Survivor's resentment takes hold as employees' workloads double following colleagues' redundancies


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A new phenomenon is sweeping through much of UK plc. Employees initially relieved at not losing their jobs during the recession haven't so much settled into survivor's guilt - those feelings of anxiety that accompany watching friends and colleagues leave the premises - but survivor's resentment as, more often than not, they struggle with twice the workload and feelings of bitterness and frustration at seeing promotions put on hold and pay frozen.

For those companies that slashed workforces in a knee-jerk reaction to the credit crunch, or simply for the sake of cost-cutting, without properly considering the impact on the remaining business, any savings generated are now at risk of being undermined by falling productivity and poor employee engagement levels.

Many employees who were once motivated to go the extra mile for their employer are now effectively working to rule, doing the minimum required of them until they can jump ship when the economy picks up. For some individuals, to leave in this way doesn't present a problem to the employer. The challenge will come when improved confidence in the job market prompts business-critical employees, handcuffed to the organisation during the recession, to leave, disappointed by the way change was delivered.

In addition to taking measures to not only identify mission-critical staff and put in place new measures to engage them, employers must also step back and consider why it is that two-thirds of change projects are still failing to achieve their business objectives.

The recession forced most organisations into a state of constant flux. Whether through relocating, making redundancies, merging with competitors, launching new products, postponing the launch of new products, or all of the above, very few companies have escaped putting their people through major change. What matters is how that change was delivered, from ensuring the organisation was ready to make the changes to implementing the change to embedding it properly.

In my experience of helping HR to deliver change successfully, most organisations come unstuck at the final hurdle. They assume that once the business objectives have been met, the companies merged, the head office relocated or the sales force reduced by 20%, the project is over and they can move onto the next initiative. The reality is that the project cannot be considered completed until it has successfully transformed the business and created sustainable benefits.

This requires setting, from the start, measurable objectives for both the business and those employees affected. That means not just setting out to introduce this or that system, or reduce costs by 20%, but to do so in a way that actually enhances productivity and engagement levels.

Isabel Chadwick is managing director, CMC


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