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Dealing with job separation

Published:Wednesday | March 31, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The recession is still forcing many companies to take the difficult decision to separate workers from their jobs. Call it what you may, downsize or rightsize, this may be a response to prevent a capsize of the company. Like any other loss or separation, the pain and anxiety of job loss is real.

Those who lose their jobs

When a worker loses his or her job, he not only loses his source of income but is also separated from friends and the organisation. Loss triggers a process of grieving and for some people this can be painful. In addition to losing a job, the worker has to face many uncertainties such as continuing to pay bills, taking care of self and family and coping each day.

The workers left behind

Those who survive job separation suffer too. They have to deal with the loss of their colleagues and the uncertainty of their own job security. They worry about who might be next in line for job loss. Many survivors become angry, anxious and sometimes feel guilty that it was a colleague and not them on the chopping block.

These feelings may result in mistrust and resentment towards the organisation and many workers report that after a job-separation exercise their motivation falls and they feel disillusioned. The team spirit and morale of the work force left behind can be affected.

What can organisations do?

Job separation is painful and more companies are putting programmes in place to lessen the blow.

1 Provide support: Support programmes do help. Many workers want to be prepared for life after the separation and these programmes help them to work through their pain and emotions. Sometimes as a result of the programme, some workers are referred to professionals but many programmes assist workers to update their resumes, re-enter job markets, set up small businesses and manage their money, especially if they receive severance pay.

2 Communication is key: Effective communication increases awareness and understanding of the organisation's decision and this may help to rebuild the trust of those left behind. During the period of preparation, it is useful to listen to workers' concerns and validate their feelings. In many organisations, the workers themselves make great suggestions during this period to protect and support the organisation. It is important to communicate that change provides enormous opportunities for growth and development, even though the change may be painful.

3 Rebuild the team: When the organisation changes, the team changes. Programmes should be put in place to rebuild morale and rebuild the team. Team-building activities can promote optimism and help to stimulate growth in the organisation during the team-building phase to re-emphasise the vision, mission and values of the organisation.

Dr Wendel Abel is a consultant psychiatrist and head, Section of Psychiatry, Department Of Community Health and Psychiatry, University of the West Indies, 977-1108; email: