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Layoff Survivors

Staff Reporter

State lawmakers are looking to pass a budget and the versions on the table right now call for the elimination of over 12,000 state jobs. But even as jobs are eliminated, often times the work remains.

Today we're going to look at the ones who stay behind to do that work: the layoff survivors. These are the people who find their workloads doubled and tripled as they cover for co–workers who were let go. Reporter Anna Boiko–Weyrauch recently sat down with one layoff survivor.


She's a manager at T–Mobile, and for this story, her name will be Dottie Mandrell.

Boiko–Weyrauch: "So now I'm rolling, can you tell me why we can't use your real name?"

Dottie: "Because I really feel like I can be easily replaced, so I try not to complain."

It was the same story for a lot of workers I contacted — but they wouldn't go on tape at all, even with a fake name. Dottie asked that her voice be altered.

Dottie says the atmosphere has gotten so toxic at work, it seems like everyone is on edge.

Dottie: "There's just so much whispering. And you can be talking about the weather and it's such an automatic habit that [whispers] we're all talking like this."

In March T–Mobile announced a merger with AT&T. But even before that, Dottie says her colleagues worried about being axed. She says it all started in 2009 when T–Mobile hired consultants to find where to cut.

Movie clip: "What would you say you do here?"

Dottie: "The Bobs came in."

Boiko–Weyrauch: "The Bobs?"

Dottie: "You know, 'Office Space,' that movie."

Dottie says the experience was like the movie which poked fun at corporate downsizing.

Movie clip: "We find it's always better to fire people on a Friday. Studies have statistically shown there's less chance of an incident if you do it at the end of the week."

So, in 2009, Dottie says the consultants did their analysis, and T–Mobile made deep cuts. One department lost as much as 60 percent of its staff. T–Mobile declined to comment on this story. But Dottie says even though the workers were gone, their work stuck around, so she took on more responsibilities.

Boiko–Weyrauch: "So how many different peoples' jobs are you doing right now?"

Dottie: "[Laughs] I'd say three."

Dottie started working up to 70 hours, often late into the night. And she started feeling guilty about everything.

Dottie: "It's guilt about the people who lost their jobs. There's the guilt of not being a good friend, of not being a good family member. My husband has found me asleep at my laptop in the middle of the night and he's a very, very patient person, and even he has his moments."

But despite all this, she says she doesn't want to sound whiny.

Dottie: "I don't want to be ungrateful. I have friends whose lives were turned upside down by the wave of layoffs, and who am I to complain?"

Dottie is not the only layoff survivor going through a hard time. There's proof that layoffs hurt workers on both sides. One study looked at employees at Boeing over 10 years of restructuring.

Sarah Moore: "We found that the folks who stayed at the company were worse off in terms of just about every measure of health that we looked at."

Sarah Moore is a psychology professor at University of Puget Sound and one of the study's authors. They found that the workers who suffered most were the ones who kept their jobs.

Moore: "They reported more headaches, back aches, higher blood pressure, heart problems. The drinking, the binge drinking, was higher for the people who stayed with the company."

Moore and her colleagues surveyed over 3,000 Boeing employees, workers who stayed and workers who left. She says the difference in the two groups was surprising.

Moore: "The people who stayed at the company had higher levels of depression. And that was somewhat striking — when people left the company, their depression scores were cut in half. It was stunning."

Dottie: "Oh my God! That makes me feel better, actually."

I told Dottie Mandrell, the T–Mobile manager, about the Boeing study.

Dottie: "I totally believe that. I've not been taking care of myself on any level."

The researchers also found that workers could only take so much insecurity. After years of whispering and wondering who's going to be next, they gave up on Boeing and started job searching. That's just like Dottie. She says she just hit a wall.

Dottie: "I cannot keep working with this state of fear and working the hours that I work. I mean for what? For what?"

Dottie says she stopped the late nights over her laptop and started looking for another job.

For KUOW, I'm Anna Boiko–Weyrauch.

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