A few blogs ago, I recalled the comments of two senior managers in the Calgary energy industry: “You can do a lot to people these days,” and “What are they going to do, quit?”
If downsizing is poorly managed, then employees who got to keep their jobs may be the biggest risk to the employer.
meat for seats isn’t the problem, right now
Recently, when discussing negative impacts of layoffs on employees who remained with the company, “They can always quit,” was said a few times. This comment, and ones like it, is more common in the Calgary energy industry right now because finding “meat for seats” isn’t a problem. Lots of meat for seats means that employers have a lot of highly qualified, unemployed people to choose from.
But when the Calgary labor market is tight—when oil and gas prices are high—only then do companies really start caring if people quit. Why, because in those times, finding good meat is more difficult and it costs more to put it in a seat.
you’re not meat to most employers
To be fair, most employers really don’t think workers are meat. I don’t think employees are meat for seats and I know many good leaders working in the Calgary energy industry who truly care about all the stress their workforce is experiencing these days. I’m intentionally being provocative by using the word meat, but remember, to be disillusioned you had to have illusions in the first place. If the manic-depressive cycle of employment and unemployment in the Calgary energy industry is making you feel like meat, you’re not alone.
staying and dissenting is a bigger problem then quitting
In their 2002 article, Gail Fairhurst and her colleagues discussed the unintended consequences of successive organizational downsizing and its lasting effects on employees. In his 2011 book, Dissent in Organizations, Jeffery Kassing discussed how organizational downsizing often sparks dissent. If downsizing is poorly managed, then employees who keep their jobs may be the biggest risk to the employer.
Organizational dissent is a broad, well-researched topic. One way of understanding dissent is as resistance. It can also appear as revenge or retaliation. And it’s often carried out when people believe the employer has unfairly treated them or others. For many, it’s all about settling a score.
dissent is difficult to detect
What does dissent look like? Dissent may be quite obvious like an increase in whistle blowing to government regulators or to the press. Employees might also share confidential information with competitors. But dissent is often subtler, like an increase in absenteeism. For many leaders, dissent can be difficult to manage. For example, employees might start rocking-the-boat a little more, be a little more assertive, begin to accept less responsibility or, again quite subtly, appear as if they can’t take on any additional work. Employees might also hold back many creative or innovative recommendations.
Employees may become more compliant and agreeable, instead of providing critical information, with the intention to let their bosses hang themselves. Since many organizational roles require specialist expertise that many supervisors do not possess, it’s often difficult for them to detect an expert’s inattentiveness or neglect. And it may be easy for experts to convince their supervisors that any failing isn’t the expert’s fault.
dissent is much easier to prevent then detect
If you have dissent in your organization, it’s likely caused by one of two things, or both: toxic leaders gone unchecked, or poorly managed organizational change. Remember, one or more persons did not decide, for no apparent reason, to dissent; dissent is a reaction. While you don’t want dissenting employees in your organization, they will be hard to find and your resources are best directed toward prevention.
predicting dissent in a company
If you hear anything like, “What are they going to do, quit?” then someone is creating dissent. This attitude is an indicator that adequate resources have not been directed toward managing the human impacts of organizational change and that people need to up their leadership game before it’s too late.