Assisting a Federal Agency Maintain Morale While Downsizing Its Professional Staff

"In these stories, the identities and locations have been changed to ensure client confidentiality.”

A Federal Agency contacted us because of a need for management consulting related to a forced downsizing of its professional staff, due to contractions in the industry that the Agency supported. Because of changes in federal policy, the Agency’s power and prestige had rapidly fallen, which resulted in a decline in morale for line professionals and managers. Depression was on the rise among the employees, as were anger outbursts and increased incidence of alcohol abuse and divorce. Complicating the situation was the fact that the employees were highly educated in a relatively narrow professional field, which made outplacement activities more challenging. When we arrived, one had the feeling that the personnel, a very talented and bright group of individuals, felt that they were on a sinking ship with no lifeboats.

Initial meetings were held with senior management and HR to analyze the background of the situation, and develop together a strategic and tactical plan. The plan was then implemented which included:

  1. One-on-one consultation with managers who would discuss individual employee problems, and receive advice on how to address them
  2. Group consultation with managers  led by the psychiatrist facilitator, to share challenging situations and obtain support and guidance
  3. Psychiatrist-led presentations by the psychiatrist to the entire professional staff, on a voluntary basis, to educate them about the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse, including a review of treatment options, and injection of hope and optimism

Over time the organization became more self-sufficient in its ability to manage the crisis, as it began outplacing employees to new positions and reported these successful transitions to remaining employees.

Interestingly, as is the case with many “cyclical” problems in industry, federal policy changed once again and former employees began to be hired back, and current employees began to feel their old optimism return.