Employment transition and health: an exploratory study of organisational downsizing in a Scottish soft drinks manufacturer
Completed Start date 2006 End date 2008
The labour market has undergone radical transformation since the early 1990s, with an increasingly competitive global trading environment, widespread organisational downsizing and new types of flexible employment patterns that have proliferated and replaced many permanent, full-time jobs. This study examined the health effects of employment transition in the workforce of a long established soft drinks manufacturer based in Glasgow, during a programme of radical organisational change, involving redundancy or relocation to a single site of its 389 employees.
The company’s organisational evolution created new forms of employment and radical changes to the work status and job characteristics of individuals across a spectrum of different job grades and life circumstances. This study examined the health impact of these changes in a cohort of employees over the fourteen months’ period of organizational ‘downsizing’, in order to explore the impact of employment transition on health and to generate hypotheses to explain the underlying psychosocial mechanisms of this effect, among employees with different life circumstances living in different geographical areas in the West of Scotland.
The evaluation combined quantitative and qualitative methods, including before and after structured questionnaires, self completed diaries, focus groups and semi-structured individual interviews to follow up individual employees over the main phase of organisational ‘downsizing’, between March 2006 and May 2007. The questionnaires and diaries documented self reported health status, health associated attitudes and behaviours, psychological well-being, locus of control, social behaviour and self reported health service utilisation. These were complemented by focus group discussions, which explored shared perspectives and contentious issues held by different groups within the workforce on evolving organisational changes. Semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of participants explored their perceptions and experiences of transition from secure employment to new forms of employment status, including relocation.
Interim results: 106 employees participated in the cohort study, with a further 17 senior and middle grade managers participating in focus groups and/or individual semi-structured interviews. Senior managers described several macroeconomic factors influencing the company’s need to ‘downsize’, including exponentially rising fuel costs, increasing competition in the ‘fast-moving consumable goods’ marketplace, where soft drinks are increasingly viewed as short life fashion items. Although senior managers clearly understood the organisational changes required to respond to the external environment, including reduction of the number of operating sites, production cost reduction and more responsive ordering & supply systems, this was not shared at operational level. Over the period of major organisational change, mental health issues were prominent across the entire workforce. Although common to all job types, uncertainty about the future, work related stress and sleep problems were more pronounced in non-managerial workers. Relocation was also associated with a reduction in opportunities to engage in adequate physical activity and healthy nutritional patterns.