Given Time, the Wounded Revive

The blow of a major change in a company - such as downsizing - to surviving workers can be minimized if they understand that feelings of fear, loss, and guilt are perfectly natural.

The transition process can take from several months to several years, depending on the scope of the change and how well the company addresses the human issues, says Thomas F. Mahan, a counselor with the Atlanta-based outplacement firm of Schroeder, Flynn, and Co. He outlines the stages people go through:

* Denial: Employees register disbelief at hearing the news of a big change. Their response may be: "No way, this isn't happening," Look for signs of a lack of concentration and feelings of numbness.

* Anxiety: People think their companies are in turmoil. They get tired. They may ask lots of questions. Look for an exaggeration of the value of the way things used to be and a loss of self-confidence.

* Anger: People feel distrust, stress, a loss of commitment. Their creativity is shot. They may have ideas but think, "Why bother? This will never work."

They become angry and suspicious, feeling guilty because they think they could have done something to prevent the cuts. Look for longer breaks, positioning for turf, sabotage, increased employee relations complaints.

* Depression: People feel sad, withdrawn, and powerless. They lose interest, spending time feeling abandoned and worrying about the future. Look for increased decline in productivity as people forget the purpose of the workplace. People quit - but don't leave.

* Resolution: People finally get tired of the transition process. They get tired of talking about it and dealing with it and are ready to move on.

They start to get curious again, seeing things in a more positive light. Look for a return of creativity and recommitment to work.

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