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August 27, 2001
Layoff Survivors Feel Stressed
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t about the workers left behind?

Many who remain after downsizing say they feel pressure to work smarter, harder, and faster, the Knight Ridder Newspapers has learned through questionnaires, subsequent interviews, and a recent national survey.

The workers told Knight Ridder that their morale is low and they're losing trust in their employers, especially if their co-workers were treated poorly during layoffs.

Some feel dread each time management calls another company meeting. A frequent refrain is: "Who's next?" In fact, according to the news service, nearly everyone interviewed requested anonymity for fear of angering employers.

A 3M worker in information technology said he has seen his workweek climb from 36 hours to 50-plus hours in a department where half of the staff was eliminated. "We're learning what new tasks are required," he said. "The ramp-up time is less and we've got to pick it up quickly. You basically try and improvise what you don't know."

Yet while most of the employees interviewed said they feel overworked, some say they feel underworked as business slows down.

At Fourth Shift Corp., a provider of manufacturing and resource planning software in Bloomington, Minn., one employee told of the parent company's latest emphasis on having fun at work, including a recent picnic on the top level of the parking ramp in 90-degree heat.

"Management says we're going to have this fun environment, and we're going to have fun doing this and fun doing that," said the employee. But it's hard to party, he said, when customers are complaining about service problems resulting from the layoffs.

It's also difficult to celebrate when he thinks of a co-worker who was tracked down on her vacation and told she was being laid off. The company said that was done so the employee didn't get the news elsewhere.

A former U.S. Bancorp middle manager, who lost his job this spring after Firstar's acquisition of his employer, spoke of a "cocooning" effect when he was still there.

"It's kind of like a boy and girl putting their heads down between their knees and getting closer together . . . to get below the bullets whizzing over their heads. It's not being extroverted. It's doing as little work as possible so you can leave by 4:59. It's doing what you have to do to not get fired."

The impact of layoffs showed up in a March survey by the Families and Work Institute of New York, according to Knight Ridder. The institute found that 42 percent of workers whose employers cut staff in the last year reported high levels of feeling overworked. That compares with 31 percent for employees of companies that have not downsized.

"That's a pretty sizable difference," said James T. Bond, vice president for research for the Families and Work Institute. "Survivors experience significantly more pressure at work. They're having to work very hard, they're having to work very fast, and they are not having enough time to get everything done."

The workers remaining on the job can suffer from "layoff survivor sickness," a term developed by David Noer in his 1995 book, "Healing the Wounds: Overcoming the Trauma of Layoffs and Revitalizing Downsized Organizations."

Noer told Knight Ridder that symptoms include anger and resentment that employers broke the covenant of lifetime employment, guilt over co-workers who lost their jobs and how they were treated, and anxiety about being next in line for a layoff.

To view the Knight Ridder story, click here.
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