Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Survivors of Downsizing: Helpful and Hindering Experiences

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Survivors of Downsizing: Helpful and Hindering Experiences

Article excerpt

Thirty-one downsizing survivors from both the private and public sector were interviewed to determine incidents that either helped or hindered their transition through 1 or more organizational downsizings. A critical incident technique was used to analyze and organize the data around themes that emerged, themes were represented by both positive and negative incidents and were grouped using transition phases. Results support and add new detail and insight into topics developed in previous studies. Implications are discussed for organizations' handling of downsizing or restructuring as well as reducing negative and enhancing positive influences and events. Counseling recommendations are offered for easing survivors through the transition.

In a rapidly changing economy, corporations often decide to reduce the size of the full-time workforce. Corporate downsizing has become an important issue for researchers as they have attempted to understand the full impact of this business practice (Cameron, 1994; Cameron, Freeman, & Mishra, 1993). The widespread effects of organizational change have been examined in articles and books on personal and organizational healing; these publications have been aimed at managers and leaders, layoff survivors, and layoff victims (Gowing, Kraft, & Quick, 1998; Johansen & Swigart, 1994; Noer, 1993). Books are also available that describe the consequences of downsizing from economic and personal perspectives (e.g., see Allcorn, Baum, Diamond, & Stein, 1996). Most companies, however, do little to prepare their employees for a reduction in their numbers or help survivors deal with their reactions following the cutback (Armstrong-Stassen, 1994).

The majority of research on the individual's response to downsizing has centered on layoff victims; few studies have focused on the survivors of a workforce reduction. The studies that focused on survivors primarily used survey methods that assessed commitment, motivation, level of performance, job satisfaction (Brockner, 1988; Davy, Kinicki, & Scheck, 1991; Meyer, Allen, & Topolnytsky, 1998), stress symptoms, and coping mechanisms (Armstrong-Stassen, 1993, 1994; Mishra & Spreitzer, 1998) and how these arc related to self-affirmation (Petzall, Parker, & Stocberl, 2000; Wiesenfeld, Brockner, & Martin, 1999), gender and organizational level (Armstrong-Stassen, 1998b), self-esteem, self-efficacy, and intent to leave the organization (Mone, 1994).

In our review of the literature, we found only two related studies in which a semistructured group interviewing format was used. Evans (1995) studied U.S. soldiers in the downsized U.S. military, and Noer (1993) interviewed employees of a downsized private organization. Similar themes emerged from both of these studies, namely, increased stress; decreased motivation; reduced performance with extra workload, distrust/withdrawal of management/leader; and experiencing the emotions of anger, sadness, guilt, insecurity, and fear. In another study, Armstrong-Stassen (1998a) used mail-in questionnaires to assess the individual characteristics and support resources that facilitated adaptation to downsizing among 82 managers in a Canadian federal government department over a 2-year period. Acknowledging that "reactions of the remaining employees will largely determine the effectiveness and quality of the services provided by the federal government in the future" (p. 310), she found that the managers reported a significant decrease in their job performance and organizational commitment.

Of primary importance in understanding the survivors' experience is the changing relationship between the individual and the organization (Kcts dc Vries & Balazs, 1997; Rousseau & Wade-Benzoni, 1995), and, in particular, the breaking of the implicit "psychological contract" by the organization. This psychological contract is based on an individual's belief, which is shaped by the organization, that the exchange agreement between the employee and the organization includes an implicit guarantee of secure employment. …

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