DR. E. CAROL WEBSTER’S
POST DOWNSIZING STRESS SYNDROME
E. Carol Webster, Ph.D.
Original Copyright © 2009
As companies downsize to cope with the current economic crisis, they are witnessing a growing mix of emotions experienced by staff kept onboard. Having retained their strongest performers, company leaders are perplexed and bewildered by outbursts of temper, attitude and reduced productivity from some of these employees. The host of emotional and health problems exhibited by “survivors” of downsizing is often referred to as “Post Downsizing Stress Syndrome”. This is not an officially recognized clinical diagnosis that is given by mental health professionals, but often helps those in business put a name to the collection of enigmatic behaviors they are encountering on the job. To prevent these problems from intensifying and impeding business operations, take steps to stabilize your workplace.
Understand Employee Emotions
Angry, agitated behaviors are common after downsizing. Employees feel overwhelmed by the sudden disruption of the workplace, and resent the secret nature of decision making that resulted in their colleagues being shown the door. While feelings of betrayal and fury are expected from laid off personnel, those who keep their jobs can experience these too. These workers understandably fear that more cuts may take place and that they might not be so lucky the next time. They also feel burdened by the increased workload and stress of being expected to do more with less. Many report disturbances in sleep, eating, and physical health, and bona fide psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse can develop. Some may use passive aggressive ways of expressing their disillusionment by being increasingly late, absent, and injured, or by covertly sabotaging the company, manager or those they view as responsible for the downsizing. Others are more overtly irritable, angry and aggressive. Reports of workplace violence, dishonesty, theft, and other dysfunction may start to crop up, as well as whispers about domestic violence, child and elder abuse, and other maladaptive coping at home. Before things get to this point, make a concerted effort to understand and validate what employees are feeling in the wake of workplace disruption and upheaval.
Though most companies that jettison employees will never regain the level of employee trust and loyalty they enjoyed previously, try to restore credibility and confidence anyway. You may not be able to assure staff that no further cuts will take place, but you can do a better job of explaining what’s going on, why it’s happening, and give employees a vehicle for expressing how they feel about it. This will reduce grumbling and grousing, will calm nerves, and will minimize hopelessness.
Many of your staff will settle down just fine because of their coping style strengths, but others will need your help. Healthy workplaces actively promote employee well-being, so help your employees heal. Increase your physical presence. Hold meetings more often so that people are informed and so the team can regroup and fortify. Provide training to help supervisors understand the behaviors they are witnessing and learn strategies for rebuilding the office “family”. Broadly publicize EAP services. But most importantly, stop in to talk with folks one on one so that they have the opportunity to ask questions and to offer their opinions – uncomfortable though this may be at times. While ultimately everyone has to settle down, accept the changes, and move on, they are more likely to do so when provided opportunities for self-expression and inclusion.
Contrary to what many people think, downsizing can be tough on those who keep their jobs too. Many emotional, behavioral, and health problems can emerge in the workplace and may worsen if not addressed as the fear of further cuts and changes looms. Restore employee confidence, calm, and commitment to your mission by effectively managing the stressful impact of workforce reduction.
About the Author:
Dr. E. Carol Webster is a clinical psychologist consultant in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
She is author of the book for those dealing with the stress of success ―
Success Management: How to Get to the Top and Keep Your Sanity Once You Get There,
The Fear of Success: Stop It From Stopping You! ―
the book to help you overcome fears that may be holding you back in your life and career
The Private Practice of Clinical Psychology in: Voices of Historical & Contemporary Black American Pioneers
To contact Dr. Webster visit online at http://drcarolwebster.com or call 954.797.9766.
E. Carol Webster, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychology Consulting
Mailing Address: 7027 West Broward Boulevard, #262 Fort Lauderdale, FL 33317
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