Organizational downsizing and depressive symptoms in the European recession: The experience of workers in France, Hungary, Sweden and the United Kingdom

M. Harvey Brenner, Elena Andreeva, Töres Theorell, Marcel Goldberg, Hugo Westerlund, Constanze Leineweber, Linda L. Magnusson Hanson, Ellen Imbernon, Sophie Bonnaud

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Background: Organizational downsizing has become highly common during the global recession of the late 2000s with severe repercussions on employment. We examine whether the severity of the downsizing process is associated with a greater likelihood of depressive symptoms among displaced workers, internally redeployed workers and lay-off survivors. Methods: A cross-sectional survey involving telephone interviews was carried out in France, Hungary, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The study analyzes data from 758 workers affected by medium- and large-scale downsizing, using multiple logistic regression. Main Results: Both unemployment and surviving layoffs were significantly associated with depressive symptoms, as compared to reemployment, but the perceived procedural justice of a socially responsible downsizing process considerably mitigated the odds of symptoms. Perception of high versus low justice was assessed along several downsizing dimensions. In the overall sample, chances to have depressive symptoms were significantly reduced if respondents perceived the process as transparent and understandable, fair and unbiased, well planned and democratic; if they trusted the employer's veracity and agreed with the necessity for downsizing. The burden of symptoms was significantly greater if the process was perceived to be chaotic. We further tested whether perceived justice differently affects the likelihood of depressive symptoms among distinct groups of workers. Findings were that the odds of symptoms largely followed the same patterns of effects across all groups of workers. Redeploying and supporting surplus employees through the career change process-rather than forcing them to become unemployed-makes a substantial difference as to whether they will suffer from depressive symptoms. Conclusions: While depressive symptoms affect both unemployed and survivors, a just and socially responsible downsizing process is important for the emotional health of workers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere97063
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - 19 May 2014


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