Gillian Thomson: They should be grateful they’ve got a job…right? Really?

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Last week an oil and gas HR professional told me that one of their best people had resigned, despite still having a role following their recent redundancies. Another manager complained that his team were disengaged and not performing.

As he put it:

“Shouldn’t they be grateful they’ve got jobs in the current climate, and putting in all the effort they can?”

The truth is, not everyone is grateful. They may have been through months of uncertainty, they may now be doing the work of three people, their bonus/pay has been cut, they’re still not certain about the future, their training and development has been cut, they aren’t getting on with the people in their new team, they may not understand the strategy or their role in delivering it now. In short they are unhappy, stressed, and most definitely not giving their best to the organisation.

Yes – if they are in the oil and gas industry and still have a job, then chances are they are still on a decent salary compared with the majority of the population, even if it has been cut. But there has been a change for them. A big change. And big change is tough.

You may be familiar with the process that we all go through when things change, be that a bereavement, house move, relationship breakdown, redundancy or anything that means a shift from the status quo. You may have experienced it yourself. It’s often referred to as “The Change Curve”. Essentially it tells us that, whatever the change, we’ll go through a period of time when we feel disbelief, anger, despair before becoming more accepting and optimistic about the future.

The thing businesses going through a redundancy process often forget is that this applies as much to those who remain in the organisation as well as those who are made redundant. It’s a phenomenon called “Survivor Syndrome”.

It’s not always a case of easily getting to the “moving forward” stage where we have hope and optimism for the future. John Fisher (an influential chartered psychologist) developed “The Process of Transition”. This is a little different from the usual change curves you might see, as it identifies stages where we can become “diverted” from the usual forward movement through the change curve.


1. Hostility

Yes, they may have a job, but they sure as hell aren’t thankful! They are disengaged, and refusing to accept the change. At best new processes and ways of working are ignored, at worst they are actively undermined.

2. Disillusionment

These people probably don’t feel that the “new” company is a good fit for them. Perhaps they don’t understand the strategy, or perhaps new ways of working don’t fit with their own personal values and beliefs. They’ll likely be unmotivated; they may think about resigning. Indeed, I myself have left an organisation where there was a clash of personal and organisation values. Where I didn’t feel I was being true to myself. Whilst people in this stage might be disillusioned, they might also be some of your best people. People that you really need and need to perform well, now that you’ve cut numbers. Let’s face it, regardless of the climate there are always jobs out there for great people.

3. Complacency

You’ve made it through the change, you’ve still got a job and things are going back to normal. You can relax now, right? Wrong! Anyone who has spent any time in organisations will know that the only constant is change. Changes in structure, changes in processes, changes in the competition, changes in products. That there will be change is about the only thing we can predict. But it is easy to become complacent, particularly after a large restructure. Truth is, we never know what lies around the corner.

So, what can you do for our survivors?

Absolutely critical – don’t become complacent yourselves. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your people are thankful they’ve got a job. Now, more than ever, it’s important to engage them, develop them, build effective teams and make sure everyone is working towards what the company is trying to achieve.

When I worked at Centrica my key focus for the year following a large redundancy programme was re-engaging our people. Making sure they understand the strategy and their role in delivering it. Involving them in the future. Providing opportunities for development (and that these were targeted, impactful and value for money), rebuilding our teams and making sure they were working together effectively.

What are you doing to re-engage your survivors and make sure your business thrives after a restructure? Get in touch if you’d like to chat about how we can help.

GT Limited is a strategic HR consultancy with a difference. With a background in engineering and almost 20 years experience across a variety of industries, Gillian helps businesses to get the best out of their people and specialises in HR strategy & support, leadership development, team effectiveness and conflict resolution.

Get in touch by emailing gillian@gt.limited, or calling 07980 838945.

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