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Survivor's Guilt After Layoffs—How Can You Combat It?

Survivor's Guilt After Layoffs—How Can You Combat It?

Layoffs can be a difficult time for any organization and can leave the remaining employees feeling uncertain and uneasy about their future with the company. However, employers can take steps to maintain a strong company culture even during times of layoffs.

Read on to learn about survivor's guilt after layoffs and how to combat it within your organization. 


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Maintain Transparency

Survivor's guilt is a term attributed to feelings of guilt that some employees experience after layoffs. Employees who “survive” the layoffs may feel a sense of guilt that their fellow employees were let go while they were not. 

Tony DiRico, Co-Founder & CEO of YourTelemedicine, explains this concept very well. He says:

“While losing your job is hard, being one of the employees left behind can also be difficult. It's called layoff survivor guilt, and it's real. The term refers to experiencing remorse that one has "survived" a layoff when your colleague didn't.

When you're a survivor, you may experience an array of emotions. In addition to guilt, there’s the relief that you still have a job and the overwhelm from taking on more work. A layoff may also negatively impact your performance. In Leadership IQ's study, Don't Expect Layoff Survivors To Be Grateful, 74% of employees who kept their jobs during a corporate layoff say their own productivity has declined since the layoff.”

Companies should be very concerned about this high number of employees who see a decline in their work following layoffs. The need for strategies to combat survivor’s guilt is apparent and necessary for organizations wishing to succeed in the aftermath. 

Layoffs are critical for organizations because how they are handled can significantly impact the company's future. Organizations need to devise a plan to strengthen their internal culture immediately following the layoffs to combat these feelings of guilt among remaining employees. 

One way to achieve this is by remaining transparent. Transparency is critical, and company culture will likely suffer if it falters. 

You should first and foremost be open with your remaining staff about the state of the organization. Why did you conduct the layoffs? Why were certain employees let go and others not? Employees will appreciate a sincere explanation of why this had to occur. 

Take time to share with staff your plans to avoid layoffs moving forward. Whatever the reason for the layoffs, explain how the organization was left with no other options and what they plan to do differently to ensure it doesn't happen again. 


Establish Effective Communication

One way to establish effective communication is by opening channels between employees and management. This can be done through skip-level meetings or recurring team meetings where management can provide company updates to employees and open the floor to questions and concerns. Companies may also consider using a communication platform like Slack to create communication channels directly between all members of the organization.

It is vital that your employees feel comfortable bringing ideas to the table, but it is just as crucial for management to be receptive to employee feedback. Growth begins with clear communication and open-minded efforts to improve the business. 

Once you have taken time to provide employees with an explanation and plans for moving forward, shift your attention to culture. Remind your employees that despite the layoffs, the company’s focus is on improving the experience of those who remain. Let your employees know they are valued as an essential part of your organization.


Include Employees in Organizational Growth Strategies

Employers should involve employees in their efforts to improve culture and boost organizational success. Use surveys and feedback tools to gain input from employees on every team at every level. Not only does this provide your organization with a much larger pool of perspectives and ideas, but it also tells your employees that you value their input. This is a big deal because when employees feel heard and valued, they are happier in the workplace, and happier employees are more productive and confident in their roles. 

Employers can improve survivor’s guilt among employees by encouraging them to take ownership of projects that can lead to the company’s success. Employees will feel a greater sense of accomplishment when they see that the work attributed to them is improving the organization. 

Another way to cultivate a strong culture among the remaining staff is by incorporating team-building exercises and activities. This could include personality and skills assessments, activities like group fitness, and off-campus activities like conferences

Social events are another way to engage employees and encourage positive organizational relationships. Be sure to incorporate inclusion tactics in your business strategies, which are vital to improving company culture and retention.


Provide Support for Employees with Survivors' Guilt

Organizations should also provide support services for those dealing with survivor guilt. This means providing counseling services or forming support groups for employees who wish to attend. 

While communication and culture-building strategies can help eliminate many of the negative feelings following layoffs, there may be deeper internal feelings of guilt and frustration that go beyond simple strategies. For this reason, offering additional service options to help employees through this difficult time can be a necessary benefit.  

Employee Assistant Programs (EAPs) are another method organizations can utilize. An EAP is an employee benefit that assists workers with personal or work-related problems and may impact their job performance and physical and mental health. This can include substance abuse, family troubles, finances, emotional well-being, and in this case, survivor's guilt.

EAPs generally offer free and confidential mental health assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services for employees.

Regardless of what avenue organizations choose to take for providing support, it is crucial that employees feel supported and are allowed to find help during this difficult time. 

Fostering a culture of support can also help. Create support groups within the office to provide a sense of community around the difficult feelings. It is also vital for organizations to encourage community involvement. Volunteer opportunities are a great way to help employees understand how they are making a tangible difference in their community and are connected to an even greater purpose. This sense of purpose and accomplishment can help diffuse remaining feelings of guilt and shame.


Additional Resources

You can also stay informed, educated, and up-to-date with all things HR by using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:

  • BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit

  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop-shop for HR industry news

  • HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance

  • HR Guides—essential pillars covering an extensive list of comprehensive HR topics

  • HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics 

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