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Redundancy survivors: Managing increased workloads and stress

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Long working hoursWhen redundancies are made, those surviving employees could be faced with having to work longer hours as they take on the workloads of their redundant colleagues. Yet, as Nick Golding discovers, all this can contribute hugely to employee stress and anxiety.


When employers are backed into a corner and redundancy is the only solution, it would be easy to assume that the suffering is the exclusive right of those who lose their jobs, but working life for the survivors can also be tough as long hours and heavy workloads soon take their toll.

“Levels of stress tend to rise among survivors post-redundancy, as well as levels of anxiety.”

James Slater, Ceridian

According to the Labour Market Outlook (Winter 2008/2009), compiled by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and KPMG, 48% of employers have reported that workloads have increased during the recession, while another 46% indicated that stress levels have risen among the workers that have avoided the cut.

James Slater, a project director at HR services provider Ceridian, explains that it is all well and good cutting employee numbers to reduce costs, but employers must still pay attention to those left behind, as these employees could struggle to cope with new workloads.

He says: “Levels of stress tend to rise among survivors post-redundancy, as well as levels of anxiety. Not only do these employees worry that they are the next to go, but there is also the added workload because the level of work has not dropped and the number of people has.”

Long hours culture

The increased pressure on survivors can have a direct impact on the amount of hours staff spend in the workplace, and often serves only to fuel a ‘long hours culture’ where even though employees spend more time in the workplace, their productivity levels drop due to tiredness and stress.

“Increasingly, people are becoming workaholics, work is their life and relationships with family and friends away from work fall apart. Companies need to be aware of the impact of long hours,” adds Slater.

Such an environment is far from ideal for organisations trying to weather the economic storm; and to resist productivity and motivation levels dropping among remaining workers, HR must play a leading role in ensuring that those left behind are managed efficiently, and so too are the hours they are allocated to work.

HR and other leaders within the organisation must not only realise that the survivors are vulnerable, but they must also be able to support staff if work becomes too much, explains Vanessa Robinson, research adviser at the CIPD.

“There is a need for leaders and managers to up their level of support and communication so employees can their voice concerns. Managers must not just see survivors as the lucky ones and let them get on with it,” says Robinson.

Communication is key

Accountancy firm KPMG is finding that, while redundancies at the firm have been minimal so far, it has had to ensure that staff are fully briefed on the progress of the company, so good communication from top to bottom is crucial to keep employees’ stress and anxiety levels to a minimum.

UK head of people at KPMG Dave Conder says clear messages to staff have meant that stress has stayed low, while productivity and engagement levels among staff are yet to drop.

“Managers must not just see survivors as the lucky ones and let them get on with it.”

Vanessa Robinson, CIPD

“We are getting a lot more information requests from employees; staff want to know the recession’s impact on pay and bonuses, so effective communication is crucial,” Conder explains.

To keep staff informed properly, line managers must be enrolled as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the company, trained to be able to spot signs of deteriorating health and productivity among staff at an early stage, adds the CIPD’s Robinson.

“HR has a role to alert managers to look out for tell-tale signs of stress and long hours; people could be slightly more irrational than they would have been before when they didn’t think jobs were at risk, and this must be noticed early,” she explains.

Clearly, making redundancies can spark a swift fall towards stress, anxiety, low production and dangerously long hours for those who are not dismissed, and companies need to be aware of the impact that making cuts can have on the survivors.

However, as some organisations are proving with good communication via line managers and effective management of time and workloads, the potentially disastrous all-round effects of redundancy can be avoided.

Top tips: Supporting redundancy survivors

  • If making redundancies, employers should pay careful attention to staff members who are left behind, as an increased workload can cause stress, anxiety and lead to a ‘long hours culture’.
  • The ‘long hours culture’ should be easy to identify as employees will be anxious that they are soon to lose their job and will put in the extra hours to complete tasks. However, tiredness and stress often sets in, and productivity will level out or decrease.
  • Effective communication from top to bottom is important, and line managers should be used to ensure that messages about the company’s situation get to staff. This can ease help worries about redundancy and let staff get on with their work.

  • Nick Golding is a freelance journalist.

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