Coping with a layoff: a longitudinal study of victims

Nathan Bennett

Over the last decade, there has been an increasing number of job layoffs. From the Fortune 500 companies of Wall Street (e.g., GTE, Gilette, ARCO, DuPont, General Motors) to the small companies of “main street,” the issue of layoffs is becoming an economic and social reality for managers and workers alike. The numbers are staggering. For example, from October to December of 1991, over 2,600 employees lost their jobs each day in the wake of industry cutbacks (Schellhardt, 1991). As corporate restructuring efforts continue, the pace of permanent layoffs is expected to accelerate (Smart, 1994).

Regardless of cause (e.g., rising global competition, economic recession, corporate takeovers), it is obvious that layoffs have a significant economic impact on those who lose their jobs – layoff victims. Layoffs also have a negative impact on a victim’s psychological and social well-being (DeFrank & Ivancevich, 1986). For example, layoff victims often feel loneliness, pessimism, social isolation, and despair (see Jahoda, 1982; Leana & Feldman, 1992, for reviews of this research). However, while job loss is typically viewed as having only negative effects, others have argued that job loss can be framed in such a way to have positive effects for some individuals in certain situations (Latack & Dozier, 1986; Schlossberg & Leibowitz, 1980). For example, some victims may view job loss as an “opportunity” and a chance to change career and life directions. The purpose of the present study is to longitudinally investigate factors that influence how victims cope with layoffs, and their choice of coping strategies.

First, we examine the impact of corporate and government assistance programs on how layoff victims cope with job loss. While some research has addressed the impact of corporate assistance programs on layoff victim coping strategies, these studies have only examined whether the assistance was received (Leana & Feldman, 1992), not whether such assistance actually met the needs of layoff victims. This is an important issue as one study suggests that the corporate assistance offered may be “too little, too late” (Leana & Feldman, 1991). The impact of government assistance programs on the coping strategies of layoff victims has received little attention and, thus, is in need of investigation (Leana & Feldman, 1992).

Second, as an extension of the research on coping strategies, we examine the fairness of layoff procedures. While some research suggests that fair layoff procedures are associated with less negative initial responses by victims (Bies, Martin & Brockner, 1993), such studies have not focused on coping strategies across time, a key research design feature of our study. Third, we consider how layoff victims’ perceptual and emotional responses to job loss can influence coping strategies (Leana & Feldman, 1988, 1990, 1992). Finally, we examine two individual difference variables research has shown can influence coping strategies – gender and marital status (Leana & Feldman, 1992).

Types of Coping Strategies

Pearlin and Schooler (1978) distinguish two types of individual coping strategies: (1) those that attempt to change the environment so as to eliminate the stress (“problem-focused coping”) and (2) those that attempt to decrease the hardship associated with the stressful event (“symptom-focused coping”; see also Moos & Billings, 1982; Voydanoff, 1990). Examples of problem-focused coping in the context of a layoff would include self initiated job search activities, such as following-up on “help wanted” notices, investigating geographical relocation, or getting retraining. Examples of symptom-focused coping have been said to range from asking friends and relatives for financial assistance to joining social support or community groups (Leana & Feldman, 1988, 1990, 1992; Quick & Quick, 1984).

The research of Leana and Feldman (1990) provides empirical evidence to support the contention that while individuals are likely to engage in some combination of strategies, problem-focused strategies are more likely than symptom-focused to lead to satisfactory re-employment. Research has found that individuals who engage in problem-focused coping experience less stress than those who engage in symptom-focused coping (cf. Pearlin, Lieberman, Menaghan & Mullan, 1981; Wilhelm & Ridley, 1988). This is not to suggest that symptom-focused strategies are not useful. Carver, Scheier and Weintraub (1989) have suggested that symptom-focused strategies can help individuals vent emotions which might otherwise exacerbate discomfort. At the same time, Carver et al. (1989) caution that such an exercise may take energy and attention away from ultimately more productive problem-focused coping activities.

To this point, research on the organizational and individual precursors to the choice of coping strategies is just beginning to develop. This article examines four factors which research on coping, in general, and on layoffs, in particular, has proposed to be associated with different types of coping with a layoff: (1) corporate and government programs to assist those laid off; (2) fairness of the layoff procedures; (3) perceptual and emotional reactions to the layoff; and (4) individual differences.

Determinants of Coping Strategy Choice

Corporate and Government Assistance Programs

Considerable attention has been given to the role of institutional support systems in assisting layoff victims (Addison & Portugal, 1987; Latack & Dozier, 1986; Leana & Feldman, 1988, 1990, 1992; Schlossberg & Leibowitz, 1980). Generally, this research proposes that assistance helps those newly unemployed better cope with their job loss. For example, corporate caretaking interventions such as outplacement assistance should facilitate victim efforts to cope in a problem-focused manner in that it makes explicit the steps individuals need to take to gain new employment (Leana & Feldman, 1992).

Similarly, government intervention in the form of either the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, or the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), and extended unemployment benefits should help victims directly by providing retraining, or time and financial buffers which can then enable job search or relocation. However, the effectiveness of these government programs has received little empirical attention.

Interestingly, previous research on the effectiveness of corporate support programs for layoff victims has focused only on whether such assistance was received, not whether it actually met victim needs. More importantly, the choice of coping strategies may be influenced by the perceptions of the adequacy of specific programs for their individual situational needs. If the corporate assistance meets victims’ needs in a concrete manner (e.g., outplacement), it may facilitate adoption of a problem-focused strategy. A similar effect should result from adequate government assistance programs. Thus, we predict:

H1: Individuals who perceive the quantity and quality of corporate and government assistance programs to be greater will be more likely to use problem-focused coping strategies.

Fairness of Layoff Procedures

In addition to “what” employees receive, “how” they receive it – that is, procedural fairness – has been found to be important in the context of layoffs and job loss (Bies et al., 1993; Bies & Moag, 1986; Brockner & Greenberg, 1990; Folger & Konovsky, 1989). For example, when layoffs are accompanied by clear explanations of the reasons for the layoff and management appears concerned about the victims’ fate, there is greater perceived fairness regarding the layoff (Bies et al., 1993; Leana & Feldman, 1992; Schweiger, Ivancevich & Power, 1987).

Following the stress perspective on coping with job loss (Leana & Feldman, 1992), as the intensity of the stressor increases, the more debilitating its effect becomes to the individual (Ivancevich & Matteson, 1980). Since procedural fairness has been found to be related to lower levels of anger and resentment among layoff victims (Bies et al., 1993), we would expect perceived fairness to be positively related to problem-and inversely related to symptom-focused coping strategies. A study by Folger & Konovsky (1989) provides some support for this reasoning in that they found perceived lack of procedural fairness was significantly correlated with layoff victims’ desire for increased government regulation of workforce reductions and plant closings – a symptom-focused coping strategy.

H2: As fairness perceptions concerning the procedures used in administering the layoff increase, the frequency of problem-focused strategies will increase and symptom-focused strategies will decrease.

Emotional and Perceptual Reactions

Leana and Feldman (1992) argue that layoff victims whose initial reactions are less negative (i.e., they are not angry or resentful and do not perceive being laid-off as particularly devastating or intense) should be more likely to actively look for work or relocate to new areas – problem-focused strategies. This argument is rooted in a “stress” perspective of the layoff (Leana & Feldman, 1992). Following this perspective, we expect the following:

H3: Individuals who react less negatively to job loss (e.g., lower emotional intensity and anger) will be more likely to engage in problem-focused coping strategies.

Apart from emotional responses, a victim’s attribution of blame for their job loss is an important factor that might influence the choice of coping strategy (Leana & Feldman, 1992). While layoff victims typically blame external factors or events for their job loss (Leana & Feldman, 1990), we know very little about how blame assignment – to the self or the external environment – actually influences coping strategies (Leana & Feldman, 1992).

We draw on attribution theory (Kelley, 1973) in developing a hypothesis about the effects of blame assignment on coping strategies. Essentially, if the laid-off individual attributes job loss to adverse economic conditions which are perceived to be stable and uncontrollable, there may not be much motivation to look for a new job. In other words, problem-focused strategies would be viewed as fruitless efforts and a symptom-focused strategy more likely (Leana & Feldman, 1992).

This line of reasoning has some support from the research on how victims of catastrophic illness (e.g., cancer) or accidents (e.g., paralysis) cope. The findings from these studies suggest that individuals who blame themselves for the catastrophe – even though it may not have been their fault – cope more effectively in terms of recovery than victims who blame luck or “fate” for their situation (Taylor, 1983). It seems that successful coping requires that individuals blame themselves, as such an attribution lets them perceive they are still in control of their environment.

The coping literature also supports these contentions. For example, Folkman and Lazarus (1980) hold that problem-focused coping is more prevalent when individuals feel something can be done about the stressor, while symptom-focused coping reflects a conclusion on the part of individuals that they have no choice but to tolerate the stressor. In the context of layoffs, then, high self-blame by victims is more likely to be associated with a problem-focused strategy than with victims who assign little or no blame to themselves. Thus, we predict:

H4: Individuals who assign greater blame to themselves for their job loss will be more likely to engage in problem-focused and less likely to engage in symptom-focused coping strategies than do individuals who assign little or no blame to themselves.

Explanations Based on Individual Differences

Several studies have lamented the lack of attention given to women as victims of layoffs (Latack & Dozier, 1986; Leana & Feldman, 1991). This is an area that deserves to be investigated. Herz (1990) reported that 1.7 million women were displaced between 1983 and 1988, and that these women were more than twice as likely as men to have dropped out of the labor market in that period. Explanations for this finding could be related to the kinds of coping strategies used by women who are layoff victims or to quicker rates of discouragement due to factors such as labor market discrimination. Further, as Latack and Dozier (1986) note, women may be at a disadvantage when it comes to avoiding layoffs, due to the fact that as a group, women may have less seniority.

While there has not been much attention given to women as victims of layoffs specifically, most work on coping in general has not found significant gender-based differences (cf. Osipow, Doty & Spokane, 1985). At the same time, it has been argued that since women feel they have less personal control over their lives (e.g., Doherty & Baldwin, 1985; Frank, McLaughlin & Crusco, 1984), they may see a layoff as an event beyond their control which they can only hope to endure (cf. Folkman & Lazarus, 1980, 1984). This argument has received some empirical support in work by Brems and Johnson (1989), who found that men were more likely to approach problem situations directly whereas women avoided them.

Leana and Feldman (1991) found that women were more likely than men to engage in symptom-focused coping strategies. They suggest that gender stereotypes about the value of work may lead women to be less proactive in seeking re-employment. It is also possible that other factors, such as family responsibilities and limitations on mobility imposed by a husband’s job, further inhibit women’s efforts to engage in problem-focused coping strategies. Based on the preceding discussion, we predict:

H5: Women who are layoff victims will display a greater frequency of symptom-focused coping than male layoff victims; male layoff victims will display a greater frequency of problem-focused coping than women.

Investigation of gender and coping should also consider marital status. As Leana and Feldman (1992) note, it has typically been assumed that married women are, to some degree, protected by their spouse’s income. However, it is likely the rare case that a family’s second income is simply a luxury. Leana and Feldman (1992) found that married women reported less psychological distress, while single women with fewer attachments were more likely to consider relocation and retraining as coping strategies. This suggests that less symptom-and problem-focused coping would be observed among married women who are victims of layoffs. Thus, our final hypothesis is:

H6: Married women who are layoff victims will be less likely to engage in both problem- and symptom-focused coping strategies than single women.


Wave One Data Collection

The subjects of this study were 97 skilled employees scheduled for layoff at a large union manufacturing facility located in the southern United States. The facility itself employed over 2,500 employees at the time of the layoff. All 97 employees, laid off on the basis of seniority, were notified on January 1, 1990 of their impending layoff scheduled on March 31, 1990. It was made clear to the employees that this was a permanent layoff, with no hope for recall.

The first wave of data was collected approximately two months after the announcement of the layoff, roughly one month before the respondents’ date of separation. The survey was administered following the employer’s “employee exit meeting.” The purpose of this meeting was to detail the organization’s termination package as well as provide information from various governmental agencies and programs (e.g., JTPA, COBRA, Unemployment Compensation). During the “exit meeting,” those scheduled for layoff were introduced to a university sponsored study focusing on the effects of layoffs, and were assured that their voluntary responses to the questionnaire, administered at that point in time, would remain confidential.

Independent Variables

Each of the independent variables used in this analysis were collected in this first wave. First, the perceived quality and quantity of organizational caretaking was assessed using a 5 item measure adapted from Brockner & Folger (1992) ([Alpha] = .75). For example, subjects indicated their agreement with the following statements: “The termination that this company offered me was a generous amount;” “Management will maintain my health and other forms of insurance for an appropriate amount of time after the layoff;” and “Management tried hard to help me find a comparable job outside this company.” Second, two items assessed the perceived quality of government assistance that was to be received by the employee ([Alpha] = .65). The items were: “Many of you will be eligible for government assistance in the form of job search, relocation and retraining. How well will this assistance provide for your needs?”, and “Many of you will be eligible for unemployment insurance. How well will unemployment insurance provide for your needs?” Each of these measures is scored so that a high score reflects a favorable impression of the provided assistance. Third, the questionnaire included 5 items based on the work of Bies and Moag (1986) and Tyler and Bies (1990) which tapped the perceived quality of interpersonal treatment, or procedural fairness, they were accorded during the layoff ([Alpha] = .88). A sample item is “The process used to determine which employees would be laid off and which employees would remain on the payroll was fair.” A high score on this measure indicates high perceived fairness.

Three items gauging personal reactions to the layoff were also collected. The degree of self blame subjects felt in regard to the layoff was tapped by the single item: “I blame myself and others like me for this layoff”. A high score reflects high self-blame. Intensity of the layoff for the victim was measured through the single item: “In the overall scope of things, just how bad will this layoff be for you?” A high score reflects high intensity. Anger was assessed by means of three items measured on a five-point Likert scale and scored so that a high score reflects greater anger ([Alpha] = .87). A sample item is “On the average these days, how angry do you feel?”

Wave Two Data Collection

Approximately 18 months after the layoff, a second wave of data was collected. Using addresses provided by the former employer, surveys were mailed to the 97 employees laid off in March, 1990. Of that number, 24 were initially returned undeliverable. Where correct new addresses were indicated, but forwarding orders had expired, a questionnaire was sent to the correct current address. Where new addresses were not indicated, efforts were made to locate individuals through area telephone books. In the end, 10 of the original 97 respondents could not be located. Of the 87 who did receive the mailing, 50 (58%) returned completed questionnaires. This response rate is comparable to that of research reviewed by Latack and Dozier (1986) who reported an average sample size of 76 and response rates below 50%, and more recent research where response rates of 36% (Leana & Feldman, 1991) and 50% (Leana & Feldman, 1990) were obtained. Analysis of wave one data did not reveal significant differences on demographic or attitudinal variables between either: (1) those who could and could not be located for wave two, and (2) those who did and did not respond to the wave two questionnaire.

The 50 respondents in the final sample had an average age of 44 years (sd = 5.5). Seventy-six percent of the sample were female, 63% were white, and 67% were married. Forty-seven percent of the sample reported a high-school degree, 49% had some college or technical school and 2% had a college degree. Twenty-nine percent reported that they were currently employed. Of that group, 50% felt that their job was generally as good or better than the one lost due to the layoff. However, 92% reported that their current job did not pay as well as the one lost.

In many respects, the sample is similar to that studied in other investigations of coping and job loss, particularly concerning the age, education, and rate of re-employment. One way in which this sample differs is that the majority of the layoff victims in our study were women. Most layoff studies to date have been conducted on samples that were exclusively or predominantly male. This helps the current research address the gap identified by Latack and Dozier (1986) and Leana and Feldman (1991) concerning women and coping with job loss.

Dependent Variables

The wave two questionnaire included the four dependent measures which are used in this analysis. Items developed by Leana and Feldman (1990, 1991) were used to ask respondents to indicate, on a four point Likert type scale, how frequently they had engaged in four types of coping behavior in the months since the layoff.(1) Items were summed and scales coded such that a high score reflected more frequent use of the coping mechanism. Problem-focused strategies included job search activity ([Alpha] = .70) and consideration of relocation ([Alpha] = .75). The items used to measure job search activity asked respondents how often they followed up on help-wanted notices, tried to get a job though a government agency, and used a community job bank service. In this sample, the item addressing use of community job bank was dropped from the scale to improve its internal consistency. That particular item showed no variance; respondents did not use a community job bank. The three items used to tap consideration of relocation asked respondents how often they had looked for a job in a different city, considered moving to a new community, and looked for job opportunities outside their community.

Symptom-focused strategies included seeking financial assistance ([Alpha] = .72) and engaging in community activism ([Alpha] = .81). Regarding the former, respondents were asked how often they had asked for financial assistance from friends or family, applied for governmental financial assistance, and applied for other financial aid. In the case of the latter, respondents were asked how often they had become active in community efforts to stop unemployment, became active in community efforts to help the unemployed, and attended a support group for the unemployed. This last item displayed no variance; respondents did not attend support groups. As a result, that scale consists of two items.


A correlation matrix including all study variables is presented in Table 1.(2) Before consideration of the hypotheses, several other significant relationships are worth discussion. First, the two problem-focused coping strategies, job search activity and relocation, are significantly intercorrelated (r = .34, p [less than] .01). Individuals who reported that they had adopted one of the problem-focused strategies were somewhat more likely to have engaged in the other. In contrast, the two symptom-focused coping strategies are not correlated. These results are consistent with those reported by Leana and Feldman (1991), who found a significant correlation only between job search activity and relocation. In all, a relationship was noted in just one of the four correlations between problem-and symptom-focused coping strategies, that being a modest correlation between relocation and engaging in community activism (r = .28, p [less than] .10). This finding contrasts with the work of Folkman and Lazurus (1980) who report that most individuals will adopt both problem- and what we have labeled symptom-focused coping strategies.

Among the independent variables, several relationships are noteworthy. The correlations indicate that fairly strong interrelationships exist among the three workplace and government action variables. In general, opinions concerning the fairness of the procedures used by the employer and the adequacy of government- and employer-provided aid were in concert. As would be expected, those individuals who felt favorably disposed towards the procedures used and aid package provided displayed less anger at the time of the layoff.

Consideration of the correlation matrix lends mixed support to the hypotheses. The first hypothesis stated that individuals who perceived the quality and quantity of government and corporate assistance at the time of the layoff as more likely to be adequate would be more likely to engage in problem-focused strategies. The data suggest that individuals who thought the government-provided assistance was inadequate were actually more likely to consider relocation (r = -.37, p [less than] .01) and to engage in job search activities (r = -.29, p [less than] .05). Significant relationships were not found between perceptions of the adequacy of provided assistance and any of the symptom-focused coping strategies.

H2 concerned the relationship between the perceived fairness of the layoff procedures and the use of coping strategies. The bivariate analyses show that, in this sample, those who saw the layoff process as fair or just were less likely to engage in job search activities (r = -.38, p [less than] .01). That is, while unfair procedures do not promote the use of symptom-focused coping strategies, such unfairness is associated with at least one problem-focused strategy. [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] Additionally, those who felt the procedures were unfair were more likely to engage in community activism (r = .23, p [less than] .10). In all, these results contradict Hypothesis 2.

H3 stated that individuals who had less severe perceptual and emotional reactions toward the layoff would be more likely to engage in problem-focused coping strategies. In this sample, respondents who saw the layoff as less intense were indeed more likely (r = -.41, p [less than] .01) to have considered relocating as a method of coping, supporting the hypothesis. Counter to the hypothesis, individuals who were more angry were more likely (r = .26, p [less than] .05) to engage in job search activities.(3)

In exploratory analysis of the variables associated with the adoption of symptom-focused strategies, the following pattern emerges. Individuals who were more angry were also those most likely to have asked friends and family for financial assistance (r = .32, p [less than] .01). Those likely to engage in community activism were those who viewed the layoff as less intense (r = -.29, p [less than] .05).

H4 suggested that those respondents who blamed themselves for their job loss would be more likely to engage in problem-focused and less likely to engage in symptom-focused coping strategies. In this sample, no such relationship existed between blame and problem-focused strategies. Surprisingly, self-blame is very strongly correlated (r = .69, p [less than] .01) with activism, a symptom-focused strategy. Counter to Hypothesis 4, individuals who blamed themselves for the layoff were very active in community efforts to help the unemployed.

In an effort to further explore these results, we used the following procedure. Because of the limitations placed on these analyses by the sample size, we chose those independent variables which were theoretically most relevant for each dependent variable and considered them in a multiple regression analysis. As our literature review has shown, governmental and corporate assistance, as well as fair procedures in a layoff, are thought to be helpful to layoff victims. In sum, they help victims stay “on their feet” during what is hopefully a short period of unemployment. This suggests that we should be particularly interested in the way these variables affect the adoption of problem-focused strategies which more likely lead to re-employment. The emotional and perceptual measures (anger, intensity, and self-blame) can be conceptualized as symptoms that layoff victims would be motivated to alleviate. As a result, we are primarily interested in the degree to which these variables are associated with the use of symptom-focused strategies.

Based on this logic, we conducted a series of regression analyses. First, each of the problem-focused coping strategies was regressed on the governmental and corporate assistance, as well as the perceived fairness of the layoff. Then, the symptom-focused strategies were regressed on the anger, intensity, and self-blame measures. The results of the regression analyses are presented in Table 2.

The regression results suggest the following. A perception of the procedures used to administer the layoff as unfair was associated with increased job search activity (R = .13; [F.sub.3,42] = 3.27, p [less than] .05). Relocation was more common among those individuals who evaluated the governmental assistance as inadequate (R = .14; [F.sub.3,44] = 2.32, p [less than] .10). [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] Low intensity and high self-blame were associated with the frequency of community activism (R = .59; [F.sub.3,41] = 19.58, p [less than] .001). Victims with higher levels of anger were those most likely to seek financial assistance (R = .13; [F.sub.3,42] = 2.13, p [less than] .10).

H5 predicted that women would report higher levels of symptom-focused and lower levels of problem-focused coping strategies than men. The results of a series of t-tests conducted to test this hypothesis are presented in Table 3. Overall, hypothesis 5 received limited support. As predicted, women were indeed more likely to have sought financial help and less likely to have considered relocation as means to cope with the layoff. There were no significant differences, however, in the frequency with which women and men engaged in job search activity or participated in community activism.


H6, which predicted that married women would be less likely to engage in both problem- and symptom-focused coping activities, was not supported as the t-tests indicated there were no mean differences in coping based on marital status. Several analyses of variance were conducted to simultaneously consider gender and marital status. The results are not reported because the findings for gender are identical to those reported above, as are the lack of significant results based on marital status.


Consistent with the findings of Leana and Feldman (1990), the perceived level of corporate assistance appeared to have no impact whatsoever on either attempts to relocate or job search activity. In addition, we found that as the perception of adequate government assistance increased, the less likely the individual engaged one problem-focused strategy – relocation. Taken together, these results challenge some of the traditional assumptions as to what types of assistance and programs are most helpful to layoff victims and maximize their chances of re-employment.

In particular, these findings raise an interesting question: if corporate and government assistance programs do not encourage problem-focused coping strategies among victims, then why are they presented as if they do? One explanation could be employers may not see these forms of assistance as necessarily aimed at facilitating re-employment. Instead, the goal may be to alleviate employer guilt over layoffs, to protect company image among layoff survivors, or to simply “buy” victims “some time.” Similarly, governmental programs may themselves include benign goals, rather than a direct emphasis on re-employment. However, if assistance actually discourages the behaviors associated with re-employment, the nature of such programs needs to be reconsidered. Clearly, further research on the relationship between types and quantities of assistance provided to victims and re-employment is warranted.

Our finding is that the poorer the perception of layoff process in terms of fairness, the more likely the individual engaged in problem-focused job search activities is interesting and suggests that what may be good for the organization may not be good for the layoff victim or society. For example, the procedural justice literature has touted the necessity of heightening perceptions of fair procedures during layoffs. Brockner (1988) has provided substantial evidence that layoff survivors are significantly influenced by their laid off co-worker’s reactions of procedural fairness. As noted earlier, it has also been found that where procedural fairness is at its lowest, litigation, sabotage and decreased productivity are at their highest (Bies et al., 1993; Bies & Tyler, 1993). Therefore, it is in the organization’s best interest to increase this perception of fairness.

However, the findings of the current study suggest that being fair to victims may also be harmful to them. Specifically, by being fair the organization may reduce victims’ willingness to seek speedy re-employment. Perhaps as stated by a respondent in an earlier investigation, “the very unfairness of the situation” forces layoff victims to “take the initiative” and turn the job loss into an opportunity (Schlossberg & Leibowitz, 1980, p. 214). In other words, being fair may be a “double-edged sword” in that while fairness may influence survivors to respond more positively to the layoff victims, it may paradoxically lead victims to react more negatively. This finding requires further study.

The emotional variables also had an impact on choice of coping strategies. We found that as the intensity of the emotions declined, there was greater problem-focused coping by victims. This finding is consistent with the stress perspective on layoff victim coping strategies (Leana & Feldman, 1992), thus providing more evidence of the usefulness of that framework for understanding the responses of layoff victims.

The perceptual variable, self-blame, had an impact on victim coping strategies, but in a completely unexpected manner. Self-blame was negatively related to problem-focused coping by victims, not positively related as predicted. Further, we found this negative relationship to be quite strong. Our finding is contrary to the coping literature, which suggests that self-blame will facilitate problem-focused coping by victims. As such, clearly more research is needed on the role played by attributions of blame in the choice of coping strategies (see also Leana & Feldman, 1992).

Our results should be viewed within the limitations of the study. First, the small sample size and the use of two single-item measures must be acknowledged. At the same time, the longitudinal nature of the design is a strength not found in other examinations of victims’ reactions to layoff. Also, the analyses reported herein were conducted with a sensitivity to the low statistical power provided by the sample. Second, since only one plant was studied, characteristics of the transition experienced by layoff victims did not vary (cf. Schlossberg & Leibowitz, 1980). In this instance, layoff victims were given advance warning (gradual onset) and there was no chance of recall (permanent duration). A layoff with these characteristics sends strong signals that could be expected to allow victims to plan coping strategies.

Future research should consider how different characteristics of the transition effect patterns of coping strategies adopted by victims. In all, the surprising results, if replicated, have interesting implications for research on procedural justice and layoffs.


1. Leana and Feldman (1988, 1990, 1992) discuss a total of six coping strategies. Measures of all six were administered to this sample, however, the measures for seeking retraining (problem-focused) and social support (symptom-focused) had poor internal consistency (e.g., [Alpha] [less than] .60) and were not used in our analyses.

2. Table 1 reports two-tailed tests of significance. When discussing a priori directional hypotheses in the text, the one-tailed p value is reported.

3. Research on stress has suggested that an “inverted-U” might best describe the relationship between stress and various outcome variables. Exploratory analyses not reported in the text, but available upon request to the first author, indicate that in this data, such a relationship does not exist between anger, intensity, or self blame and any of the coping strategies.


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