Survivor's guilt at Boeing

News at the company isn't good, and that's for those "lucky" enough to still be there
News at the company isn't good, and that's for those "lucky" enough to still be there

While media were focusing on the impasse in Boeing-Machinists talks and on South Carolina's enticements to move major operations to that state, other Boeing-related developments were taking place with less attention.

In Washington, D.C., Boeing and Northrup Grumman intensified their jousting over the award of the contract for aerial refueling tankers. The Defense Department, wanting to avoid a replay of last year — when auditors blocked the award to Northrup Grumman/European Aeronautical Defense and Space Company (EADS) — has been setting up a numerical scoring system as the basis for a reconsideration. Both both bidders are objecting to aspects of the new system. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, a Northrup/EADS backer, asserted on Monday that new criteria, based more on cost than overall capability, would favor Boeing. Boeing contends that the consideration still does not take fully into account its competitor's public subsidies.

Final requirements for the reconsideration still are to be established.

Meantime, Business Week gave major play last week to a study to appear next year in a Yale University Press book. The study, titled "Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers and Managers," is based on interviews begun in 1996 among 3,500 Boeing employees ranging from senior managers to assembly-line workers. In the ensuing years the company underwent mergers, reorganizations, frequent managerial changes — and, importantly, big workforce reductions. Only 525 of the original 3,500 interviewed are still Boeing employees.

The bottom-line conclusion of the study: that those who lost their jobs were, in the end, happier than those who remained with the company. A large part of this, according to this study, was due to "survivor's guilt," the syndrome in which survivors of war, disaster, or other wrenching experiences feel guilty because they made it through while others were lost. Depression scores, for instance, were twice as high for those who stayed as for those who left.

There is, of course, another factor that might have made the departed happier than the survivors: Boeing over those years had become a less happy and rewarding place to work.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of