Coping with redundancies when you’ve kept your job

Coping with redundancies survivor syndrome

Redundancy brings a complex set of emotions for those leaving. But if you keep your job you can also be affected, even if your role is deemed safe. ‘Survivors’ of job cuts typically suffer from feelings normally experienced by those survive major disasters or traumas. These can have long-term implications on morale, motivation, productivity and stress levels, and can make it difficult to move forward.

‘Survivor syndrome’ describes the physical and psychological impact of redundancies on the remaining staff who didn’t lose their jobs. Coping with redundancies when you’ve kept your job usually depends on the individual. However, after watching colleagues pack up their desks, those who remain often encounter one – or several – of the following emotions.

1. Relief you are remaining in work

“Thank goodness I kept my job.”

Although you may silently celebrate at first when you kept your job, the immediate feeling of relief may not last long and can soon dissolve into other feelings. Even though you’ve kept your job, your friends and colleagues have gone. It can be hard to understand the decisions that have been made, and you may not agree with them.

2. Guilt you ‘survived’ in the workplace at the expense of others

“I feel guilty that I kept my job when colleagues didn’t.”

You might think that people who’ve kept their jobs would be grateful. But you are more likely to be feeling guilty.

Guilt during such difficult times is normal. It’s a natural defence against the deeper fear that it could have been us who lost our jobs. It’s also a way to defend against sadness at losing friends and colleagues who were part of our lives.

3. Loss of self-confidence

“Why did I keep my position when they were more experienced, hard-working or productive?”

Redundancies can affect confidence in your abilities and lower your self-esteem. You may question why you’ve kept your job when you feel there are others more worthy than you.

4. Envy at a missed opportunity a redundancy payment offers

“That is a great redundancy package, I wish I had been made redundant.”

Some people develop envy over their colleagues’ severance packages or even their new jobs or life situations.

5. Resentment at picking up the workload and responsibility left by those made redundant

“I don’t like having to do extra work now that there are fewer people to do it.”

Increased workload and no clearly revised job description can lead to increased levels of stress. You may worry that if you and your co-workers fail to deliver, the company may get into trouble again. This rationale can become self-fulfilling, if stress affects your performance and health.

6. Fear you might be next

“What does the future hold for my job? Is the company stable enough to keep me employed long term?”

You may be feeling worried about your own future: are there more redundancies in the pipeline and will you be next? If the current redundancy process lacked honesty and transparency it can be hard to trust management when told there is no risk of further redundancies. If you don’t feel secure in your job with current employers, you may decide to apply for more stable positions elsewhere.

There’s also a risk of feeling trapped and having to be grateful for still having a job. Redundancies can lead to a lack of loyalty and loss of pride in an organisation. When you’re demoralised, it’s hard to display commitment, enthusiasm or initiative.

Surviving ‘survivor syndrome’ and coping with redundancies

  • Identify and assess your individual work strengths and focus on building these to achieve greater performance and job-satisfaction levels
  • Seek out tasks that interest you and which you’ll flourish in. Play to your strengths whilst being productive
  • Avoid taking part in office politics and gossip
  • Keep in touch with your former colleagues, either in person or via LinkedIn.