Life at Work

Anxiety and the Ax

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 30, 2006

Andrew Card, Scott McClellan and Karl Rove. One right after the other. Quickly. Do you think the White House aides, interns and legions of speechwriters last week were biting their lips, wondering what was next? If they were next?

You can bet on it.

When an organization goes through a major shake-up, whether that is in the form of layoffs, top management turnover, buyouts (as in the case of The Post currently) or a company scandal, the reverberations can be felt from the big corner office to the tiniest cubicle. The first thing everyone is concerned about is his or her own job and the likelihood of keeping it. In the case of those who know they will remain when others leave, the concern is how much work will be funneled their way in the aftermath. The shake-ups create a lot of negative emotions and skeptical workers. Stress is common, and emotions run high.

But major organizational changes may also mean opportunities. Those same White House aides, interns and speechwriters probably were (and are) looking around to see how they can slide into better spots.

"Those who are left are thinking, 'What's expected of me to assume new roles and new goals?' And those leaving are thinking the same thing," said Kathy Blanton, national director of career management for Spherion Corp., a recruiting firm. "Some people accept it with much enthusiasm because they are looking forward to their next step in life."

Amen to that. It can be exciting.

Sometimes it's the same kind of "exciting" as that hill you chug up before you plunge down a cliff.

"Most employees who are going to remain are anxious about their ability to adapt successfully," she said.

In 2003, M&T Bank Corp. acquired AllFirst Financial Inc., which had branches throughout Baltimore. It was not a minor change. About 800 people based in Maryland -- or 20 percent of the workforce -- lost their jobs.

After the deal was final early that year, the branches' signs were changed in the middle of the night, and soon M&T had its name on Ravens Stadium.

Talk about a corporate shift.

But for many, this life-changing move was a chance to move into a better position.

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