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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 12 | Oct. 10, 2002

Research Reveals Downsizing Survivors Need Support, Too

Time to grieve and adjust essential for successful restructuring

By Michelle Cook

We often hear about the emotional trauma suffered by those who lose their jobs in mass layoffs, but downsizing can be just as stressful for those left behind, and companies need to address this for successful restructuring, say researchers in UBC’s Education faculty.

In a study being published this month, Education and Counselling Psychology professors William Borgen and Norman Amundson found that those spared the axe during mass layoffs often experience feelings of anger, fear, confusion and loss of control similar to colleagues who lose their jobs.

“To hear the sad and moving stories, the depth of that, and the stress of continuing to work in a downsized environment was a surprise because, in many ways, in our culture, we think they’re the lucky ones,” says Amundson.

The pair interviewed 31 downsizing survivors working in government and private organizations in B.C., Alberta and Ontario. Interviewees were asked to describe workplace incidents that either helped or hindered their ability to cope in the six months following layoffs.

While those interviewed often expressed mixed feelings about their situation, the number of negative incidents they reported was more than double the number of positive incidents. Many expressed grief for those who had been laid off, and felt resentment and anger at employers for not giving them adequate time to say good-bye or acknowledge the loss.

The survivors told researchers that watching how those laid off were treated had a profound impact on those left behind, rattling their sense of worth and trust in their employer, and leading them to question their hard work, commitment and loyalty to the company.

Borgen and Amundson found that increased workload and lack of adequate re-training and teambuilding exercises are other major sources of stress for workplace survivors.

According to the study, what survivors want most are good internal communications and a say in the re-shaping of their organization. Some positive comments emerged from the interviews, too. Survivors reported welcoming the opportunity to try new tasks, and appreciating the value of support from family and friends during the restructuring period.

Borgen and Amundson will use their findings to help develop employee assistance programs and other counselling materials and services. Their recommendations to companies undergoing downsizing include focusing on the survivors, making the transition process transparent, giving employees the information they need to make informed decisions, and offering teambuilding and re-training workshops for those remaining behind.

The study will be published in the U.S. journal Career Development Quarterly in October.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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