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Survivor Syndrome and What to do about it…

March 3, 2010

It always suprises me that organisations are suprised by the after effects of organisational change, particularly restructuring (which is code for reduction in head count).  If not led well, this type of organisational change  can lead to an increase of stress and a reduction in mental well being for those who remain as well as those who leave. In fact, the research shows that those that leave an organisation recover more quickly than those that stay. So what is it that makes a difference? Why are leavers significantly better off (in the main part)? They are able to take control over their own destiny, they focus on what’s in their control and it’s up to them to make it happen; leading to a corresponding rise in self esteem.

So what happens for those that stay? For some it is an initial sigh of relief – “I’ve survived the cull” and for others it is a sigh of disappointment – “I wanted to go, the redundancy would have been my ticket to something else”.  Whatever, the individual outcome, a twitchiness fills the air. It’s almost like everyone is holding their breath waiting for the next shoe to drop.  That mysterious stuff that oils the wheels, trust, is in short supply. The results start to speak for themselves. There is a downturn in performance. The same ammount of work (if not more) is done by less people, who don’t know it as intimately as the people who did it before and care less. The organisation has been restructured but the oppotunity for transformation wasn’t taken.

For those of you who like facts, research undertaken by Leadership IQ of  4,172 workplace survivors, found:

  • 87% say they are less likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work.
  • 64% say the productivity of their colleagues has declined
  • 81% say the service customers receive has declined
  • 77% say they see more errors and mistakes being made
  • 61% say they believe their company’s future prospects are worse

So what can be done? Give people the opportunity to be part of creating something great rather than hanging on grimly to what was done in the past.  Things will never be the same, so stop pretending they are. Grieve for the past and then move on. Re build on what was good, let go of what wasn’t and create the future.

Rebuild Integrity

Tell people what is going on and why. Say the difficult stuff – Don’t make the mistake of not telling people as you want to protect them. If you don’t tell them, they will make it up anyway. Rumours lead people to worry about and focus on what is not in their control and you loose precious energy that could be concentrated on moving the organisation forward.If there is nothing to tell – say that. Show that you and the organisation is credible.

Rebuild Purpose and Your Vision

Review what you want to achieve, what is your purpose and is this aligned with your values? Include people in creating the future, step back from the targets and decide who and what you want to be. Create your sense of shared direction.

Rebuild Values

Review your organisational values. Do they still hold true? What needs up dating? How will they support you and your organisation getting to the next level.

Rebuild your People to Rebuild Results

Think about what your people need.  A bit of a no brainer and something that often gets missed in the melee of getting through the aftermath.  At times like this people often get busy being busy, fearing if they don’t appear busy then they might become depensible. How is what is being done helping you achieve your vision? Decide what is important and then help people to focus on this and let go of what isn’t? What do you need to do to give permission to people to stop and think and concentrate on doing what adds value?

Provide support to those who are building the new organistion (and it is new because it will never be the same and nor should you want it to be). They will have the best solutions, your job is to unleash them and develop their skills to do it and their belief in its possibility.

Moving Forward and Letting Go of the Past

It is important to help people leave well providing coaching, training, CV preperation etc, they reduce collatoral damage and, in my opinion, ethically is the right thing to do. Just remember, there are the hidden victims of restructuring. As mentioned before the research shows that on average people who leave organisations tend to recover more quickly than those that stay and have measurebly better mental health. So for an organisation to be in the best possible place to deliver results, through these tough times, (and great organisations tend to go on to become better because of it), remember those who remain. Provide support to those who remain, through choice or circumstance. This can be through, amongst other things, strong leadership, management and peer support, team development, skill development and coaching.

All of this will require investment, sometimes  time and sometimes money. You may say that you can’t afford to do this.  But how can you afford not to? You will find that you are throwing time and money at fire fighting (which in itself raises stress and reduces mental health). Fire prevention,although not sexy and doesn’t look as busy from the outside, is more effective and protects your reputation, increasing consumer  and employee confidence.  And remember at some point you will want to hire again, and wouldn’t you rather have the pick of the bunch, because your staff say you are a great place to work? And of course, keep those that have the talent to see you through these hard times.

Invest you thinking to make sure that you get the best return on your investment, whether this is time, money or both. What ever you decide to do, do it with purpose and ensure that it links to building your results. This can be an opportunity for your staff to grow and develop new skills and self belief  rather than an opportunity to grow resentment.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2012 5:03 pm

    This page really has all the information I wanted about this subject
    and didn’t know who to ask.

  2. March 9, 2010 9:39 am

    Thank you!

  3. March 3, 2010 11:46 pm

    Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

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