Supporting the survivors of redundancy - how can organisations guide employees through change?

Written by
Changeboard Team

22 Feb 2010

22 Feb 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Motivating the survivors of redundancy

The immediate sense of relief experienced by employees not selected for redundancy can often be superseded by other, more negative, feelings.

Some people may feel a sense of guilt at having survived the cull the so-called survivor syndrome. Others may feel angry that they have been left to deal with an increased workload due to their colleagues departure and may even be envious of their former colleagues severance payments. Many may be fearful that they may be next to go if the cutbacks continue.

With all these feelings permeating the background, the manager must still find ways to motivate and re-invigorate their team to meet the needs of the organisation. 

How employees are affected by redundancy

There are many stages of change which can be experienced by employees, but every member of staff is different and some cope better than others. The stages include:

  • denial this isnt going to affect me
  • resistance if they think theyre going to make me do extra work they can think again
  • self-doubt Im not sure Im going to cope with the new situation
  • acceptance Id better learn to adapt; if you cant beat them, join them
  • exploration what do I need to do to deal with the changes?
  • understanding now I can see some Benefits for me
  • integration actually, this is better than I thought it would be

How can managers support remaining employees?

Most forward thinking organisations are not only empathetic and mindful of how to handle redundancies, but also put in place training and support for those who have to deliver the bad news, while also keeping in mind the employees that remain.

By not taking into account the survivors, companies run the risk of staff feeling helpless, bewildered and often angry about what has happened; not to mention overworked if they have taken on extra duties. If left unmanaged, these feelings can affect performance.

Managers can put in place a number of steps in order to minimise the damage caused by restructuring that involves redundancies.

Be open and honest with employees

Keep close to your people. Involve your team as early as possible when changes are imminent. Its amazing how quickly the rumour mill gets into gear with negative, often inaccurate information. The earlier you get your team involved the more in control you will be of the information they receive and the better you will be able to engage their energies in a positive way.

Communication is key. During any change process people need to be kept informed as much as possible. Communication puts you, as manager, in the driving seat and keeps you in touch with whats happening.

Acknowledge employees' feelings after redundancies

Allow your team to talk about how they feel about the changes. Let them get some of their negative feelings off their chests in a controlled environment. This can be especially important after any redundancies have occurred so that you can address any important issues that may be of concern to your staff.
Manage the after-effects. If the changes have involved redundancies then you will need to consider the after effects of this on those team members remaining in the business. Some may be angry that they have lost their colleagues, others may be resentful about being left with even more work to do.

Transition phase caused by redundancy

All change tends to be disruptive and to expect your team to simply pick up where they left off and carry on as normal is unrealistic. The team is likely to need your support over the coming weeks and months to help them get through the transition to a new way of working. Helping people adapt to change takes time. Dont expect instant Results some individuals can stay stuck and may need extra help to move through the transition process.  

Model the behaviours you expect. As a manager you will need to take care to ensure that you are practising what you preach. Its important that your team see you embodying a positive attitude towards the changes and where they may be heading.

Training - valuable to help employees adapt

Consider training options. Adapting to change is a learned behaviour and people can be helped to develop this skill through training in managing personal change. Often peoples inherent resistance to change is driven by a fundamental sense of insecurity driven by their perception of loss of control.

Employees can be helped to learn how to regain this sense of control through a variety of techniques that can enable them to better manage their perceptions of the situation they find themselves in.

Remember to use all available resources. Simple steps such as employee assistance programmes, training and staff development plans will help reinforce the importance of an employees role to the business and make them feel a more integral part of the company.

Managers require support too: EAP?

Remember your own needs. While looking after the needs of their team, managers can often forget that they too are likely to need some support to help them through the changes ahead.

Identify where you can get support from, whether it be from colleagues, a mentor or coach or outside your organisation, from your EAP provider perhaps.

Your employees are your future - look after them

Now the economy is hopefully recovering, it will be those organisations that have paid attention to the psychological needs of their remaining employees and have taken steps to ensure they have loyal, engaged and motivated employees who will have the advantage.

Planning for that advantage now is a smart management move.