Categorized | Business

Shrinking Economy and Survival Skills

Posted on 22 December 2008

Use your instincts to stay afloat.

Your organization finished another round of corporate executions, stopping just short of your cubicle. You may remove your blindfold now. But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. Surviving the firing squad doesn’t mean the worst is over.

Rarely is the human side of downsizing examined, and when it is, most employers concentrate on the axed workers. Those who have been laid off may be offered sweet severance packages and free outplacement services, but employees who remain don’t always fare that well.

The Emergence of ‘Survivor Sickness’
Many employers fail to consider the psychological impact of downsizing on the survivors, which manifests itself in fear, stress, grief, shame, guilt, depression, fatigue, high blood pressure, dishonesty, paranoia, etc. These symptoms have become so pervasive that workplace counselors have coined the phrase “survivor sickness.”

Ironically, downsizing often exacerbates the problems for which it was originally implemented.

Ironically, downsizing often exacerbates the problems for which it was originally implemented. Increased workloads, low productivity, poor customer service, and infighting are just a few of the problems that emerge when a company terminates large segments of its work force.

“One of the biggest problems is the huge decrease in production,” said Susan Gebelein, an executive vice president for Personnel Decisions International, a global consulting firm. “Employers think the problem is workers standing around talking about the downsizing, but the decrease in productivity is because people no longer know how to get things done.”

Downsizing can have a domino effect. As the decrease in productivity puts a strain on customer relations, product demand suffers, and employers justify cutting even more jobs than initially anticipated. Finally, when the workplace becomes downright dysfunctional, an organization might bring in external consultants to “fix” those that remain.

Coping with Change
Without preparation or explanation, Mai went from holding a semi-professional position in a non-profit agency to a hodgepodge clerical position, formerly a two-person job. She remembers feeling confused, angry and guilty.

“It was as if I had been demoted for not doing a good job when I knew I was doing an excellent job. Things I used to do slipped through the cracks or got screwed up altogether,” Mai said. “Both internal and external customers were confused about my role. They had come to depend on me for certain things and suddenly they weren’t getting their needs met because I had been ‘reclassified.’ It was tough.”

Sadly, Mai’s managers never talked to her about what was happening and she was too afraid of losing her job to ask questions. She worked under increasingly difficult conditions for about 9 months before finally leaving the organization herself.

The 10 Commandments of Survival
So how do you cope when others around you are being laid off? “Frequently things get worse before they get better,” said Connie Curtis, licensed and certified Employee Assistance Professional with Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, N.C. She recommends 10 survival skills:

Don’t panic. “Panic makes you lose perspective,” Curtis said. “When you lose perspective, you’re not in a position to make sound decisions.”

Remember, you’ve probably lived through worse. “Draw on the strengths and resources that have gotten you through past rough times.”

Do a reality check. “Things may not be as bad as they seem. Your company must value you or you probably wouldn’t still be there. Ask questions.”

Expand your value. “Use the extra assignments you’re collecting as a way to shine. Do them better than they’ve been done before. … You may discover a new niche.”

Broaden your skills. Take advantage of training opportunities. “They may take your job, but they can’t take away what you’ve learned.”

Maintain a strong sense of identity. “Keep your personal routine. Your job is not who you are, it’s what you do.”

Stay physically and emotionally healthy. “Eat nutritionally balanced meals, exercise, get proper rest, and don’t start or increase drinking, smoking, or drug use.”

Let it out. “Vent your frustrations; then move on so you can focus on doing a good job.”

Be a team player. Help yourself by helping your team. Don’t add to the bickering and backstabbing.

Tweak your resume. Highlight your accomplishments so that when it’s time to negotiate for your current job or a new position, you’ll be armed with a tool that demonstrates your value to the organization.

“Control what you can control,” Curtis said. “You own your behavior and your reaction. The best thing you can do is arm yourself with a set of good survival tools. Then brace yourself.”

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