Dealing with Survivor Guilt

Dealing with Survivor Guilt

I came across a great article today that talks about how to stop Survivor Guilt from affecting your business. Survivor Guilt is defined at the psychological impact that your employees are subject to in view of layouts happening to friends and co-workers around them. The current economic climate means that companies are downsizing in order to cope with it’s effects, and everyone is being impacted by the measures organisations are taking to keep themselves viable.

The problem with survivor guilt is that it carries a risk of turning to resentment: resentment that their circle of friends and influence is being reduced, resentment that their workload has increased, resentment that others in the company have been treated unfairly. This can have a negative impact on their attitude towards management with a knock on decrease in output and effectiveness.

So what can be done to mitigate against the effect of Survivor Guilt? Here are a few measures that can be taken:

  • Reach Out: Maintain a relationship with the laid-off employees. Ensure they know you will be looking to them again when you can and encourage them to keep in touch with their friends. You haven’t just told them to pack their luggage and leave; you want to keep in touch. Don’t hide this; make sure the remaining employees know you are looking out for their ex-colleagues. Show them you care.
  • Manage Increased Workloads: Be aware of the extra work people now have to do. Offer them support and help them make themselves more effective. Listen to them and give them the tools they need.
  • Put Yourself on the Line: Show your employees that the lay-offs have been hard on you too. Share your feelings with them and let them know of any measures you are taking to ensure the company’s continued success.

The advice above is not complex, but it’s easy to forget in times of recession when companies are struggling for survival. It’s easy to get defensive, hide behind your fight gear and attack anyone who comes your way, but this is not constructive. Show your team that you care about that, show them your human side, show them you are compassionate. And above all, give them hope for the future.

2 thoughts on “Dealing with Survivor Guilt

  1. Survivor guilt is very subtle. People are not usually aware of it –at least initially–when it hits then. What they might notice first is doing something that is against their own interests, something that drags them down, depriving themselves of something fun, rewarding or otherwise positive. This is the symptom that shows up, before self-awareness of feeling survivor guilt. To help people deal with survivor guilt it is important to describe it, to discuss the kinds of symptoms that show up, and how they are often concealed. People left in the work place may begin to run down their own role in the system, or their opinion of the work all together. It is crucial that they be permitted to express their sorrow at what has happened to others, and their feelings like “why didn’t this happen to me?” It is then that they are able to develop awareness of guilt. Survivor guilt is irrational; someone is not alive, or employed, or successful because of the hardship that has happened to someone else. Reviewing the situation realistically is ultimately beneficial for those suffering from survivor guilt. Developing awareness of one’s tendency to feel overly responsible for others will help. Allowing compassion while controlling feelings of omnipotence is perhaps the clearest path in situations known to induce painful survivor guilt.

  2. @Lynn: Thanks for your comment. I’ll be quite honest, I had never heard of survivor guilt before reading the article mentioned above; but I can well believe how real it is and what problems can arise from it. At the end of the day, I believe that communication cures all ills in this case, and trying to sweep any redundancies under the carpet can be very damaging for companies.

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