You think those who have been RIFfed have it rough? Things aren't so hot either for the gang back in the office.

They are still picking up a regular paycheck, but that may be the only thing in their work life not turned upside down.

When a Reduction in Force hits, not only are there some people out on the streets, but others get bumped down the career ladder to lesser positions -- ones they may have held years earlier -- or to jobs in other offices.

"It's the domino effect," says career counselor James Sanders of Columbia, Md. "Real musical chairs." In one agency where he worked this year as a consultant, for every position abolished, three -- sometimes four -- people were replaced.

"Those who are hit hard are the workers going from a GS-15 to a 9, from a managerial grade to a technical grade. More common is a GS-12 or 13 going to a 9. Or someone who had risen from a secretarial position to administration going back to being a secretary.

"The loss of status, it's real hard on them."

From his experience, Sanders has found that bumped bureaucrats tend to go through the same months-long pattern of "denial, avoidance, anger" and, ultimately, "recommitment" to their job. Most recently, he and consultant Helene Phillips of Baltimore have been working with the federal Health Resources Administration preparing employes and managers to meet a RIF that -- after several delays -- finally struck in November.

Sanders' and Phillips' expectation is that the initial months of a RIF will be emotionally easier on workers if they know in advance what they are about to face. "To know that other people go through anger and fear and a feeling that 'I'm going crazy' is really helpful."

For the first two months, those who stay, they say, have a "survivor's" attitude. They are "disoriented;" they feel "loss of control," of being a "victim: 'It was done to me.' There is a feeling of relief about getting a paycheck, but also one of guilt. Why did they go and not me?"

And, the consultants say, "What we see for months after a bumping is a lot of anger being whipped around." It may take the form of graffiti in the bathrooms and a fair amount of resistance to getting the work done. But, most prevalent is the " 'ain't-it-awful' kaffee-klatch."

The boss may feel "as much a victim" as the staff. He or she may have built a team they are comfortable with. Now some members have to go, and "it's like losing a part of the family." Perhaps a young prote'ge' -- "a favorite, like a daughter" -- is RIFfed "and somebody unknown is thrown in."

A boss may be so invested in a program -- his or her self-worth wrapped up in it -- that when it goes down the tubes, the leader becomes demoralized.

Simultaneously, the boss must somehow enthuse a rearranged staff to get the job done, often with substantially fewer workers to do it. "There's a lot of pressure," say Sanders and Phillips. "Managers get caught in the middle."

For bumped workers, the consultants advise:

* Acknowledge the crisis. "Don't expect to move into a new position and be productive for one or two months."

* Expend some energy getting involved with your new group. Don't adopt the "I'll-collect-my-paycheck-and-be-a-zombie" attitude.

* Give the new job a chance, even if you're "buying time" -- job-hunting while you continue to collect a full paycheck. If you don't invest some of yourself in it, they say, you'll feel uncomfortable for the duration.

* Try to establish some sense of control. Negotiate "to do more or to do less -- to customize the job to your needs."

The task of managers:

* To curb "destructive rumors," be open and willing to pass along to the staff any RIF information available. "If the managers don't have the information, at least they'll be able to say, 'We're all in this together.' "

* Reassess the office program. It may be impossible to continue the same work with a reduced staff.

* Quickly incorporate newcomers into the work group, involving them in office collaborations.

* Don't expect the staff to produce initially at optimum level.