Workforce cuts cast pall on productivity

When layoffs hit, survivors lose interest in innovation
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/13/2003

Engaging and motivating staff is a tough task in the best of times. If an organization has been hit by layoffs and gone through massive changes in the way it conducts business, the employees who survive the cuts might be behaving a lot differently than when things were going well, said Janet Mantler, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, who has researched the effect layoffs have on organizations.

“People take a job with the idea that ‘As long as I’m working here and doing what I’m supposed to do, my job will remain,’” said Mantler. “A layoff breaks that psychological contract and the employee says, ‘No matter what I do, I can’t really control my job.’”

For “survivors” of downsizing, this loss of security has ramifications that can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Staff will be unsure about the next round of layoffs and that can lead to a lot of gossip around the water cooler. Some may react by working harder in an effort to forestall the next layoff. Others will withdraw and lose interest in things like networking, innovation and creativity.