Organizational Departures: The Impact of Separation Anxiety as Studied in a Mergers and Acquisitions Simulation


Management and Entrepreneurship

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This article explores the impact of impending layoffs on emotions, both theoretically and empirically, using a simulated mergers and acquisitions scenario in which 119 people participated. Root causes of layoff stress, emotional outcomes, and coping mechanisms, both useful and dysfunctional, are examined. A major focus of this research is on how the group context of a layoff or merger situation affects emotion and behavior. The research shows that anxiety is stimulated by the mere announcement that people in an organization are leaving and that the impact of this anxiety is expressed differently depending on the proportion of people staying in and leaving the organization. This article looks at the basic dynamic of separation anxiety-what it is and why it is stimulated. It explores how separation anxiety is manifested in several simple contexts. Psychodynamic concepts, such as denial, splitting, and projection, are introduced to help uncover some of the simpler dynamics surrounding separation anxiety as experienced in a group. Next, the article reports an experiment of a simulation in which work groups were formed and then people were chosen to leave their organizations. The experiment varied the number of people who stayed in or left their work groups. Anxiety and attitudes were measured over time, allowing the use of a repeated measures statistical analysis. Based on the theory presented and the research findings, ideas for managing separation anxiety are offered

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Journal of Applied Behavioral Science

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