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Surviving 2016

15th December 2015

Those brave enough to tentatively forecast what's in store over the next 12 months suggest that 2016 will be pretty similar to 2015. Brutally, there are companies around today that may not be this time next year as we all continue to battle it out in a Darwinian struggle.

The human impact of "downsizing", or "right-sizing" for those who prefer to take a more positive view of a bad situation, differs on your perspective. Have you been made redundant, have you dodged the proverbial bullet or have you been in the position of managing the redundancy process?

The term downsizing is a catch-all word for the actions that have to be taken in order to improve efficiency and competitiveness while reducing overhead costs. It's what many companies in Aberdeen city and shire have been doing in the past 18 months with the intention of improving their bottom line, of becoming more financially secure.

But one of the down sides to downsizing is that its success, to a significant degree, depends on the commitment and productivity of the people who eluded redundancy, the "survivors".

It's easily overlooked, as surely folks will feel lucky to still be in a job – right?

It's more complicated than that because we are dealing with human beings of all personality types. Initially there is relief, but survivors can go on to feel guilt, isolation and resentment.

These emotions, associated with trauma, are known as survivor syndrome and you may recognise feeling the symptoms yourself or observing them in others such as low morale; reduced motivation; lack of trust in management; a sense of vulnerability and minimal engagement. Perhaps you notice less willingness to share ideas, more focus on individual tasks coinciding with less interest to volunteer for new initiatives or re-prioritising work:life balance, in favour of life.

If you are reading this as a manager trying to keep a business going, or if you are anxiously seeking employment, you may have no compassion for survivors, you may even have decided to disregard this post. But as people respond to situations where they are expected to perform a range of new tasks, manage larger workloads, be more creative, or are assigned new client relationships to manage, pressure builds and stress erodes ability and commitment.

After working through the very difficult process of downsizing, what can we do to ensure survivors are best equipped to perform in 2016?

  • Over-communicate in order to encourage trust and reassure survivors of their value to the company, provide clear information on the progress of restructuring and the impact on strategic aims and performance.
  • Engage survivors by asking for input on which non-value adding tasks should be ceased and take on-board suggestions for improving processes and execution.
  • Train managers to identify stress signals and manage emotional responses.
  • Undertake regular line manager discussions to ensure survivors feel supported, this is particularly important where new line manager relationships need to be established.
  • Wherever possible provide access to experienced people to coach those accepting new or wider remits.
  • Encourage skills development and career management in survivors, it is a powerful way to acknowledge their commitment.

Here's to all of us surviving 2016.

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