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Workplace Survivor Syndrome: How to Nurture the Remaining Workforce After Layoffs?

By CHOYS Community
28 Aug 2023

Consider John, a dedicated project manager. John had built strong bonds within his team, creating a comfortable work environment. However, the sudden aftermath of layoffs left him in an unexpected position.

Overnight, John found himself leading alone, like a captain steering a ship through uncharted seas without his trusted crew. Now he is questioning his skills and whether he could guide the team through tough times.


What Happened During the 2023 Tech Layoffs?

January 2023 witnessed the most brutal tech layoffs in Singapore. Microsoft made headlines by announcing a reduction of 10,000 jobs, while Google-parent Alphabet took a significant step by cutting 12,000 positions., a juggernaut in e-commerce, downsized by 18,000 jobs. Meanwhile, Salesforce, a player in cloud computing, let go of 10% of its workforce.


Beyond the balance sheets and stock market indices, the real heart of these layoffs lies in the emotional toll experienced by the remaining employees who must power their organisations with downsized teams. This remaining workforce is often left grappling with the survivor's guilt.

What is the Workplace Survivor Syndrome?

Workplace survivor syndrome or survivor's guilt arises when individuals who have escaped layoffs experience negative self-evaluation and emotional distress. This occurs because they have witnessed colleagues losing their jobs, leading to conflicting emotions.

Layoff survivor syndrome not only triggers financial stress and an unpredictable future, but also unleashes a torrent of emotional challenges.

The Emotional Impact

In the aftermath of layoffs, the emotional impact is akin to a seismic shock. Picture a once-vibrant office, now echoing with the absence of colleagues who once shared laughter, brainstorming sessions, and the triumph of shared successes. The emotional bonds created through these interactions are abruptly severed, leaving behind a void that's felt not just in the spaces between desks, but deep within the hearts of those who remain.

The Toll on Mental Health

Then there's the toll on mental well-being. The weight of uncertainty can be overwhelming, casting shadows over their mental health. The layoff survivors start feeling like they might not measure up, dealing with stress, and even experiencing moments of feeling down. This doesn't just stay at work; it follows them home too.

Grappling with Uncertainty

The fear of job loss adds yet another layer of emotional turmoil. Imagine the worry that clouds an employee's mind as they contemplate the uncertainty of their role. Will they be next in line? Will they become a mere statistic in the shuffle of organisational changes?

This anxiety can become all-consuming, sapping their motivation and dimming the fire that once ignited their dedication.

And there's the uncertainty about the workload distribution. The workload that used to be shared among everyone doesn't just disappear when people are let go. It often ends up on the plates of those who are left behind, without any extra rewards. Imagine having to do more work without getting anything extra in return. This can lead to frustration and make people question if things are fair.

These emotional currents start defining the workplace culture after layoffs. They shape professional interactions, and impact the very essence of an organisation's resilience. As we delve deeper, let's explore strategies for reenergising employees after a downsizing.

How to Support Your Remaining Employees After a Layoff?

In the wake of layoffs, the challenge at hand isn't merely about weathering the storm—it's about providing a harbour of support that helps employees rebuild their confidence, find renewed purpose, and ultimately emerge stronger.

Here are strategies on how to keep employees engaged after layoffs:


1. Effective Communication and Transparency

Communication isn't just a tool; it's a lifeline that can help ease the turbulence that follows layoffs. The importance of clear and open communication cannot be overstated. Establishing a culture of transparency not only dispels uncertainty but also fosters a sense of trust and stability.

After layoffs, it's crucial to reassure employees that their well-being is a priority. This demonstrates care and commitment from employers, which in turn fosters loyalty, reduces anxiety, and enhances overall morale.

Tips for effective communication after layoffs include:

  • Addressing Concerns: Acknowledge and address employees' concerns head-on. Providing honest responses to their queries creates a culture of respect and mutual understanding.

  • Frequent One-on-Ones: Regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees provide a safe space for dialogue. It's an opportunity to address concerns, offer support, and maintain a strong connection.

  • Transparency About Organisational Changes: Honest explanations about the reasons behind layoffs and the company's future plans help alleviate doubts and prevent the spread of misinformation.

2. Fair Workload Distribution

With the departure of colleagues comes the potential for an increased workload for the remaining team members. Acknowledging these concerns and taking proactive steps to prevent overload is crucial to sustaining morale and productivity.

Actions to consider:

  • Temporary Help During Peaks: Hiring temporary or part-time help during peak work periods can alleviate the pressure on the remaining team members. This strategy maintains productivity while safeguarding employees from excessive stress.

  • Implement Workload Monitoring: Introduce mechanisms to monitor workload and stress levels. This can prevent employees from reaching the breaking point and ensure their well-being.

  • Assure Even Workload Distribution: Clearly communicate that workloads will be shared evenly across the team. This reassurance will help alleviate fears of burnout and ensures that no individual shoulders an unreasonable burden.

3. Recognition and Appreciation

Amid uncertainty, recognizing and appreciating employees' contributions becomes a beacon of motivation and assurance. Celebrating their dedication reaffirms their value within the organisation.

Actions to consider:

  • Tangible Rewards: Consider offering tangible rewards such as gift cards or bonus incentives. These gestures of appreciation underscore the organisation's commitment to valuing its employees.

  • Peer-Recognition Programs: Establish programs that allow colleagues to celebrate each other's achievements. Peer recognition fosters a sense of camaraderie and mutual support.

  • Regular Appreciation Events: Holding events to acknowledge employees' hard work provides a well-deserved break from the challenges they face. These moments of celebration boost morale and team spirit.

4. Skills Development and Growth Opportunities

Amid challenges, the pursuit of growth need not halt. Demonstrating a commitment to employees' career advancement not only boosts morale but also instils confidence in the organisation's future.

Strategies for skills development and growth opportunities:

  • Stretch Assignments: Assign projects or responsibilities that offer skill-building opportunities. These assignments allow employees to acquire new skills and expand their capabilities, fostering resilience in the face of change.

  • Prioritise Essential Training: Focus on providing training that directly aligns with the company's immediate and long-term goals. This targeted approach maximises impact while being cost-effective.

Final Takeaway

It is imperative for organisations to recognise the far-reaching impact of their decisions and nurture the remaining workforce after layoffs. Because beyond financial numbers, emotions run deep, affecting not only individual lives but the very fabric of the workplace. Transparent communication becomes a lifeline in such times, weaving trust and stability into the uncertain atmosphere.

Remember, the toll isn't just professional – it's personal. The collective emotional response moulds your company culture, influencing its resilience through challenges. By adopting strategies on how to deal with layoff survivor syndrome, fairly distributing workloads and fostering growth opportunities, you not only prevent burnout but also cultivate an environment where dedication and adaptability thrive.

Also read:


  1. Channel News Asia: Survivor’s guilt in the workplace as massive tech job cuts continue