Academic journal article Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l'Administration

Downsizing the Federal Government: A Longitudinal Study of Managers' Reactions

Academic journal article Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l'Administration

Downsizing the Federal Government: A Longitudinal Study of Managers' Reactions

Article excerpt


This paper examines the impact of downsizing on 82 managers in a federal government department over a 2year period and identifies individual characteristics and support resources that facilitate adaptation to downsizing. Managers reported a significant decrease in their job performance and organizational commitment. However the perceived threat of job loss actually declined over time. Organizational morale and trust remained fairly stable, but the initial levels for both variables were quite low. Those managers who were optimistic, had a high future success expectancy and a high tolerance for ambiguity, were more open towards change, and perceived greater support were less negatively affected by the downsizing than those who lacked these resources. The implications of these findings are discussed.


Le present article examine l'effet de la reduction des effectifs eprouve au cours de 2 ans par 82 cadres d'un ministere du gouvernement federal ; il identifie des traits individuels et des ressources de soutien qui facilitent l'adaptation a cette reduction. Les cadres ont signale une baisse significative de leur rendement au travail et de leur engagement envers l'organisation ; par contre, la peur de perdre leur emploi a diminue avec le temps. Le moral organisationnel et la confiance sont restes assez stables, it faut toutefois signaler que les niveaux de depart de ces deux variables etaient tres bas. Les cadres optimistes et confiants de leur avenir, qui toleraient bien l'ambiguite, etaient plus ouverts aux changements, et trouvaient qu'ils etaient bien soutenus, etaient affectes par les reductions d'une fa,con moins negative que ceux a qui ces ressources manquaient. Nous discutons la portee de ces constatations.

In 1995, the federal government announced that it was eliminating 45,000 civil service jobs over the next 3 years-the single largest mass downsizing in Canadian history (McKenna, 1996). This is an unfamiliar experience for most federal employees, many of whom chose to work for the government because it has traditionally provided job security in an otherwise unstable employment world (Cimons, 1996; Romzek, 1985). In fact, up until 1993, workers in the public sector enjoyed the lowest risk of layoff in Canada (Picot & Lin, 1997). The downsizing will have a profound effect not only on those employees who lose their jobs, but also on the remaining employees who are faced with an increased workload and uncertainty about their own job future. The reactions of the remaining employees will largely determine the effectiveness and quality of the services provided by the federal government in the future.

This study is part of an ongoing longitudinal research project begun in 1995 to assess the impact of the downsizing on the remaining managers within a federal government department targeted for a large-scale workforce reduction. Thus far, data have been collected from the same randomly chosen managers in 1995, 1996, and again in 1997. The present study has two major purposes: (a) to assess if managers' attitudes and behaviour changed between 1995 and 1997, and more specifically to determine if attitudes towards one's job and the department were differentially affected by the downsizing over the 2-year period, and (b) to identify individual predispositions and support variables that may facilitate more successful adaptation to organizational downsizing.

There is growing evidence that downsizing has a detrimental impact on remaining employees (Brockner, 1988; Cascio, 1993; Kets de Vries & Balazs, 1997; Kozlowski, Chao, Smith, & Hedlund, 1993). It may have especially strong adverse consequences in an organization that has historically taken great care of its employees (Burke & Nelson, 1998). The focus of this study is the impact of downsizing on management-level employees. Although a few studies have examined the impact of downsizing on managers (e.g. …

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