Survivor syndrome: working in times of crisis can be detrimental to your health

Survivor Syndrome

For almost a year, Susana Rosales, administrator at a factory in Barcelona, ​​watched with suspicion as her colleagues were fired one by one. Operators, salespeople, their colleagues in the administration department and even the marketing manager. “Every time I attended a colleague’s farewell he thought it would be next. I felt fortunate to continue working in the company, but it was really stressful to think that any day could affect me. This situation affected me on a daily basis and caused me anxiety and insomnia, ”explains Rosales.

As in the case of Susana, the interruption of normal working life due to the “reduce size“(Downsizing) forces employees to adapt to a new situation who can have a negative effect in the well-being and satisfaction not only of those who lose their jobs, but also of those who keep their jobs. This phenomenon, first studied by Noer, Is known as “Survivor SyndromeIt is characterized by high levels of anxiety and stress (or burnout), lack of motivation and emotional commitment to the organization, widespread dissatisfaction and mistrust of the company.

According to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), “many factors affect the well-being of employees and the economic and social environment is extremely important in this regard”. Therefore, it recommends: “Psychosocial factors related to work, economic contexts and social contexts that cause discomfort should be modified to reduce dissatisfaction levels“.

The truth is, given the impossibility of changing the economic or political landscape of a country during a recession, many are affected by this syndrome. A study by Jussi Vahtera, researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, found that “in times of crisis, those who keep their jobs increase 5 times the probability of suffering from cardiovascular disease”. The causes? Increased stress, excessive workload and continued job insecurity.

Stress and burnout and their relation to workers’ health

As we mentioned in the article “Burnout: How to spot and act”, stress and job satisfaction have become a major factor in the workplace over the past decades. Psychosocial risks and burnout are among the most difficult problems in the field of occupational safety and health, as they significantly affect people and organizations.

For the worker, this has physical, emotional or behavioral consequences, and for the company, it negatively affects the organization, the work environment, the performance or to them interpersonal relationships. In this context, feelings arise among employees such as indifference, despair at work, greater demotivation or an increase in the desire to quit the job which can lead to quitting the profession in many cases. In many companies, the absenteeism rate is high due to this phenomenon.

Crisis? More work and more uncertainty for survivors

Many companies are not on the sidelines of the economic crisis in which the European Union is plunged, which is why layoffs are becoming commonplace within companies. The survivor of labor a times of crisis supports the added pressure of having to work often longer hours to do the chores of colleagues who are no longer there. This added pressure and fear of being fired at any time can cause irritability, difficulty concentrating and, in some cases, anxiety attacks, ”as Julie Monti explained in Today’s Chicago Woman magazine. .

This syndrome takes on such relevance that it arouses the interest of scientists, organizations, human resources departments and even governments. The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research provides scientific evidence linking number of workers with the discomfort at work. This study highlights the close link between the weakness of human resources and the subsequent appearance of stress, burnout, psychosomatic symptoms, loss of well-being and dissatisfaction.

Another study, in this case on the impact of restructuring on companies and workers’ health, prepared by Labor Asociados for the Spanish Ministry of Employment and which includes data from the International Labor Organization (ILO), shows that “the crisis has brought workers face to face by and point out the possibility of losing their job. ”

In addition, he concludes that “they can lead to more accidents, injuries and even fatalities at work due to staff cuts.”

What can businesses do to help survivors?

Experts recommend promoting greater communication, greater employee involvement and recognition of emotions that boil down to work to help survivors reduce or eliminate their symptoms and improve the working environment. “This fear, caused by the lack of communication between the company and the worker, can end up generating anxiety, distress, panic attacks and episodes of crying,” explains psychologist Roger Puigdecanet of the Psychological care unit.

What employees don’t feel valued is also a trigger for many psychological issues within the organization. Several studies highlight the importance of transformational leadership when it comes to reducing stress, improving self-esteem, job satisfaction and increasing productivity. This type of leadership is characterized by a high degree of communication with employees and influence on the beliefs and interpretations of the meaning of the work of workers, thereby increasing well-being.

According to Peiró, professor at the University of Valencia, “the true transformational leader strives to do what is right and just for all stakeholders in the organization and can willingly sacrifice their own interests for the collective good. work team or organization “

After the crisis, many companies are aware of the effects this situation can have on the productivityAnd more and more are trying to hire professionals who specialize in motivating people who survive staff readjustment. The director of Advantage Consultores, Sylvia Taudien, comments that “companies ask us for individual or group coaching actions to put the team back together, learn to assimilate change and manage fear”.

In addition, Taudien regrets that “we come across surprising cases of highly qualified and well paid managers who, in difficult times, do not know how to lead and give confidence to their team and sink into their own suffering for the situation of the company. “.


If companies are prepared to make layoffs (especially on a large scale), it is more than likely that employees will suffer from some effects of survivor syndrome. Anyway, the impact of this syndrome can be reduced if steps are taken to understand it and reorient the possible negative consequences it may have on the well-being of workers.

Good communication and an effective leadership style can lead to improvements in the way workers perceive this situation and thus minimize the consequences for their health at work. Improving the well-being of workers will also have a positive effect on the health of the organization, i.e. it will positively affect their performance in the market.

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