Wives 'hit harder than husbands by redundancy'

Stress in the workplace: How families help shoulder burden
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The Independent Online

The wives of senior executives who are made redundant with substantial severance payments are under more strain than their husbands, a British Psychological Society conference was told yesterday.

Anya Johnson, of Chester College, said all the redundant men believed they were supported by their partners, but only about one in 10 wives thought their husbands were a source of emotional support.

Where the relationship was "rigid, traditional and authoritarian" and the woman was unhappy with the status quo, then the loss of a partner's job could be "highly stressful".

"Families tend to operate in the best interests of the man, but it puts a lot of strain on the woman," Ms Johnson reported in a paper to the society's annual occupational psychology conference in Eastbourne.

She interviewed 26 couples where the male had earned an average pounds 53,000 a year and had received a pay-off of pounds 95,000.One of the reasons why the male partner was not under unbearable strain was that in each case he had the benefit of an "outplacement" counsellor who was commissioned to help him until he found employment.

The study found that women who were employed were under the greatest strain. They felt the need to combine the role of breadwinner with that of "supporter". They also felt that they were doing neither particularly well. Employed women were conscious that their income was not sufficient to meet their families' needs and did not feel protected by their husband's severance payment.

Ms Johnson, who wrote the paper with Paul Jackson, of Sheffield University, said the traditional management career had been transformed during the 1990s. The 1980s had seen a "blue-collar recession", but the 1990s had brought the era of the "dumpie" - downwardly mobile professional.

The slow but steady economic growth that initially promised a way out of the recession, had not been matched by a growth in jobs, the authors said. Previously immune white-collar workers were losing their jobs and finding it increasingly difficult to replace them.

The researchers argued that while studies had concentrated on the plight of those made redundant, it was necessary to take into account the impact on families. Outplacement consultancies could reduce the strain. Research had shown that families responded to a period of unemployment by two methods: "assimilation" and "accommodation". Under the assimilation response, families continued with existing relationships because unemployment was viewed as temporary. Where a family accommodated the fact that the male breadwinner was out of work, he took on greater responsibility for housekeeping and child-rearing.