As the recession drags on and employers continue to shed jobs, cut/freeze pay and reduce benefits, it can be easy for pros to hunker down in survival mode and forget all about the actual survivors. Remember them? The ones who continue to come in every day for you and your company? I’m not trying to say you’ve set layoff survivors adrift in their lifeboat without a second thought; rather, just reminding that they sorely need your support, encouragement and reassurance. (And if you don’t believe me, just ask CareerBuilder.)

A new report from The Conference Board, “Mission Accomplished? What Every Leader Should Know About Survivor Syndrome,” offers insight to “survivor syndrome” and how to best manage it so you don’t lose valuable workers to attrition or staying with you but just going through the motions. TCB defines survivor syndrome as “a marked decrease in motivation, engagement and productivity of employees that remain at the company as a result of downsizing and workforce reductions. It entails a series of complex psychological processes and subsequent behavioral responses. Those who actually carry out the downsizing are also survivors.”  Sound familiar? I thought so.

So how to fix it?
It’s no easy task, TCB admits, since downsizing often expands survivors’ workloads and gives them the impression that they are expected to do more with less; plus, employer loyalty is shaken. For these reasons, job involvement tends to actually decrease over time following a downsizing.
“Management needs to realize that successfully managing ‘survivor syndrome’ is not simply about making employees happy,” says Creary. “It is about taking a strategic approach before, during, and after the downsizing so management teams will be able to extract greater employee motivation, engagement and productivity, and foster the performance of the business over the long term.”

To accomplish this, TCB emphasizes communication – using blogs, staff meeting, brown bag luncheons and any other venue you can think of to talk to survivors and begin to reaffirm trust. They also suggest providing learning opportunities, which segues nicely into my next point. (I just love when that happens.)
Along the lines of “learning opportunities,” I mean succession planning – reaching out to survivors by saying, “We know it’s tough now, but as a company we’re looking forward. We want to begin preparing you for the next phase of your career here now, so that when the recession is over, we’ll be ready to hit the ground running with our best foot forward.”

Click to read this month’s EBN cover story, “This too shall pass,” on how you can begin firming up your succession plans to help survivors, yourself and your company emerge from the recession stronger.

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