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Effects of organizational downsizing on worker stress and health in the United States.

Murphy LR; Pepper LD
Work stress: studies of the context, content and outcomes of stress: a book of readings. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company, Inc., 2003 Sep; :53-71
The implications of our results for organizations that expect downsizing in the near future are straightforward. Downsizing episodes will be associated with measurable effects on survivors' stress and well-being. In the present study, the differences between high and low downsizing sites became smaller when the downsizing process factors were added to the regression models but site differences were still significant. Having said that, our results also clearly demonstrate that the effects of downsizing on worker stress, health, coping, and job insecurity can be reduced if organizations make efforts to conduct layoffs fairly and with open and honest communication. Perhaps most importantly, the effects on worker stress and health can be further minimized if the post-downsizing work environment provides new opportunities for creative and interesting work, more worker involvement in decision-making, and more opportunities to learn new skills. This finding agrees with reports by Parker and coauthors (22), Kivimaki and coautbors(24), Preitzer and Mishra (27), and Burke (25) that changes to the work environment after downsizing can have important effects on workers' responses. Positive changes to the work environment after downsizing can reduce employees' negative responses to the downsizing event and can also reduce health and well-being consequences. There are signs that research on the adverse health effects of downsizing on job survivors may be influencing corporate policies. A recent survey of 572 human resource professionals, conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, found that most organizations in 2001 took preventive steps before resorting to layoffs (28); The top four pre-layoff steps were attrition (63 percent), hiring freeze (49 percent), not renewing contract workers (21 percent), and encouraging employees to take vacations (20 percent). If these steps are not enough to avoid layoffs, most organizations try to be sensitive to employees' needs. Forty-one percent of organizations said they had one-on-one discussions with employees that included the manager and human resources representative, and more than half of the organizations indicated that they tried to enhance communication with employees about layoffs.
Stress; Psychological-stress; Psychological-responses; Physiological-effects; Physiological-stress; Job-stress; Decision-making
Publication Date
Document Type
Book or book chapter
Peterson CL; Navarro V
Fiscal Year
NIOSH Division
Priority Area
Work Environment and Workforce: Organization of Work
Source Name
Work stress: studies of the context, content and outcomes of stress: a book of readings
Page last reviewed: May 11, 2023
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division