Business Professor Warns of Post Downsizing Stress Syndrome

Those fortunate enough to have held onto their jobs during the economic downturn may experience post downsizing stress syndrome (PDSS), a psychological response to a combination of widespread layoffs and high levels of job stress, according to a business professor at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

Barry Shore, professor of decision sciences at the UNH Whittemore School of Business and Economics, indicated many workers are discovering that they must adjust to a new organizational culture and management style.

“It is a culture that shifts the focus from motivation and collaboration to delegation and compliance. It is also a culture that expects those who remain to take over responsibility for the work done by those who have left,” Shore said in a news release. “Certainly, those who still hold their jobs feel grateful for being spared, but many also feel threatened, abandoned, burdened with more work, and subject to overall greater job stress.”

Business Professor Warns of Post Downsizing Stress Syndrome
© 2009 iStock International Inc.

According to Shore, the symptoms of PDSS include trouble concentrating on the job, irritability with fellow workers, anger toward management, higher absenteeism, substance abuse, family problems, feelings of mistrust, health problems, negative attitude toward work and a sense of hopelessness.

There are several ways to treat PDSS. One way is to resist the temptation to blindly follow a command-and control approach. Companies should lead with humility and professional will. Command-and-control can work in the short run but it stifles individual initiative, commitment, and contribution in the long run.

Another way is to acknowledge the insecurities and fears of the workforce. Bring current concerns into the open. Talk about them with employees and acknowledge their concerns. This sends a strong message that a company cares about the plight of its workers.

Next, share the complexities of management decisions. Help employees understand the tradeoff between survival and job cuts. Ask for their suggestions. Would they prefer that the company retain its current workforce level and absorb the drop in business through fewer hours or shorter work weeks, or would they prefer job cuts? By sharing these complexities, employees can offer useful responses during the economic downturn.

Before taking steps to improve morale, management should understand current attitudes toward the company, management and the job. Developing a questionnaire to collect data can be useful.

It is more important now than in the past few years to encourage teamwork and collaboration. Schedule team-building workshops and invite groups to plan their own workplace strategies that may include setting their own budgets and timetables. Ask employees how to do the job better. Try to resist the temptation to increase responsibility while stifling authority and control.

Trust is one of the most important human resource assets, but there is no quicker way to undermine it than to cut jobs and impose a command-and-control culture. Management must do what it can to manage this asset. Trust starts with honesty, even when it means warning employees that bad news may be coming. Trust also requires fairness, even when it means explaining what criterion was used to furlough workers, and even when this explanation leads to significant criticism from employees.

Understandably, some projects were delayed as the economic crisis forced the organization to circle the wagons. But that does not mean there should be a moratorium on new projects. Initiate studies of the competitive market environment. What opportunities now exist because competitors have left the market? How have customer needs changed in response to the expectation that this slowdown will be prolonged?

Finally, involve the workforce in developing new ways to improve old products and processes. The economic crisis provides an opportunity to change processes that have resisted change for many years. Involve employees to make the change effective and to help build morale.

“Developing a strategy to survive the recession should not end with a plan to contain costs and reduce the size of the workforce. Equally important is a focus on the human resources within the firm, one that recognizes the stress that the recession has imposed on those fortunate to have survived job cuts but who are still susceptible to PDSS,” Shore said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.