State Workers Go Bump In The Night

Larry Price
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Wednesday - August 26, 2009
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Recently, Gov. Linda Lingle authorized her administration to send out “pink slips,” as prescribed by law, to more than 1,000 state workers. These positions in several departments were identified as appropriate to be eligible for layoffs.

The result is that people in those job positions would be terminated from employment.

Of course, something could always occurs that would alter a situation, some kind of bureaucratic magic. In this case, the magic is that state employees are entitled to “bumping rights.” Simply put, this means that employees with greater seniority can chose to “bump” or relieve workers with less seniority of their positions. An interesting bureaucratic phenomenon, but not magic by any means.

It’s interesting because most people do not want to hurt others. People enjoy pleasant working conditions in a relatively stress-free environment. They also want to develop good relationships with their coworkers. A collegial atmosphere among workers produces positive results.

Enter layoffs and the concept of bumping, and now people are faced with a major decision to make. To bump or not to bump? Senior employees have to choose to leave their positions or take someone else’s to retain their own employment. What a precarious position to be in, certainly one fraught with stress and anxiety. What are the psychological ramifications that might manifest in this situation?

Eligible “bumpers” might go through the same kinds of feelings described by Kubler-Ross in the five stages of death and dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Granted, bumping might not be as devastating as death, but it still carries some degree of anger and loss.

And some employees say that they have paid their dues and feel no remorse about “bumping” another employee. There are, however, other employees for whom “bumping” is a stressful process. Try to imagine how these “bumpers” go through the five stages.

An employee “bumper” might first experience denial, thinking that lay-offs will go away. They are wishing the governor will somehow change her mind or the unions will come to the rescue. After a time, the employee might feel anger about how the layoffs are unfair to employees. They will want to know how the governor chose these particular jobs for layoffs? Why didn’t the unions do something to stave off this reprehensible action?

Next, the employee decides he has some time before having to “bump” someone. Perhaps the courts will intervene and delay the process of “bumping” for a while, until they can find another job. Or maybe the economy will somehow magically rebound and everyone can keep their jobs.

As time progresses, the employee finally realizes the “bumping” is inevitable and is very unhappy that he will need to assert the “bumping right” and take another person’s job position, leaving that person unemployed.

Feelings of depression set in as the “bumper” faces the reality of what he has done. Finally, recognizing there is no other way to deal with the situation, the “bumper” accepts his fate and “bumps” someone else.

Most people don’t enjoy inflicting pain or suffering on others and neither does the governor. “Bumping” another person is not a decision most people take lightly. They would prefer that everyone retain their jobs and work happily ever after. But life does not always offer fairy tale endings.

It will be interesting to see how this real-life drama plays out.

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