Healing the Wounds

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Layoffs have become an increasingly common part of business life, as competitive pressures force companies to downsize, restructure, or merge. Many firms have done a good job supporting departing employees, with services like counseling and outplacement. Yet little is done for those who stay behind, the survivors who are expected to revitalize the organization. Shaken by the experience of seeing valued coworkers suddenly lose their jobs, survivors are confused, fearful, and unable to lose an unhealthy and unreciprocated organizational dependency—a widespread emotional state that consultant David Noer labels “layoff survivor sickness.”

What is at issue is nothing less than a fundamental change in the relationship between individuals and organizations. Both sides need to develop more entrepreneurial and less dependent connections; the first step is recognizing that layoff-survivor sickness debilitates them. Since the sickness is not well understood, the first half of the book explains its pathology, including a discussion of the end of job security, the emotional effects, and case studies from actual companies.

A four-level intervention model is proposed to reestablish healthy, productive relationships between employees and employers. Level 1 deals with managing the layoff process, while level 2 interventions facilitate the necessary grieving. Level 3 applies the concept of codependency to organizations, to break the codependency chain and empower people. Level 4 interventions build a new employment relationship to accommodate the reality of the new employment contract.

The central truth of HEALING THE WOUNDS is simple: Extensive layoffs make victims of both those laid off and those remaining. The focus of those left behind is important and overdue, and should be useful to employees and managers alike. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the first half goes on longer than necessary to make its point, and Noer’s advice becomes increasingly general and philosophical after the concrete, prescriptive advice of the level 1 and 2 interventions.