Managers Feeling Emotional Effects Of Layoffs

By Staff

May 8, 2009

A new study indicates that the long-term effects of managers who lay off workers include sleep problems, emotional exhaustion and dizziness.

The research was conducted by professors from the University of Puget Sound in Washington State, and the University of Colorado at Boulder and was reported by Human Resource Executive Online. Its conclusions were the result of a 10-year study based on responses from more than 400 managers working for an airspace manufacturer.

While much attention has been focused on employees feeling the effects of layoffs, the report, called "Managing in Tough Times: The Impact of Layoffs on Front-Line Managers," shows that those in supervisory positions forced to cut jobs also suffer emotionally.

"It sounds trite," said Leon Grunberg, one of the professors who co-authored the report, "but everyone assumes it's the people laid off that get a lot of [support], but the survivors need help, too. No one really thought of managers as people who might be affected emotionally."

Those laying off workers were found to have higher rates of stress and depression, and were reported to have been distancing themselves emotionally from workers. In addition, many suffered from ulcers, headaches and heart trouble.

"I was surprised by the qualitative interviews and what people told us in terms of how powerful the impact was," Grunberg noted. "They used words like 'devastating,' 'gut-wrenching.'"

In a related story, Michael Stratton, an assistant professor at Maryland's Hood College who teaches business administration, agreed that supervisors often struggle with handing pink slips to employees.

"Managers may have regret or sadness or shame or guilt that they had to do this," Stratton told The Gazette. "Maybe they worked with these individuals for years and they have to communicate [the layoff]. It's emotionally intense."

The New York Times reports that letting employees go is particularly difficult in small and medium-size companies with fewer than 500 employees, where cutbacks are often extremely personal.

"It affects me so internally because I know I'm going to hurt somebody," said Shelly Polum, the vice president for administration at Ram Tool, a Wisconsin-based tool-and-die manufacturing company. "I'm affecting their lives."

When Polum was required to lay off four workers, she hid her emotions while delivering the news, then rushed back to her office and sunk to the floor in tears. Since September, she has had to lay off 26 employees.

Grunberg recommended support groups for managers in an effort to help them cope with stress of layoffs. Additionally, the report recommended that companies avoid de-personalizing the process, such as by sending out e-mails.

"We believe this is an unwise option because although it might spare managers some discomfort, it dehumanizes those to be laid off and is likely to engender antagonistic responses from victims and survivors," said the study.

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