overseas talent. We look at some of the implications of what has been described as the biggest shake-up of the UK immigration system for 45 years.

Are you a budding entrepreneur? In our Careers section, business coach Steve poses some 'sneaky questions' and offers some tips to help you talk about your business without losing clients.

With redundancies taking place around us, our Careers Coach offers some advice on how to reduce your chances of being tapped on the shoulder for that dreaded meeting with HR and your boss.

It's not all doom and gloom, however, as Reggie Tagoe reports, and in the article 'Walking with Success', Reggie reports on how a Ghanaian Association in Italy has been transformed into a successful business entity.

In our '5 Minute Interview' this month, we hear from Mame Gyang, Special Projects Manager at Enfield Council, who shares the advice that has helped her progress through her professional career.

Nigerian-born Simi Belo is the subject of our look back into the ReConnect Africa Archives. Proving that America can be the land of opportunity, not just for the Obamas but also for other Africans, Simi talks about her decision to expand her business and relocate to the United States.

February sees a number of events taking place in the UK and overseas and our Events listing give you details of what's on this month.

As ever, we report on news from the UK and around the world and bring you an overview of news from across the African continent.

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* Conducted by Leadership IQ, a US research and training company

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