Cutting staff can cause serious – even fatal - health problems for the employees who are left behind, according to a Finnish study published in the British Medical Journal.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki looked at 22,430 local government personnel who retained their jobs during a recession between 1991 and 1993. Their rates of sickness absence and death were monitored over a seven-year period.
The results showed that the risk of staff dying from cardiovascular disease doubled in those departments that had suffered major cuts.
Departments that experienced major downsizing – defined as cutting more than 18 per cent of staff – also saw an increase in workers taking sick leave.
"This study indicates that downsizing may lead to elevated absence rates and increase cardiovascular mortality among people who remain employees," the report said.
Researchers attributed the poor health of remaining staff to the stress caused by job insecurity and the extra workload incurred where fewer workers had to provide the same services.
"Policy makers, employers, and occupational health professionals should recognise that downsizing may pose a severe risk to health,” said Dr Jussi Vahtera, who led the research.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said that the research confirmed the view that large-scale redundancies "are a tragedy for everyone affected".
"Bosses wishing to avoid potentially tragic consequences should aim to work closely with unions whenever job losses loom, he said.
"By keeping workers informed, helping redundant employees find new jobs quickly, and providing support for those colleagues still in work, employers can help limit the damaging effects of big job cuts."