Presenteeism at Work

What about me? – Combating survivor syndrome post redundancy

An article by Nada Williams posted in Personnel Today, (based on a survey in IRS Employment Review), shows that employees who have been through redundancy programmes were adversely affected in a number of ways. This included lower morale, reduced motivation, higher rates of sickness absence (65% of employers reported increased stress levels amongst remaining employees) and retention problems.

Uncertainty and ambiguity concerning job security is a fact that is likely to remain with us for the foreseeable future. Working as a career coach over the last two years, I have seen a growing realisation, particularly in the public sector, that the concept of jobs for life no longer exists. Even in organisations and departments that are not directly effected by redundancies, the climate of recession, cutbacks and constant uncertainty is starting to impact on the well being of employees.

We have seen a significant investment to ensure that individuals exiting organisations are given as much support and opportunity as possible. For those who are in the fortunate position of not having to make cuts, I wonder what level of priority is given to protecting one of the most valuable assets within the business – the people. Is there a pro-rata level of investment into those individuals who remain within the organisation?

In a previous role as an HR Director I commissioned a project to review the work life balance in the organisation. This was pre-mobile phone legislation and we faced a constant battle between the needs of the business to communicate with the regional operations team and implementing sufficient protocols to ensure their safety. Working a full day and then driving two or three hours to the next region was considered part of the job, being accessible to talk on the phone whilst en route was mandatory.

I was fortunate enough to launch a number of initiatives including safe driving courses, yoga classes in the evening and a massage service (using the first aid room as a base). The constant struggle was to demonstrate an effective business case for these types of investments.

Using the analogy of the level of investment made yearly in IT systems, maintenance of the buildings etc as a percentage of the asset value seemed a straightforward approach. Comparing the annual spend on payroll and the level of investment in employee support systems and development versus the annual spend on IT and the level of investment in software and hardware seems an entirely appropriate and logical comparison.

Yet we always seem to struggle in validating investment into what are perceived as the softer issues, especially in the current climate. One of the challenges is to demonstrate cause and effect – an investment of X yields a benefit of Y. Some of the aspects of greater engagement and well being at work are relatively easy to quantify. A reduction in sickness or absence (potentially due to stress), or a direct increase in productivity can be measured. But how do we demonstrate that this was as a direct result of any support measures that we implemented?

What price do we put on an increase in staff morale and a reduction in staff turnover? We talk about discretionary effort and ‘going the extra mile’ for the customer. Can we really stand up and say that we are doing the same for the people we work with?

One of the first things to go in times of cutbacks is ‘discretionary spend’ and that means anything that is not seen to be directly contributing value to the organisation. In another role whilst attempting to turn around a loss-making company, my priority was to reduce losses in order to enable people to keep their jobs. In that environment the focus is of necessity pragmatic and hard-nosed. Levels of engagement and morale almost become secondary to survival.

Yet there must be a balance. In a failing business the one thing that may well turn it around is the commitment and effort of the employees. Without engagement and motivation, without support and clear communication the one thing that will ensure success may well be lacking.

So where does that leave us? Wherever we are, whether surviving, prospering or just in limbo riding things out, creating an environment of well being makes commercial sense. There are some simple practical and cost-effective steps that we can put in place – access to on-site services such as massage, advice on nutrition/diet and exercise and signposting to complementary therapies (yoga, Reiki etc).

Related articles in Personnel Today:

  • Know how to manage survivor guilt – Tara Craig
  • “Survivor syndrome” among staff is hindering employers – Nada Williams.

About the Author:

Andrew Porter is a Coach and Mentor working with individuals and organisations across the public, private and third sector. An experience business, life and career coach, he works extensively to support the development of resilient organisations where individuals can develop and exercise their personal leadership skills.

Andrew’s profile is on Linkedin at: