The Redundancy Robot
There is a fearsome Robot in every organisation. It is released by anonymous senior managers in secret late night meetings. It is programmed to deal with specially chosen employees – those with an invisible X painted on their backs. The robot is let loose to fulfill its cynical and calculated mission – quietly and efficiently removing those who no longer serve a useful purpose to the company machine. People disappear – there are no fanfares or lavish leaving speeches. Their desks are cleared. The essential role they imagined they fulfilled has magically disappeared. “Whatever happened to Dave?” someone is heard to say, “I haven’t seen him for ages . . . ”
How was this allowed to happen? First there was a global announcement of management clichés – which spoke of the need for “downsizing”, “increasing effectiveness”, “restructuring the department”,” aligning the organisation”. Words wrapped in carefully constructed double-speak, which tried – and failed – to reassure people without actually lying or creating mass panic or – worse still – lowering the machine’s productivity.
Suddenly HR – previously only concerned with sickness recording and payroll queries are everywhere. There are hushed meetings behind closed doors and talk of so-called “consultation”. Suspicion and uncertainty abound. The Redundancy Robot is doing its deadly work.
Then it happens. The mysterious meeting invitation in your inbox with your manager and HR. To your dismay and disbelieve – you are one of those specially chosen ones heading towards the “Goods Out” door.
The Redundancy Robots have been busy of late. I have been nobbled by one of them three times in the last few years. Quite a few other people around me have suffered a similar fate recently. I had a long conversation on Saturday with a friend who just left her employment – or more accurately, whose employment left her – after more than 15 years. It is an increasingly common reality of working life. The days of a life-long employment in one organisation are behind us. We will inevitably move between jobs – and even careers – on a frequent basis. Sometimes it will be our choice, sometimes it won’t be. When it isn’t our choice – what should we expect and how can we handle it?
Dealing with Anger
First of all we need to process what has been done to us. It has been done without our consent – like a robbery or an assault, and something very valuable has been taken. There are three negative emotions for us to deal with. We will feel angry. Anger which starts with annoyance and can step up through wrath and rage to incandescent fury.
We are annoyed with the organisation. Why did it need to restructure, downsize or realign itself? Why did they recruit more people than they needed or arrange them so badly?
If we are angry at management incompetence, we are enraged about being singled out. After all, we can name a whole load of people who were less capable, committed, and productive than we were. What about Jimmy in accounts or Mary on the Service Desk. Surely they could have “restructured” those people out and rewarded me with a better job? And what about the useless management themselves, pushing the blame onto others? How is it they all get to keep their own jobs when they have been so incompetent? Where is the justice in that?
And we are pretty angry with ourselves for being stupid enough to work all of those extra hours, put in all of that energy and show so much loyalty to a company which has repaid us with the unceremonious Big Boot. As for that redundancy payment – it was just about the minimum they could get away with and it won’t last five minutes if we haven’t got another job to go to. Diddly squat to show for all of my years of devotion. How naive and stupid was I to imagine my loyalty would be reciprocated by my employers?
Finally we may well be incandescent about the way we were dealt with through this whole “process”. Where was the empathy and sympathy? Why did I feel like an discarded object rather than a valued person? Why take me through all those pointless meetings and half-promises about other opportunities when the end was predetermined from the beginning?
An enraged reaction
I once made a service-desk manager’s role redundant. I invited him to a meeting in my office with a proper HR representative. We sat down politely. I made the well-rehearsed introductory statements, placed my well-prepared briefing pack on the table in front of him, his way up, and slowly leafed through the pages, sticking to my script. He listened carefully and calmly. I turned over to page eight – the new organisation structure. He leaned forwards, his eyes darting across the page, scanning furtively for his name. His eyes widened and there was a hint of panic. “And as a result of this process, Brian, as you can see, your role is at risk of redundancy”.
The remaining pages would have explained what would happen next- the fair and considerate consultation process, the support, the other opportunities Brian could apply for and – should he be unsuccessful – the details of the fair and equitable redundancy package, the outplacement support blah blah blah.
Brian didn’t care two hoots about any of that – he was still on page eight, still looking vainly for his name. He stood up, pushed his chair back violently, swore loudly and stormed out of my office to tell as many people as he could what a ******* ********* ******* I was. And I had done it by the book.
Bottling it all up?
Much of our fury is what it is – and we just need to let it out and express it.
I was once made redundant just before Christmas. My manager left a bottle of wine on my desk on Christmas Eve with an insensitive greeting wishing me a happy holiday. I wanted to toss that bottle high up into the air and let it smash loudly and spectacularly all over her desk. Crashing and splintering into little pieces – like I had. I would throw her Merlot blood money straight back at her and leave her to clean up her own mess.
But – in our more sober moments – it is for us to assess how fair or unfair the decision and execution was. How much of our anger is justified. In my third experience of redundancy, it was a genuine removal of role as part of a restructure which I was involved in designing. It was handled well in parts – my manager had a quiet word with me ahead of the formal process (which is what Brian told me I should have done with him). But then he let me go through an interview process for a job I was never going to get, and demonstrated several blind-spots of communication, empathy and sensitivity.
One one occasion, I was so enraged and upset I walked four miles home furiously in the rain – literally steaming. It was a great work out in more ways than one. For me, railing at the negatives – and maybe later acknowledging the positives – seemed like the best emotional medicine. Nobody is perfect – my manager and I talked about it afterwards. He hadn’t meant to upset me – and I have mostly forgiven him.
Keeping our Dignity
Through all of this, it is important to keep our dignity – confiding in a few chosen friends for support and empathy, rather than telling everyone who does – or doesn’t – want to hear how hard-done-to we have been, publishing angry letter to the local paper or, well, smashing wine bottles over our manager’s desk. The management may well have screwed up, acted without sensitivity, demonstrated scant care and attention. But they were only human and we can show that we are better than that in our reaction. Our reaction is the one thing we can control, and our dignity is the one thing they can’t take away.