July 21, 2024

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Got Survivor Syndrome? 17 Symptoms and Behaviors That Need Attention

Got Survivor Syndrome? 17 Symptoms and Behaviors That Need Attention

Downsizing, rightsizing, wrong sizing, capsizing! What’s going on? The final week of January 2009 began with horrible news for the job market, as over 71,400 more cuts were announced on Monday, January 26, alone. At least six companies from manufacturing and service industries announced cost-cutting initiatives that included slashing thousands of jobs.

As reported by CNN, more than 200,000 job cuts have been announced so far this year, according to company reports. Nearly 2.6 million jobs were lost over 2008, the highest yearly job-loss total since 1945.

Concerned as we are about those who were laid off, employees who survive a downsizing feel anything but relief. More often than not, they feel anxious and betrayed.

The painful feelings caused by its downsizing – sense of loss, fear, depression, mistrust and betrayal – aren’t only experienced by downsized workers. These wrenching emotions are also felt by employees who survived the layoffs! I experienced job elimination twice in my career and it wasn’t fun! I also remember standing by many other times when my friends and colleagues lost their jobs and how I felt on those dark days and in the months to follow.

Talk to anyone who has survived and they may say something like this, “Just when we began to think our jobs were safe, they changed the rules on us. We didn’t know who was in charge, who we could trust or what we were supposed to be doing. The more unsettling it got, the less productive we became.” Talk about a toxic work environment!

Many employers try to manage these powerful emotions by justifying management decisions and downplaying the challenges ahead. This kind of response only fuels doubt, speculation, rumors, and cynicism rather than commitment and drive to move ahead.

Many executives think surviving employees are so relieved to still have a job that they eagerly get down to business. Nothing if farther from the truth! Often, any relief felt by employees soon is overwhelmed by a number of unpleasant emotions – pain, guilt, loneliness, depression, and job insecurity.

Typically, the work of those who have left the company is distributed among those who are left – the survivors. Add this to the physical and mental exhaustion that already comes from a “doing more with less” philosophy that is so prevalent today – because companies are better at downsizing people than they are at the workload – and you have an organization in crisis. You have a workplace environment that is driving employees and, ultimately, results, in the wrong direction.

Why are the needs of survivors being overlooked in the overwhelming majority of organizations? “Because there’s very little recognition that survivors have any needs at all,” says Harris Sussman, president of Workways, an organizational consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. “But even if companies do recognize survivors have special needs, there is an ugly Catch-22 involved: Companies downsize for monetary reasons, and programs to help remaining employees cost money.”

That may be a good excuse, but it’s a poor reason, in my opinion. Remember…who’s really driving your business? The people! If you don’t spend the money to salvage something from the wreckage, your employees will resist any other organizational change effort you attempt. Worse yet, you’ll never get the results that the restructuring was intended to get in the first place. “P2P” (people-to-people connections) must be kicked up a few notches!

Survivors need emotional support, extensive communication from management, clear-cut job descriptions and career management assistance for a downsizing to be successful. After all, the remaining employees are the only ones who can turn the company around to survive and thrive in years ahead.

If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms or demonstrates any of these behaviors, seek help at once!


  • Insecurity about job
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Mistrust of management
  • Uncertain/doubtful of skills and abilities
  • Lack of loyalty
  • High stress levels
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling overly dependent on the organization


  • Narrow-minded
  • Not open to healthy risk
  • Low productivity
  • Depressed
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Low morale
  • Loss of pride in the organization
  • Increased resistance to change
  • Acts of sabotage

Once again, it’s all about “P2P” – the people-to-people connections that either creates a positive workplace environment that engages employees and encourages productivity or creates a negative, toxic environment that does just the opposite. It all boils down to recognizing that survivors have special needs. Giving them the emotional support they deserve and communicating with them like adults is the right thing to do – for them and the organization as a whole.

A Positive Workplace Means Business! It Just Makes Cent$! ®