It's no secret federal RIFees can use all the help they can get as they scramble to find new jobs. But, say two University of Maryland counseling psychologists, the RIFers -- those implementing the Reduction In Force -- could use a little couseling, too.
Don't get career-guidance specialists Zandy Leibowitz and Nancy K. Schlossberg wrong. They are anything but callous about the estimated 4,500 Washington-area bureaucrats who may be jobless by summer's end because of Reagan administration cutbacks.
Still, they say, if fringes are inevitable, the RIFers who swing the ax ought to do it humanely, to help both them and their victims negotiate the "traumatic and upsetting" period.
"Ultimately, it's the individual's responsibility to find a job," they say, "but the organization can help. It can give the tools, the structure, the support."
For several years, the two educators have been involved in a career-development program at the Goddard Space Flight Center, which in 1977 was forced to fire 53 male employes. Their study of what happened to these men, published in the "Journal of Vocational Behavior," indicates that the RIFfing agency can substantially ease the "pain" of job loss.
As a result of a strong, well-planned support program at Goddard, most of the men -- rather than feeling bitterness, depression and loss of esteem, as expected -- "emerged from the experience with a sense of greater control over their lives."
This occurred even though "most the men who had been RIFfed had never had the experience of being fired before. Thus, they had no past strategies to fall back on." Three months later, 19 of the 53 had been reassigned to other jobs at Goddard; 9 decided to retire and 25 found new jobs.
"In virtually all cases," say Leibowitz and Schlossberg, "they seemed to have positive feelings about their new situations."
Adds Schlossberg: "We were absolutely shocked with the results. We thought everybody would be miserable, but the agency had such a good program, everybody ended up feeling terrific after six months."
What steps should a federal agency, or a business concern, take when faced with the necessity of firing a group of workers?
What is needed, the two say, is a "systematic" plan. They found institutional support particularly necessary because a large number of the males in their study got only "moderate support and encouragement" from their families.
The plan should be ready to go the day the ax is wielded, they stress, so "when they are RIFfed on Monday, they can begin the program on Wednesday." "
Some federal agencies have hired private outplacement counselors to help train RIFfed workers in job-hunting skills. But that's not really necessary, say Leibowitz and Schlossberg, who urge offices to use their own internal resources.
They suggest, for example, forming a team to work closely with the RIFfees. The team's task would be to seek out local employers interested in interviewing the job-hunters. It could include concerned "mentors" who would share their knowledge of contacts and job opportunities -- "someone who has lots of colleagues to call up." The team also should prepare a list of outside resources, such as community colleges.
Staffers could run workshops on resume-writing, how to uncover jobs and how to uncover jobs and how to identify skills applicable to a different field.
At the same time, they say, workshops dealing with the emotional problems of job loss -- coping with stress, guilt, loss of self-esteem, anger for example -- should be set up. "Most government agencies have employe-assistance programs dealing with alcoholism, drug abuse and other emotional issues. This is certainly an emotional issue."
Another important topic: "We have to depersonalize rejection," says Leibowitz. "You might get 20 'nos,' but (at least in this case) it only takes one to tango."
Meanwhile, they add, don't forget the RIFfer, who may need training in communications -- in how to "empathize" with the RIFfee. "That's our big thing," says the paid, who have formed Career Institute, a consulting firm also offering job-finding workshops.
For the ax man/woman, "it's a terrible responsibility" which many find "threatening." Some rush through it -- to get an unpleasant job over with -- which only adds to the victim's woes.
Instead, the counselors envision the RIFfer saying something like," "I know it's lousy. But I'd like to set up a meeting. Here's my hand across the desk." The worker leaves, knowing help will be available.