How to Cope with Survivor’s Guilt. Working in a Thriving Business During the Pandemic

Workplace Wellbeing
Sriwan (Wan) Siangjun
July 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated a lot of lives all over the world and Thailand is no exception to that. What we thought would last a few months at most has now become the new normal, with sporadic rises in cases and deaths leading to lockdown measures that have dealt devastating financial blows to a lot of businesses and individuals.

As the situation continues to worsen and we have entered yet another lockdown, one can only begin to wonder how much longer this is going to last and the continued effect it’s having on people's wellbeing and mental health.

Like everyone else, I was optimistic that 2021 would be better than 2020, especially with the rollout of mass vaccination campaigns around the world. We started to see cases drop and life periodically return to normal or as normal as it could be. But with a worsening situation in Thailand, aided by the delayed and insufficient access to vaccines, many more people are suffering professionally and mentally.[Read more about the COVID pandemic and vaccine situation in Thailand here.]

While continuing to ponder on these questions and the evolving situation, I started to look at my own life and realized how fortunate I am to still have a job during this time. I am blessed to be working as a Program Manager at InsightPact, a company that works primarily online, with a remote and distributed workforce. But I have often found myself feeling guilty for still having a job while so many others have lost theirs. As I shared how I felt with my friends and colleagues, I realized that I was not alone and there are plenty of others that feel the same.

What is Survivor's Guilt?

While being grateful and privileged to have the job I have, I feel guilty knowing that right now many in Thailand and other countries around the world are not yet vaccinated, are unemployed, starving, homeless, and/or dying. I have survivor's guilt.

Survivor's guilt is defined as feelings of guilt that occur after surviving a life-threatening, traumatic event when others have not. Experts around the world say it has become more common during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of this leads me to take a deep breath and stay focused on what I can do in my position to help others. This is the intention of this guide: to share some of the best practices we use to overcome survivor's guilt and maintain a healthy working environment during the pandemic.

Tips for Coping With Survivor’s Guilt

Be mindful of your mental health. Reach out for help if you need some support. You’re not alone. Remember this: it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.

Always remember to be kind to yourself. The world is tough enough on you.

Be kind to others too! Everybody is going through these strange times. They may have lost their job, their home or even a family member.

Support local and small businesses. They rely on your purchases.

Engage Every Day.  Recognize your feelings and be open about it while communicating with your teammates. At InsightPact, we have a daily check-in on Slack, and a weekly video call check-in on Zoom. We use these opportunities to really connect with each other.

Offer help to former colleagues, family members, and friends that are having a hard time. For some people, it is very difficult to ask for help.

Stay Politically Active. Know what your government is doing and be reminded that your voice matters. Use it.

Focus On Controllable Issues. There are many actions that can be taken in your position as mentioned above. On the other hand, there are some things that you cannot do at this moment and have to let it go, such as ending the pandemic or buying the vaccines directly from the manufacturers. Recognize the difference and stay focused on what you can control.

Transform guilt into gratitude. Guilt is important to recognize and work through, but for the sake of our own wellbeing, it is helpful to let it go. In order to show up as the best version of ourselves, we need to transform guilt into gratitude. Expressing gratitude frequently is an energizing exercise, one that has been proven to improve life satisfaction.

What you Can Do As a Business Owner, Manager or HR Team:

Be transparent about the layoff process and make it as compassionate as possible.

Recognize team members and employees for taking on new challenges, no matter how small, as this is a very challenging time for all. Build new support systems at work that can help staff members with these challenges and make sure that no one is left behind.

Unfortunately, you might be in a situation where you have to let employees go. This is sometimes an unavoidable part of business. However, the manner in which this is done can reduce the feelings of survivor’s guilt in those employees who remain. One key action is to not congratulate those who get to keep their job while their colleagues are being dismissed. Doing so might increase the guilty feeling they may have.

Take time to prioritize team health and organizational culture transformation.  Be intentional and mindful about reinventing your workplace. Will the team member be requested to go back to the office? If so, when and why? What policies are here to stay? What are the practices that were learnt during the pandemic that you would like to keep having in your workplace?

All in all, there are many things that we can do to help with survivor's guilt, both personally and in positions of leadership. We can use the time and resources we have to support a friends' job application processes, organize initiatives to support frontline workers, participate in political movements, and be there for our loved ones. We can also strive to create an work environment that is supportive, recognizes the challenges people are going through, and prioritizes team health.

A Word From InsightPact

During shared traumatic experiences such as the Covid-19 pandemic, it is often difficult to recognize the challenges employees face, especially since they are often expected to be grateful that they still have jobs or to be part of organizations not directly affected by the pandemic.

Here at InsightPact we recognize that all our employees come from different and diverse backgrounds, often facing overwhelming challenges not directly related to their jobs. We have therefore, over the years, cultivated an organizational culture that prioritizes the wellbeing of our team and created a safe environment to share and address any issues that may arise.

We hope this guide has helped you recognize and deal with survivors' guilt in the workplace during the pandemic, either as an individual or organization. We have created a series of toolkits to help organizations deal with the challenges of working in a remote and distributed environment in the “New Normal” if you found this guide helpful you can checkout this toolkit from InsightPact (currently in alpha).

This blog post was written by Sriwan (Wan) Siangjun with editing help from Travor Akwenye.