ABU DHABI // Companies are being warned that the numbers of workers leaving because of redundancies and reshuffles can result in the staff left behind suffering with “survivor syndrome” – impacting on their mental health and workplace productivity.
Dr Deema Sihweil, clinical director and psychologist at Dubai’s Carbone Clinic, said that for staff at companies that go through major changes that lead to job losses, the process can be extremely traumatising for everyone involved – not just the workers that have been laid off.
“Those who are left behind can go through many transitions as well; often known as ‘survivor syndrome’ or ‘survivors’ guilt’,” she said.
“For those who ‘survive’ the traumas of workplace redundancies, a deep sense of guilt and shame can take root in the minds of those who laid off their employees a few weeks ago, or in the minds of the colleagues who continue in their jobs with ongoing security.
“When people experience survivor syndrome, companies can continue to experience the ripple effects of such major changes; the employees that have escaped the chop can feel incredibly guilty for witnessing the traumas that their colleagues may have gone through, which can ultimately affect their psychological well-being.”
Workers left behind can experience fatigue, stress, loss of interest, cognitive decline, boredom and depression, added Dr Sihweil, and companies whose only duty of care is towards those that lost their job are only addressing one part of the equation, at their own peril.
Survivor syndrome sufferers often exhibit behaviour that can result in reduced productivity, poor engagement and unscheduled absences.
“Therefore, it is critical for companies to have the human resources department acknowledge and recognise the psychological impact that company restructuring can have on those who leave and those who stay behind, and be prepared to offer ongoing support to keep their company and the staff motivated to move forward,” said Dr Sihweil.
Malvika Varma, director of human resources at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, said that in certain sectors, such as oil, gas and financing – where redundancies and restructures are currently common, organisations often only act responsibly towards those who have lost their job, with little or no attention paid to those left behind.
She, too, said staff can suffer survivor syndrome, often at a time when workers who have avoided job losses are faced with extra responsibilities, extra stress and are fearful for their own job security.
“You can feel like every day at work might be your last,” she said. “This can cause stress, depression, anxiety, vulnerability and despondency.”
Susan Partridge, clinical psychologist and head of the psychology department at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, said communication is key to helping workers move on after their colleagues have departed.
“I think people feel a mixture of feelings – people feel guilt but also fear, uncertainty and ‘am I going to be next?’,” she said. “And, at the same time, they will be having feelings of relief and thankfulness that they are aren’t the ones that left.
“So people are struggling with a lot of conflicting emotions and I think the general ethos of the company in which they work is going to influence emotions.”
Ms Partridge said the level of transparency and trust in the organisation helps to mitigate emotions.
“If people understand why other people have left, know it was a good commercial decision and if they feel that process was managed for the people that left, then they are going to feel very different about it than if they think that process was arbitrary, random or if the person came in and was told to clear their desk – all of which is going to bring about fear and uncertainty and affect how they are doing their jobs,” she added.
Source: uae news