Managing the survivors (of job losses)


The difficult economic times have slashed budgets around the world with consequent shortfalls in business activity and pressure on the public sector to do more with less.

The decision makers discover that their organisations can operate with fewer staff, through either lower demand or more effective working practices. Reports of job losses are a steady accompaniment to the fanfare of bad economic news.

The plight of the newly job free is fairly widely understood. The condition of the survivors, the ones still at work, is the subject of this blog.


Reorganisations and job cuts are a common occurrence in the UK in the second decade of the 21st century.

Moving people to different jobs rips apart their work friendships and demands they learn new skills, make new friends and will often have to accept lower status roles.

This is not the place to discuss the rights and wrongs of reorganisation. The executives have a responsibility to the owners and the staff to make the best of the situation.

I want to draw your attention to how long it takes, if ever, for the organisation to get back to the performance effectiveness it once had. I will point out some key things that are needed to help your organisation recover quickly from these radical changes.


The consequences for the survivors of reorganisations or job losses are significant and can reduce their performance, possibly permanently, unless properly managed.

There is always a grieving period because of the action. People mourn their lost friends; share their worries about how they will cope and often feel guilty that they have survived.

Clearly the management didn’t value those people, so I wonder, do they value me? Am I next? Do the changes make sense to me? Are the changes fair? What are the signs that they value and care about me? Am I going to lose this job? Is there any reassurance in the eyes of my manager?

These questions have to be addressed by the manager: addressed in person, not by email.

The survivors’ natural reaction is to grieve, then slow down to spread the work over more people and to keep their heads down. Nobody wants to be noticed. They want to dig a deep hole and hide in it until things get better.

These consequences are best described as “presenteeism”: being at work but not working.

Most organisations of any age have people in them practising presenteeism. Sometimes so many people have behaved like that for so long that management assumes that is the normal level of performance.


Management, the management of people, is about making people get work done. To do that managers must make their people want to work by managing their people’s motivation. Frankly, nothing else works well enough. Bribery and targets are management abdicating their job. Look at UK and foreign owned motor manufacturers for an example. Managers need to manage people and it is a lot harder than throwing money at them or punching numbers into a spreadsheet of targets.

Managers must make people feel cared about, personally and corporately.

People must be involved in what is going on, management practice must be inclusive.

To be inclusive means to share information. If you won’t trust your employee with some monthly sales figures how much effort do you think he will put into achieving them?


If the management gets this right then the survivors will jump back to work very quickly – a few hours even.

Your staff will do their best to achieve everything that is asked of them. They will be free to think of new ideas to make things better and not frozen, terrified of being noticed.

People are sensible if you treat them like adults. They know and understand business issues. They are aware that long-term reductions in funding or sales has to be balanced somehow.

All they ask is that management behave sensibly, make the best decision and treat everyone with care.


Too many organisations never recover from painful cuts in employee numbers.

Management has not managed the people in the past and now that lack of effort has terrible consequences.

A good salesman will tell you people will buy from people they like and trust. An employee will work hard for a manager that they like and trust. Both salesman and manager have something to sell.

How will you show today that you manage sensibly, make the best decisions and treat people with care?


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