move attempted at British Airways by its new CEO Willie Walsh is certainly a most painful one.
Eliminating half of the senior managerial jobs and one-third of middle managerial positions is certainly something to cope with, both for those who will be laid off and survivors. A clever tactic of managing change will be necessary for the management to ensure that the staff that will remain on the payroll continues to put adequate effort into their work.
The people who remain in the organisation may experience the so-called “survivor syndrome” that results in “lower morale, lower job and organisational satisfaction, lost of trust and faith in the employer, and feeling of guilt” (Baruch, Hind 1999:30). However, not all scholars share belief in the existence of the syndrome. For instance, Baruch & Hind (1999) have conducted three studies that demonstrate that this syndrome may be non-existent.
It is interesting to see the explanations they give to explain why managers may not at all feel such a devastating shock from the downsizing. Thus, the survivors may regard themselves as “the chosen ones who were appreciated and found worthy of being kept” (Baruch, Hind 1999:38). Since this may be the way to successful survival, the management of the company should pay special attention to promoting this feeling of being “chosen”. Managers have to be left with a conviction that they were the worthiest ones, a fact that the organisation can underscore by praising their efforts as compared to the laid-off employees. Besides, it is necessary to prepare for accommodation of survivors in the very process of downsizing, offering employees reliable criteria for selecting redundant staff. In this case, survivors will understand why they remained on the job. In any case, the management should “explain the criteria for lay-offs” (Burke, Nelson 1997:329).
These policies will also help them realise what they need to do to remain in their positions. If lay-offs hit like a bolt of lightning, hitting people with the same randomness, everybody will feel threatened. On the contrary, if the company’s policies are clear and well-thought out, employees will know how they can keep their jobs, which will motivate them to perform better.
Moreover, BA can strengthen the staff’s conviction that the layoff process is logical and controllable by involving them into decisions on layoffs. Although this seems to be a courageous step, it is consistent with the scholars’ recommendation to rely on empowerment, involvement, and group dynamics to “counter resistance mechanisms generated by change” (Venard 2002:59). Employees should have a chance to air their views on who is really redundant in their department and participate in forming downsizing plans. In this case, the corporate management will hear their perspective and reassure them that their opinion matters.
The management also needs to take time to investigate the effects of the downsizing on the minds of survivors. Does the “survival syndrome” described by Baruch & Hind (1999) exist in the organisation? What motivates this syndrome – in other words, what fears and worries give rise to negative emotions? Investigating employees’ response will help the organization an opportunity to prepare a more adequate change management program. Venard (2002) describes the following factors that can fuel resistance to change: “the fear of the unknown, the fear of economic insecurity, the loss of status, the threats to existing social relationships, the reluctance to give up routines”. Through an informal anonymous questionnaire or online survey, the company can try to figure out what factors matter most in this individual situation.
Some or all of these phobias can be addressed in an effective program for assisting the survivors. Thus, the managers may find it useful to provide sufficient support for those made redundant to illustrate the point that the company cares for individuals who made a contribution to it. Linking the size of the “golden parachute” to the employee’s merits in the organisation will also offer incentives for survivors to try harder, since they will at least know that if they work well, but the logic of the company’s development eliminates their positions, they can at least reckon with a nice compensation for their efforts. To address “the threats to existing social relationships”, the company executives can think of something like a corporate holiday to which former employees are invited. If they were knowledgeable workers, the company can offer them part-time work consulting employees charged with their former tasks. For instance, it may be helpful to both parties, if, say, the former purchasing manager comes in for a few hours a week to help the ones doing his tasks to navigate through new functions. This would help the individual to get through the period of job search and help the employees faced with new activities.
Downsizing is in any case a challenging endeavour that confronts the managerial staff with many serious issues. To make this organisational change smoother, the management needs to ensure that it realises the impact on employee morale and takes adequate steps to address the problems.
Greater involvement of employees in planning downsizing and catering to the needs of those made redundant in order to influence the survivors will help make the painful process more humane and less detrimental to morale.
“BA prepares to cut back to core”. Sunday Times, 4 December 2005.
Baruch, Yehuda, & Patricia Hind. “Survivor Syndrome” – A Management Myth?” Journal of Managerial Psychology 15.1(2000):29-45.
Burke, Ronald J., & Debra L. Nelson. “Downsizing and restructuring: lessons from the firing line for revitalizing organisations.” Leadership and Organisation Development Journal 18.7 (1997):325-334.
Feldman, Lee. “Duracell’s First Aid for Downsizing Survivors.” Security Management 34.2 (February 1990): 123+.
Hornsby, Jeffrey S., Mueller, Carolyn B. & Cheryl Van Deuser. “Successful Downsizing: The Case of the Boeing Reemployment Program.” Journal of Leadership Studies 5.3 (1998): 152.
Mosca, Joseph B. “The Restructuring of Jobs for the Year 2000.” Public Personnel Management 26.1 (1997): 43+.
Rayburn, Gayle. “Does Downsizing Result in Sustained Improvements?” Journal of Leadership Studies 5.3 (1998): 18.
Venard, Bertran. “Organisation Change in Service Multinationals: From Radical Change to Destabilisation.” Service Industries Journal 22.1 (January 2002):57-76.
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