I’ve been thinking some more about redundancy, and its impact, not on the people who leave an organisation, but on those left behind.
In the days when I worked for big organisations, there would be a reorganisation about every three to four years, and as I tended to be quite a loyal soul, I stuck it out; and probably went through the process at least three times at each organisation I worked for. It doesn’t get any easier with repetition nor with seniority. Being invited to apply for your own job is one of those uniquely insulting things that can rile the most willing and committed member of staff. This is well recognised, and those planning a reorganisation accept that during the period of uncertainty productivity will suffer along with morale. It is also recognised that your more ambitious staff will head off at the first sign of a consultation period.
From the staff point of view, the cynicism sets in the second time a reorganisation hits, and the despair at the point you’ve been around long enough for the process to come full circle and you are reorganised back to the process or structure that was in place when you first started. Everyone has their own coping mechanism: complaining, skiving, working too hard, volunteering for difficult work, looking for something else, going sick… I can remember being quite traumatised by one shake-up in the 1990’s which destroyed a team I was leading: out of eight of us no more than two were working together by the end, and our friends were scattered to the four corners of the universe (or so it seemed.)
And this is what I think goes unrecognised: the strain on those left behind when the dust settles.
Are you meant to be grateful you still have a job? Are you supposed to be pleased that you have 50% more work? Are you expected to feel smug that you managed to scrape a promotion from the chaos?
Hmm, well … do you though?
A while back, after a particularly thorough reorganisation of the company I then worked for, we had the pleasure of a visit from the inspectors not long after the final redundancies had been completed and everyone was just settling into the new work patterns. I took a deep breath and suggested that it might be helpful to support those who had been chosen by the inspectors for interview by giving them some NLP training on rapport and techniques for staying calm. Everyone had been through a lot and an inspection was not what we needed.
Somewhat to my surprise my suggestion was approved and I ran a series of workshops, and once I’d got beyond some people saying they thought I was there to brainwash them, they went well. However something strange happened.
One woman, who I knew slightly from her coming to courses I had run, when practising what she might say to the inspectors, started to show up a really interesting speech pattern. Talking about how the reorganisation had impacted her work she was extremely positive about the outcomes, but every response started:
“I have to say” or
“If I’m honest...”
This was out of character, so I stopped her and asked what the reluctance was about, thinking she was struggling with lying about what she really thought, but no: she really did think things were better post re-organisation, but to say so was a betrayal of all the people who had been made redundant.
It quickly became apparent that she was grieving for the friends she no longer worked with, and despite the fact that she still had a job, and in fact had benefited to the tune of a pay rise and a more convenient journey to work, she was deeply unhappy.
It seemed to me that there was an element of survivor guilt coming into play. I asked her whether any of the people she missed were still unemployed, to which the answer was no. I asked her whether they were pleased for her that she had benefited from the reorganisation, and her answer was yes.
“Surely,” I said, “the fact that things are going well for you is something to celebrate?”
“Well, if I’m honest…” she replied, but she was smiling.
So something to think about when the next reorganisation comes into view: Take care of the people who are losing their jobs. Take care of the people who are staying. Go on taking care of them, give them a chance to express their concerns their grief, their guilt. It can only be good for the organisation.
Copyright Cherry Potts 2010