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Workers who avoid redundancy need ‘survivor guilt’ support

Woman at work
Woman at work

Workers who avoid lay-offs need “survivor guilt” support, HR experts have suggested.

Russell HR Consulting firm based in Milton Keynes says “practical support” for remaining employees can “help to reduce negative responses”. “Often this takes the form of regular discussions with employees on a one-to-one basis, and the organisation of extra training to enable survivors to perform effectively.”

“Counselling may be an option for those employees who are suffering from stress,” the firm’s website says.

It comes after research by Myers-Briggs, one of the world’s largest business psychology specialists, found that employees who survive redundancies feel similar guilt to people who have experienced “traumatic events” where others have died, though less intensely.

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Remote workers who survived redundancy rounds are more likely to feel the guilt, it found.

John Hackston, the head of thought leadership at the Myers-Briggs Company, agreed that “coaching and counselling would definitely be useful” for surviving employees, but that workplaces should not “make assumptions about every employee’s needs”.

He told The Sunday Telegraph that it is “important for companies to be aware that [survivor’s guilt] exists”.

“Employers need to make sure not to say things like ‘well you should be happy to have a job’. They also need to treat the people who are laid off as much like human beings as possible, and the remaining employees need to see that they are doing this,” he said.

Third of participants experienced guilt

As part of the Myers-Briggs research, which was published in 2020, workers who had avoided redundancy were asked if they felt either annoyed or guilty that they were still working when others had been laid off or furloughed.

While five per cent said they felt annoyed or angry, one third of participants experienced guilt. The report suggests companies let remaining staff know that those who were laid off were treated in a “humane way”, and that employers should not “congratulate people on still having a job” to avoid adding to “guilty feelings”.

The study also found that 36 per cent of newly-remote workers who had kept their jobs amid redundancies said they felt guilty, compared with 21 per cent of existing remote workers and 11 per cent of non-remote workers.

“Those who remain behind may feel guilty that they still have a job when others have lost theirs,” the Covid-19 Crisis: Personality and Perception report says.

“Survivors may see those who have left as being more skilled or more worthy than themselves, adding to the burden of guilt.”