When it comes to the recession, metaphors abound: “Weather the storm,” “hunker down,” “survival mode.” As the current economic crisis is likened to a natural disaster, the term “survivor guilt” is emerging as a way to describe the mental state of workers who remain employed.!@!
According to a BusinessWeek article, survivor guilt occurs when employees who aren't laid off wonder, “Why not me?” These feelings are counterproductive and can hurt morale, as surviving employees are likely to become more risk-averse, shying away from ideas they may have once voiced. That insecurity threatens creativity and innovation at a time when workloads are heavier and learning is crucial.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that 598,000 jobs were lost in January alone, so the issue will likely escalate. Fortunately, there are ways to battle the survivor guilt phenomenon, and according to BusinessWeek, communication is key. Keeping employees aware of their organizations' financial issues and, in turn, taking suggestions for improvement can restore engagement. Aflac, for example, attributes its financial success in part to its “Bright Ideas” program, which has led to a number of cost-saving measures, according to a Fortune article.
At the other end of the spectrum, sympathy for the laid-off can harden into anxiety, and the survival instinct can kick in for some employees. As an article from TimesOnline.com puts it, they throw themselves into their work to avoid “being next.” This still isn't beneficial because it can lead to burnout and even health problems. To help these overwhelmed employees, leaders must, again, be upfront. They, too, are navigating a stormy sea and are depending on the wits of the entire crew to avoid shipwreck.
More than ever, communication, leadership and respect are necessary to facilitate learning and ultimately determine if organizations sink or swim. Have you noticed any signs of survivor guilt in your enterprise, and if so, how are you addressing this issue?