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Phantoms in Organisations

Eric Berne used the term phantom to refer to the continuing presence of someone in a group after he or she has left the group. The concept of the phantom is useful in explaining some of the dynamics that are activated when a person leaves an organisation. The way in which an employee exit is handled can lead to different consequences for the remaining group.

Phantoms are what remains (i.e., after a person has been laid off or asked to leave) and are often at greater risk of being formed when (a) the organisation’s procedures are opaque and (b) when the organisations formal, and real aims differ greatly. E.g., Firing someone  can often lead to problems when a decision is not widely accepted, or where there has been lack of transparency around it. These are the circumstances in which a departing worker may leave behind an “active phantom”.

The persistence of these phantoms is proportional to the importance these people played in the group and how much their leaving was traumatic on the group.

The effects of phantoms on the emotional and behavioural climate of the organisation include:

  • Widespread sense of instability if an employee has been fired
  • Overadaptation and agitation
  • Reduced proactive behaviour
  • A loss of trust and business loyalty * especially among self-motivated people

In the majority of organisations phantoms are not useful, so it is better to prevent them from happening.

  • Prepare plans to prevent the formation of phantoms – from deciding not to lay someone off, to identifying effective procedures for doing so.
  • Make people aware when possible of the organisations hidden aims



With regards to leadership, each new leader needs to be aware of the “phantom” left behind by his/her predecessor in order to deal with habits, communication style, and the group culture implemented by the person, as well as the expectations of leadership.


* taken from Marco Mazzetti’s “Phantoms in Organizations”