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Downsizing Casualties – A form of Professional PTSD?

HR Planning and Strategy courses eventually come around to the distasteful topic of “downsizing”. They talk about “survivors” and politely organic methods of reducing headcounts, like attrition, and smart moves like work redesign and evolution, but there are many times when an organization – rightly or wrongly – just chooses to cut bodies. 

For those of us who have been through it, it’s an awful, heart-wrenching experience. 

In many cases, we want to be a survivor. We want to be the ones found worthy or valuable and we can continue with the polite fiction of “better them than me”, and “they’ll be OK”.  Or we just don’t think about it at all, hunker down, and get our work done, hoping we won’t be next as we look at empty workstations or see stunned staff getting walked out the door. 

Don’t kid yourself. It’s hell. It’s one of the things HR professionals and Managers have to deal with and it’s often the result of failure to evolve, manage resources, or make incremental decisions. THIS is the human cost to an organization. THIS is where corporate goodwill takes a significant beating. Yes, I know there’s no obligation to provide jobs for life (Hello, City of Toronto…) I get that. However, the psychological contract people engage in with an organization is not insignificant and one that takes its own beating and we don’t have a word for those who aren’t Survivors. 

Corporate divorcee? 

Cast-off?

Moved to the organizational “friend zone”?

HR folks…if you’ve achieved your seat at the table you can help influence these decisions. I’m not saying not to reduce headcount. What I am saying is that there are other ways to incrementally and intelligently help Management make the best use of their workforce and their human capital. There is an increasing body of study showing that layoffs or downsizing efforts are counterproductive in the long-term. So…wouldn’t it be nicer for your organization to have a cohesive group that could collectively weather a downturn and take pride in their efforts to bring an organization back to viability? 

Don’t leave a string of human casualties in the wake of organizational myopia or inaction. That psychological contract means an awful lot to the folks who are about to be shown the door, whether they admit it or not. Instead, let them become part of the solution instead of feeling like they are part of the problem. Harness that psychological contract for the betterment and transformation. 

Think about what kind of organization you might have then…