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Layoff talks — a health hazard?

Employees in the middle of layoff talks often avoid calling in sick at the expense of their health, experts say. But once the talks are over, the sick leave calls start flooding in.

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Image: Sari Gustafsson / Lehtikuva

Finnish companies have announced staff reduction talks one after another this autumn. This year's job losses are a far cry from the figures of 2009, but they do remind of the early days of the crisis. So far this year, over 12,000 people have received pink slips. Meanwhile some 80,000 employees have been affected by the negotiations.

The lack of job security influences employees' health as, according to the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, they may suffer from stress, insomnia and depression. On the other hand, the uncertainty also informs their attitudes to seeking help.

Fears of job loss

The institute’s Senior Expert Kari-Pekka Martimo says that employees often delay turning to the health services until the negotiations are through.

“When people feel unsure that their work will continue, it may even reduce the number of sick leaves as they think that their job depends on how strong they appear in front of their colleagues and bosses,” Martimo says. “Once the talks are over and the reductions set in, the remaining personnel apply for more sick leaves.”

He adds that those who retain their jobs may suffer from a certain “survivor’s guilt”, which also makes their situation difficult.

More consideration needed?

The expert says Finland should follow Sweden’s example — there, it is written into law that companies embarking on staff cut talks must first carry out a risk assessment on how it will affect employee health and well-being.

“Consultative negotiations have an immediate adverse impact on efficiency as people cannot concentrate on their work as well as they normally would,” Martimo explains. “The quality of work suffers when people must ponder their own futures.”

According to the expert, companies should take all these factors into account when considering staff talks.

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