UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 12 | Oct.
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 UBCs 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
theyre 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.