Downsizing boosts employee illness, injury rates

Most every business is running a tighter ship these days. But does that really have an impact on workplace safety?You bet it does, according to the American Psychological Association.

Key medical studies published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that just the threat of layoffs resulted in decreased safety motivation and compliance by workers.

Those two areas — motivation and compliance — are directly related to higher levels of injuries and accidents. In one study at a food-processing plant in the Midwest, workers who feared losing their jobs had significant increases in wrist, hand and arm injuries, the type most common in that industry.

It’s quite likely, the study concluded, that workers who had to juggle competing job demands of production, quality and safety felt pressured to cut corners to keep production up, especially if they were not actively rewarded for safe behavior.

Workers also reported a measurable slide in emotional well-being. For instance, people who were left to work more than 45 hours a week after downsizing reported higher incidents of anxiousness, nervousness and general sadness.

The study concluded: “When a company is faced with decisions to meet production demands, running lean and mean could have unseen costs that might be avoided by allowing workers to avoid chronic overtime and by hiring additional temporary help.”

The tried-and-true techniques managers use to  help employees feel less overworked and more appreciated in good times, apply even more now.

Keep managers visible. Employees who “survive” downsizing need to know that senior managers are available, visible and accessible, and not off in some undisclosed location.

Allow some room for “grieving.” You kept good employees, and they lost friends to the downsizing. The organization will recover more quickly if managers allow employees to vent, and answer questions when appropriate.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t promise no further layoffs, unless you are going to live up to that.

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