Redundancies: how to identify & manage employee survivor syndrome

6 min read  |   12 April, 2022   By Aimée Brougham-Chandler

A person in a white jumper has been made redundant. They are filling up a cardboard box with stationery to take home with them.

Supporting redundancy survivors through the emotional transition is key to getting your organisation back to where you want it to be.

In our recent blog about outplacement services and the role these can play in terms of supporting outgoing employees, we looked at steps for helping people look for new roles and maintain a positive outlook.

But what about redundancy ‘survivors’ – those who remain with an employer who has had to make cuts?

In this blog, we look at the challenges faced by survivors and the importance of their emotional and mental wellbeing, during and after a process which is likely to have taken a heavy psychological toll across a workforce. 

What is survivor syndrome?

What is the business impact of survivor syndrome?

Six tips for managing survivor syndrome


What is workplace survivor syndrome?

Survivor syndrome is a term originally coined by organisational psychologists to describe an emotional reaction to redundancies experienced by those who remain employed by a business. It can take many forms and often has a damaging effect on a business as a whole.


Survivor syndrome symptoms can vary from person to person and manifest in different ways, but most commonly these include:

  • Loss of trust in the business and its leaders
  • Anger about the way in which redundancy processes have been rolled out
  • Feelings of guilt about keeping their job when colleagues have been made redundant
  • Fear of being part of a second wave of a company’s redundancies
  • Frustration about taking on the burden of extra work

What is the business impact of survivor syndrome?

Survivor syndrome can have serious and negative effect on businesses which is the last thing needed at the moment with so many companies struggling.

  • Decreased morale
    Even the most motivated and loyal employees may feel unhappy and resent the departure of colleagues who they have come to know, in some cases, for years. This, in addition to anxiety about their own futures can rapidly reduce morale and this can be contagious, especially in businesses with close-knit colleagues.
  • Reduced motivation and productivity
    A decrease in morale and a sense of unease (and even resentment) can quickly reduce motivation levels - to the point where people are unable or unwilling to do their jobs properly. At a time when many businesses are struggling and need their people to be as productive as they can be, this is a risk with significant consequences in terms of company survival.
  • Reduced engagement
    Uncertainty about the future and resentment can lead to people become withdrawn, uncommunicative and uncooperative. Survivors may resent line managers and senior business leaders who were previously trusted but are now viewed as ‘the enemy’.


6 tips for managing redundancy survivor syndrome

1. Direct and open communication

Discuss survivor syndrome with your employees. If you can be open and honest, you’re less likely to come across as an unfeeling overlord. Instead, staff will see you as a genuine employer who had to make difficult choices. This will enhance your credibility and encourage others within the company to be more open.

2. Ensure your redundancy process is fair, open and transparent

The redundancy programme may lead to a period of reorganisation involving ongoing changes. The employer should involve redundancy survivors in making plans for its future. Line managers should be encouraged to talk openly and honestly with their team members and to listen to their concerns before they become grudges. Some managers may benefit from training to help them support team members.

3. Provide emotional support

Giving redundancy survivors emotional support should help to reduce any adverse reactions to the redundancy programme and is likely to minimise the risk of negative consequences for the business. Consider occupational health consultations for people who are upset to the extent where their mental or physical health is suffering.

4. Establish clear vision moving forward

For those feeling like they might be ‘next’, a clear plan is key. If an employee knows that there is work ready for them, they’ll feel like a valued member of the team. This will help address their anxiety and boost their motivations levels which, in turn, helps them remain productive. Business leaders need to be role models and clearly demonstrate the steps they are taking to navigate their way through difficult times.

5. Show survivors that you are supporting outgoing colleagues

Providing support to outgoing employees is imperative and should be part of every organised redundancy programme. Consider outplacement support to help those who are leaving find employment elsewhere and encourage them to stay in touch. Explain to remaining employees what you are doing to support outgoing colleagues and share any positive developments.

6. Remember the importance of company culture

At a time like no other, positive company cultures which put people first have never been so important. Your team members need to feel part of an organisation which lives and breathes strong values.

By communicating your company culture and how it enables your business, it becomes more consistent and more effective with everyone understanding it. This is essential for unifying team members and growing a sense of community. This helps to boost motivation and productivity levels.

Our Culture Economy Report includes tips for improving company cultures.



Author: Aimée Brougham-Chandler

An IDM-certified Digital Copywriter (2023) & English Language & Literature graduate (BA Hons), Aimée is Breathe's Content Assistant. With 3 years' content marketing experience, Aimée has a passion for writing - and providing SME HR teams with solutions to their problems. She enjoys delving into & demystifying all things HR: from employee performance to health and wellbeing, leave to company culture & much more.

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