Many employees who were not made redundant were self-reportedly just “going through the motions” at work, giving rise to the question of what more can be done to support these workers.

New research by Randstad Risesmart, an outplacement and mobility firm, found a significant correlation between staff morale of workers who did not lose their job and redundancies occurring.

Prior to any redundancies being made, around a third of workers (34 per cent) admitted that they were simply going through the motions at work.

However, after a round of redundancies, this number jumped to over half of employees (54 per cent) finding that they were disengaged and just doing what needed to be done in terms of their work.

This comes after ONS findings revealed that almost a million people (828,000 workers) have been removed from payrolls since February 2020 – a testament to the wave of redundancies that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions caused.

In addition, according to Randstad Risesmart, this may be set to get worse as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme comes to a close at the end of April 2021.

The company found that mass redundancies could begin as soon as the 15th March due to redundancy programmes of over 100 employees requiring a consultation period of at least 45 days.

Another pressure that workers face in light of redundancies is an increased workload. Almost half of workers (42 per cent) found that their managers asked them to take on more work after the redundancies were made, potentially leaving workers even more burnt out and disengaged.

Simon Lyle, UK managing director of Randstad Risesmart said:

The majority of people left in organisations after a round of layoffs – the survivors – are just treading water. Firms planned around 800,000 redundancies last year. This means the UK is now blighted by hordes of zombie employees. Punchdrunk from being asked to pick up extra work previously handled by now departed colleagues, these staff are lingering in the twilight zone of employment – neither recovering their mojo for work nor dropping out to seek jobs elsewhere. The sad fact is that Britain is full of zombie companies, employing vast numbers of zombie workers. And while the banks may not have pulled the plug on companies unable to cover debt-servicing costs from long-run profits, you can’t expect demotivated zombie workers to turn them around either.

While furlough has put a large chunk of the jobs market in a holding pattern, the chancellor’s problem is that the plane is running out of fuel – the country can’t fly on like this indefinitely. The Bank of England said in November that it expected unemployment to peak at almost eight percent this year, far ahead of the current rate.

Jackie Hudson, Director for Hampshire East at OurPeople, a HR consulting business franchise, offered advice for supporting employees:

Psychologists and management consultants named the negative response that can remain with those who keep their jobs during a time of redundancies as “survivor syndrome”. Those who remain are left to deal with a variety of consequences and implications which can affect commitment, competence and organisation performance and have consequential damage to the morale of those employees left behind. Anger and frustration may be felt by those employees who have a bigger workload as a result of colleagues being made redundant. The effects can leave surviving employees feeling resentful, stressed and even betrayed.

Employers can help to support staff by ensuring that good lines of communication are available. My top tips for supporting staff are:

  •  Use pulse surveys to take the temperature at regular intervals so an employer can act on any underlying issues quickly.
  • Managers should be approachable and honest, as well as highly visible to staff.
  • Make sure employees are asked for their views on how to carry out work with fewer staff.
  • Equip managers with the skills to be able to deal with emotional response.
  • Provide a safe environment for staff to de-brief.
  • Consider supporting staff through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), particularly emphasising the confidential nature of an EAP.

If survivor syndrome is not dealt with, ultimately the subsequent resentment may cause the business to struggle and in the worst case scenario, hinder its survival. Care must be taken to ensure that sufficient, if not more, attention is paid to the concerns of the surviving employees than those who departed, in order to ensure that the business recovers.

This research was conducted by Randstad Risesmart which surveyed 2,000 employees in the UK.