Job Cuts Can Leave Survivors Bitter | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 03.03.2005
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Job Cuts Can Leave Survivors Bitter

As German companies fight to survive, many of them are slashing jobs to cut costs. Those who survive the axe might be lucky, but experts say while they've kept their jobs, their motivation and productivity often suffer.


Those "left behind" after layoffs often don't have it easy

It might be similar to battle fatigue suffered by soldiers in combat. But this time, the victims are the survivors of the slash-and-burn methods of modern corporate strategy: cut jobs to save money in an increasingly globalized world, then cut more jobs to save even more.

"The fear in the office keeps growing and cohesion starts to suffer. Then the deceitfulness and mobbing begins, things are stolen, work is sabotaged, all to really wear people down," said Anja Scheik who worked for a regional newspaper for eleven years, the last few which were spent in constant fear for her job. She watched how her once enjoyable work environment turned into a waking nightmare after management began laying people off after the financial life blood of the paper, the classified ads, began to dry up.

For the bosses, there was only one way to keep the paper going, institute a massive cost-cutting program. Management decided the savings would come primarily from the personnel department and they began paring down staff. Scheik understood that the needed money had to come from somewhere, and agreed that some layoffs were necessary. What she took umbrage with were the methods used.

"Management could have asked us if we had any ideas how we could help reinvigorate our classified ad income," she said. "They didn't do that. Instead, we were simply sold down with the river with the stroke of a pen."

The selling out, according to her, took place almost weekly, when someone else would be called into an office upstairs and handed a pink slip. At the end of it all, only a skeleton crew was left to put the daily out.

Those left behind

Among those who still were taking home a monthly paycheck, few actually felt like winners or even very relieved that they had escaped with their professional lives. According to Thomas Kieselbach, a professor who studies labor issues at the University of Bremen, often the opposite is the case. The survivors left in the office often suffer from depression and lack motivation. Productivity can fall drastically.

"Many of them wonder why they should continue to work hard for a company that has shown little responsibility or interest in their well-being," he said.

Frau auf dem Flur von Arbeitsamt

The negative effects of cost-cutting measures that largely fall on the backs of employees can hurt companies in the long run. While layoffs can save money in the short term, they can leave remaining staff bitter, devalued and resigned. An unmotivated staff can have serious consequences for a company already in financial trouble.

Methods leave a bitter taste

"Many companies choose to keep the news that layoffs are imminent or whether someone in particular is going to be let go secret until the last minute. That means that employees often don't have time to prepare themselves or look for something else," he said.

Many of those laid off report that the worst part of being laid off was not actually losing their jobs, but the way in which it was done.

Anja Scheik from the newspaper fought hard to keep her job and come up with new ways to increase the company's revenues. But in the end, she too fell in one of the last waves of layoffs.

"It would have been nice for our bosses to come up to us and told us in person that they were sorry to have to let us go, maybe even asking us what we had planned and wishing us well," she said. "Instead, they just sat in their offices like cowards and dared not show their faces."

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