The hidden dilemmas of a downsizing executioner

In  a forthcoming exploratory study on those directly tasked with the carrying out of a layoff event, we (Philippos Philippou of Treppides & Co and I) look into the personal dilemma’s faced by downsizing executioner’s. We explore how downsizing executioners, those carrying out a downsizing task, are affected in terms of perceived role stress and ethical conflict. Based on individual level data collected for both internally and externally associated downsizing executioners that together represent 43 individual organizations that each laid of a percentage of at least 5% of their workforce, we explore the role of ethical conflict. Based on a scenario-based scale that captures the main ethical aspects of a downsizing event, our findings suggest that internal executioners are more likely to report higher levels of perceived role stress compared to external executioners, while higher levels of ethical conflict among executioners lead to higher levels of perceived role stress.

The results, forthcoming in Routledge’s 2017 Handbook on Organization Turnaround Management (Adriaanse & van Rest eds.), offer a number of managerial implications worth pointing out here, next to being a pilot study for further research on the impact of reorganizations in SME’s. Commonly discarded, firstly downsizing events can cause negative effects on the managers who implement them. It is important for organizations to find ways to reduce and minimize this impact because especially internal downsizing executioners remain in the organization after the downsizing process is completed and are required to adapt to the changes and manage the organization while having to suffer the negative consequences. In many cases these consequences are largely informal, hard to see for top level management. These effects however may impact an organization only in the medium to longer run as social relations falter and follow up to informal discretionary activity of the kind that forms the organization’s informal safety net gets disbanded.