Survivor’s syndrome hits employees hard – Metro US

Survivor’s syndrome hits employees hard

Pink slips don’t scare Greg Skura anymore. After decades of odd jobs and hard work, he’s become well acquainted with the employer’s chopping block.

“When I was younger, I’d take layoffs to heart,” said the 47-year-old from Pickering, Ont. “But now, I don’t take them personally. Often it’s because of the economy.”

When facing job loss, Skura — who has printed newspapers, driven trucks, installed doors, and sorted eggs — isn’t worried about the uncertain path ahead.

Instead, he turns his attention to those left behind.

“It’s my co-workers I feel sorry for,” said Skura, currently employed as an Internet technician. “They’re the ones picking up the slack, doing double the work and wondering whether they’re next to go.”

As the global financial crisis continues, workers watch as companies are downsized and colleagues are dismissed. When an employee survives a round of layoffs, their relief can be followed by guilt or anxiety.

Career coaches and management experts have dubbed this “survivor’s syndrome.”

“Layoff survivors can experience grief for many reasons,” said Aaron Schat, assistant professor of organizational behaviour at McMaster University. “They’ve kept their employment but might feel it was at a colleague’s expense.”

As well, remaining employees might fear that there are more layoffs to come. This can be a stressful distraction for workers, who’ll start to feel unmotivated, expendable or wary of their bosses.

Schat added that managers should demonstrate warmth and compassion when conducting layoffs to prevent a morale drop amongst remaining employees.

Three weeks ago, Therese Arsenault would have appreciated that compassion as a company she’d served for 13 years dismissed her and nine others.

“The whole process was cold,” said the former telecommunications trainer from Montreal. “We were called to a conference room and the people conducting the meeting were half-an-hour late.”

Since the layoff, surviving colleagues have approached Arsenault and expressed both shock and sympathy. She believes her former co-workers don’t need to apologize.

“In a big company, decisions like this are not made at the employee level,” she said. “The individuals you worked with might feel sorry for you, but they have no business feeling guilty.”

Although surviving employees might not be at fault, Marjorie Armstrong-Stassen has seen post-layoff stress in the workplace firsthand.

“People in downsizing companies have told me they think the ones who’ve lost their jobs are the lucky ones,” said the management professor at the University of Windsor.

Often, when companies lay off over 20 per cent of their workforce, dismissed employees will receive large severance and early retirement packages. Surviving employees left with twice the work can experience feelings of jealousy.

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