Staff who survive a round of corporate downsizing run a significantly increased risk of suffering mental health problems because of the increase workload they face once colleagues have left.
A study by Finnish researchers published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health showed that men who worked for a downsized company were 50 per cent more likely to be given a prescription for drugs such as antidepressants or sleeping pills than those whose had not been through a period of redundancies.
Women were 12 per cent more likely to use a prescription drug – most commonly anti-anxiety drugs – after surviving downsizing.
"This quasi-experimental outcome study of 26,653 city employees suggests that downsizing is a mental health risk, not only for employees who lose their jobs, but also for those who remain in employment," said Professor Mika Kivimaki, of University College London.
"In the downsized groups, the cuts resulted in greater levels of job demands and job insecurity with a concomitant decrease in job control," he added,
"Several observational studies suggest that perceived stressful work conditions, such as high work demands, lack of control at work and problems in interpersonal relations, are associated with poor mental health and self-reported use of psychotropic drugs."
Professor Kivimaki and his team based their findings on a study of more than 26,500 public sector workers in Finland between 1994 and 2000, some 5,000 of whom had escaped redundancies that had affected 4,000 colleagues.
Most at risk of mental health problems were men who had left their jobs - either through voluntary or compulsory redundancy – who were 64 per cent more likely to be given a drug prescription.
Kivimaki said employers, policy makers and occupational health experts needed to wake up to the effect that that downsizing has on both employees and society as a whole.
"The observed excess risk of being prescribed psychotropic drugs after downsizing among employees indicates a burden, not only on the individual, but also on society," he added.
"Our findings imply that work conditions should increasingly be recognised in large scale preventive strategies for psychiatric disorders."