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How to cope with "pandemic guilt" in the workplace

How to cope with "pandemic guilt" in the workplace


What is “pandemic guilt” ?

“Survivor guilt” is a phenomenon that first arose post-WWII around the discussion of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).1 It’s defined as a situation after a life-threatening or traumatic event, where some survivors find themselves wondering why they lived through the event or why they suffered less than others.2 In the current climate, this phenomenon has evolved to a new type of “pandemic guilt” where people feel guilty that they are not “impacted enough” by the pandemic.2


Employee wellbeing and morale is greatly affected by this phenomenon. Studies have found that people who feel “survivor guilt” are likely to display low team morale, job dissatisfaction and reduced productivity.3 The increased mental burden can also increase likelihood of depression, anxiety or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).2 Left untreated, this guilt can worsen and create long term problems for the employee and organisation.

Tips on coping with guilt

Guilt is a coping response. It is typically felt when the cause of the traumatic events are due to the actions of some party or another, not the individual person.1 In response to this, the unaffected individual experiences “survivor guilt” as a way to deal with the negative trauma out of one’s control.1 This can be an uncomfortable emotion to experience as it comes with its own burdensome psychological baggage.2 So to cope with this guilt, here are some strategies you can employ:

As a coping response, “pandemic guilt” can be extremely psychologically taxing on employees and can affect their wellbeing and morale. Left unaddressed, this guilt can increase physical and psychological health consequences in employees and impact organisations long-term.3 Although the negative nature of guilt can be all consuming, it’s important to remember that experiencing guilt does not mean that you’re guilty. The guilt you feel is your empathetic response to those around you. In moments where you feel this guilt rising up again, just remember: It’s okay to be okay.

1. https://philpapers.org/rec/GRIRTL

2. https://www.kent.ac.uk/staffwellbeing/documents/EAP%20(CareFirst)%20Covid-19%20Pages/Managing%20%E2%80%98Survivor%20Guilt%E2%80%99%20During%20COVID-19.html

3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/16522354.2010.11073512