According to "Survivor syndrome is mainly characterized by feelings of guilt, for having survived the layoff, and anxiety, reduced motivation and risk taking due to the insecurity of further layoffs. It is a side effect of downsizing that is detrimental to both the individual survivors, and to the organization, since productivity may also be compromised (Appelbaum & Donia)."
For the most part one of the primary emotions that survivors feel is guilt. This guilt is present because the survivor still has a job along with the financial benefits associated with being employed. The guilt can also be more severe for those that have friends or even relatives that have been laid off. In recent years a great deal of downsizing has occurred at manufacturing plants that have been in communities for decades. These older organizations have served as employer to entire families for generations. As such there is a real emotional attachment to the place of employment.
Survivors also have to deal with the anxiety that come s with layoffs. This anxiety arises because survivors realize and understand that their ob positions are not secure and they too could lose their jobs at any time. This anxiety is particularly pronounced when those who are laid off have been working with the company for longer periods of time than the survivor. This type of anxiety can be quite detrimental to the organization because it interferes with the ability of the employee to be productive.
According to Appelbaum & Donia the emotional well-being of survivors is affected after layoff in a profound was, especially when there is an inadequate amount of communication. In addition some survivors have difficulty dealing with the destruction of the old psychological contract. In fact the authors report that "A survey by Rights Associates (an outplacement firm) of over 900 human relations executives found that over 70% of remaining employees feel insecurity about their jobs (Mathys and Burack, 1993; Appelbaum & Donia)." Any addition other researchers have found that when the emotions of survivors are not addressed the fears that they have intensify (Appelbaum & Donia).
In fact for many survivors a feeling of resignation and numbness intensifies when management fails to effectively communicate with survivors. Failure to communicate makes survivors believe that managers have no empathy and that the well-being of the survivors is not important to the organization (Appelbaum & Donia). Additionally as time progresses, survivors will begin to have less confidence in their capacity to control the direction of their career (Appelbaum & Donia). They will also feel a significant amount of insecurity about their future. The author explains that when this f vulnerability is combined with distrust and unwelcoming ideas about the future, survivors become cynical. Cynicism is particularly damaging when survivors also believe the layoffs are inequitable (Appelbaum & Donia).
Cynicism, which can be defined as a decreased confidence in management and change efforts, coupled with the conviction that the downsizing process was not equitable, can be the most harmful of emotions because the integrity of the organization is damaged in the eyes of employees. Once survivors become cynical concerning the downsizing and view the layoff as unreasonable, negative behavioral usually occur (Appelbaum & Donia). This often means that poor performance and lack of productivity occurs amongst survivors (Appelbaum & Donia).
The authors explains that in most cases the all of the aforementioned emotions come together to produce an intense sense of cynicism. The authors further explains that in the context of workplace redundancy cynicism is usually a response to a history of unsuccessful change attempts that have been provoked by intentions that do not have the best interest of employees in mind. Additionally cynicism involves a genuine loss of trust of those who managed the change and can have disadvantageous consequences on the confidence and output of employees. The authors further explains that
"Many of the factors responsible for survivors' lack of trust in management are also responsible for growing cynicism in organizational change. For example, employees are more likely to be cynical about change when they feel uninformed about what is going on in the workplace and about change efforts as well as when they are not offered meaningful opportunities to...
Also, as with decreased trust and faith in management, employees who become increasingly cynical will exhibit lower commitment, motivation, satisfaction and productivity (Reichers et al., 1997).
Overall, survivor's syndrome is a serious situation that can impede upon the ability of an organization to move forward after downsizing. Some of the issues that those with survivor's syndrome face can be remedied if managers know and take the time to assist survivors through the organizational change that occurs. The next section of this literature review will focus on how employers care for the employees who are left behind.
Caring for employees who are left behind
Employers must know and understand that the employees that are left behind after downsizing will need to be reassured concerning job security. Employers must understand that these individuals are dealing with a great deal of turmoil and anxiety. This anxiety can lead to poor performance. In addition in some cases people who are left behind decide to quit their jobs instead of dealing with the fear of being laid off. Prior to adopting a downsizing strategy employers must consider the issues that the employees that are left behind will be confronted with.
One of the main strategies for caring for the employees who are left behind is to communicate honestly about the situation that the company or organization is facing. For instance, if the employer knows that another round of layoffs is coming, the survivors should be notified so that they can take the appropriate measures. Likewise if the employer is aware that there will not be any more layoffs, this must be communicated to the employees that are left behind. Keeping the lines of communication open reduces the amount of anxiety that employees feel.
Additionally employers have to take into consideration the guilt that survivors feel. This feeling of guilt should be acknowledged by employers and discussed. Organizations that recognize the issue of survivor's syndrome and are able to properly address the feeling that employees are experiencing are more likely to maintain the productivity of the workforce.
Redundancy refers to the state of being unemployed due to downsizing or a job position becoming obsolete. There are two types of redundancy: voluntary and involuntary. The literature review asserts that involuntary redundancy can have more severe psychological effects. The research also found that redundancy is caused by the nature of global competition, downsizing and technological advancements that make certain jobs obsolete.
The literature also explains that presence of phenomenon known as survivor's syndrome. This syndrome affects those that are able to remain at their jobs following a lay off. The research suggests that these individuals feel a great deal of guilt, anxiety and cynicisms as they cope with the organizational change brought about by downsizing. Those that have survivor's syndrome feel guilty because they still have jobs while other coworkers do not. In addition they feel anxiety because their own job security comes into question. Finally, they feel cynicism because they no longer have faith in managers and they view the downsizing as unfair.
To combat all of the aforementioned emotions manages must have open lines of communication. These lines of communication must provide honest feedback and information to employees. In doing so, the emotions that survivors feel can be minimized and the productivity of the organization will not be jeopardized.
Appelbaum S.H., Donia, M. The realistic downsizing preview: a management intervention in the prevention of survivor syndrome. Retrieved January 25, 2009 from:http://www.emeraldinsight.com/Insight/ViewContentServlet?contentType=Article&Filename=/published/emeraldfulltextarticle/pdf/1370050701.pdf
Budros, A. 1999. A conceptual framework for analyzing why organizations downsize. Organization Science, 10:69-84.
Clark, A. Knabe, A. Ratzel, S.(2010) Boon or bane? Others' unemployment, well-being and job insecurity. Labour Economics .17(1), 52-61
Datta, D.K. Basuil D., Guthrie, J.P. Pandey A. (2010) Causes and Effects of Employee Downsizing: A Review and Synthesis. Journal of Management, 36 (1) 281-348
Krugman, P. 2009, July 2. That '30s show. New York Times, p. A27
"Redundancy." Retrieved January 25, 2009 from: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/redundancy
Reichers, A.E., Wanous, J.P. And Austin, J.T. (1997), "Understanding and managing cynicism about organizational change," Academy of Management Executive, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 48-59.
Vickers, M.H. (2009) Journeys Into Grief: Exploring Redundancy for a New Understanding of Workplace Grief. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 14:401 -- 419,
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