Survivors are hurtingPreoccupied with keeping their...


March 23, 1992

Survivors are hurting

Preoccupied with keeping their corporate ships afloat, the nation's business leaders are too often blind to the needs of survivors. And even if they have identified the problem, many think they can solve it with a pep talk, a letter from the chairman or taking the troops out to lunch.

They ignore what one expert calls the "ticking bomb" of unhappy, unproductive, insecure workers.

"A lot of companies will say the layoff is over, rub their hands and say 'thank goodness.' That is the worst thing you can do," explains Garrett Dietz, a management consultant for Towers Perrin in New York.

But a layoff is like a fatal traffic accident, and survivors' memories of departed workers linger long after.

A survey of corporate cutbacks by The Wyatt Co., a business consulting firm, found that 37 percent of survivors said it took them up to a year to recover from a layoff. Another 24 percent said their recovery period lasted up to two years.

Another look at the aftermath of layoffs at 900 companies by Right Associates, a Philadelphia-based outplacement firm, confirms the problem.

Among the survivors, 72 percent did not think their companies were better places to work, 70 percent worried about their job security, and only half were told about their future with the company, according to the survey.

Creative leadership

So what's all the fuss about?

If Roger Clemens worked for software giant Lotus Development Corp., what happened when he reported late to the Boston Red Sox training camp is exactly what would have happened if he had missed a meeting at Lotus.

He would have been taken aside, talked to briefly to make sure he was still a team player and welcomed back to the fold.

"We are a company that really values diversity, and that means we value different people's styles," says Jamie Higgins, development consultant for Lotus, which is based in Cambridge, Mass. "I'm not sure renegade is the word I'd use. But there isn't one right way here at Lotus for people to act."

What might be called the "Roger Clemens Syndrome" -- the propensity to go your own way but always deliver the goods -- is not unknown in corporate America.

Joseph Raelin, a management professor at Boston College, draws a distinction between corporate prima donnas and the highly talented, who are eccentric and occasionally rebellious, but who are devoted to their work.

Successful startup companies tend to have more than their share of such people, he said. But, he said, they could also be key to maintaining creativity in mature firms.

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