With the devastating impact of Coronavirus on the economy, an unprecedented number of people are facing “redundancy”. This article comes in 5 chapters, the first three of which are to help people deal with the anger, hurt, loss and self-doubt which so many people feel. The last two chapters talk about moving forwards, and re-planning the future.
- The Emotional Ambush
- Anger & Hurt
- Loss, Doubt & starting to Rebuild
- Casting away and gathering stones
- Planting seeds & enjoying the fruit
I am an empathetic, professional coach offering help with anyone in this situation. Please take a look here :- https://www.moonriseconsulting.co.uk/services
1 : The Emotional Ambush
How does it feel to be told that you are being made redundant? How did that ever happen to me?
You can picture the scene. Anonymous senior managers in secret late-night meetings, sifting through organisation charts with their collection of red pens. The specially chosen employees are marked with an X. Then the redundancy robot is let loose to fulfil its cynical and calculated mission – quietly and efficiently removing those who no longer serve a useful purpose to the company machine. People disappear silently – 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 an announcement full of management clichés – which spoke of “downsizing”, “increasing effectiveness” “restructuring” and “realignment”. Words wrapped in carefully constructed double-speak, which tried – and failed – to reassure people without actually telling untruths or creating mass panic or – worse still – lowering the machine’s productivity.
Suddenly HR is 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. A mysterious meeting invitation with your manager and HR drops into your inbox with a clunk. To your dismay and disbelief – you are one of those specially chosen ones heading towards the “Goods Out” door.
How does that feel?
And now Coronavirus . . .
The redundancy robots have been particularly busy of late. The Coronavirus epidemic has forced companies large and small to examine their cost base and reconsider how many staff they need to run their shrunken business.
Lots of people have already left their employment – or more accurately, their employment has left them. Maybe you are one of them. How will you manage your feelings, and what practically and emotionally can you do to turn and face away from the past to build an equivalent – or even better- future? Because, whilst you may not feel it right now, in time, your enforced loss can become a real opportunity for change and personal development. I have faced redundancy twice in the past, and that is my story, for sure.
The Emotional Ambush
People will be advising you to “move on”, to “look to the future”, to “be positive”. All well-intentioned – and we may not be ready for that yet. But first we need to process what has been done to us. It may feel like a robbery or an assault – something very valuable has suddenly been taken from us without our consent.
There can be at least four big time emotions for us to deal with – anger, hurt, loss and self-doubt. All of them multiplied by the element of shock and surprise.
When my job was made redundant the first time, the anger and injustice hit me first. I was mad with the organisation. Why did it need to restructure, downsize or realign itself? Why did it not respond more quickly to the trading challenges? Wouldn’t the business recover and need just as many people in the future?
If we are angry at the need for any job losses, we are probably 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 management themselves? How is it they all get to keep their own jobs? Where is the justice in that?
And then we are furious 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 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 foolish 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 a 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?
Of course, this won’t be everyone’s experience, and in many cases managers are facing a very difficult task with lots of thought, planning and sensitivity (I have been in that position as well). But I’m pretty sure that some of those feelings will resonate.
Changing the Dialogue
We will consider more of how to deal with “anger” and its good friend “hurt” in the next article. But first, if you are in this position, some practical advice to help you align your thinking and guard your self-respect.
Don’t say : “I was made redundant”.
Repeat to yourself : “I was not made redundant, and I am not redundant”
Say to others: something like this : “My role was no longer required in that organisation at that point in time, Therefore, I have left to find other opportunities”
You are absolutely NOT redundant. Far from it. You are a precious, worthwhile, talented and valuable human being. Nobody can ever take that away from you. You now have the challenge – and opportunity – of finding where your skills, experience, strengths and ambitions can be realised in a new situation.
2. Anger & Hurt
I once made a middle-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 personal 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 hear any of that or care about any of it – 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 made redundant once just before Christmas. In the middle of the process, my boss left a bottle of wine on my desk on Christmas Eve with a short message 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 their desk. Crashing and splintering into little pieces – like I had. I would throw their Merlot blood money straight back at them and leave them to clean up their own mess. That would be one way of literally unbottling my anger.
Anger is often a cloak for different, more hidden and vulnerable emotion. Our anger could well be a cloak for our hurt and our pain. Losing our job can make us feel emotionally mugged, assaulted and wounded. We may feel we have been robbed of our power, our autonomy, our security, our value and our meaning. That is a whole heap of loss. Add to this a sense of injustice, and this will be immensely painful and make us feel extremely vulnerable. And so, we lash out and rail against those who are responsible.
On one occasion, I was so enraged, hurt and upset, I walked four miles home from the office, furiously in the rain, at great speed – 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 mostly forgave him.
So, let your anger and hurt have their day – ideally without causing physical damage to anything or yourself. It’s your pain and fury and nobody can take them away from you.
Later, in our more sober moments – you may be more able to assess how fair or unfair the decision and execution were and how much of our anger is justified. The management may well have screwed up, acted without sensitivity, demonstrated scant care and attention. Or they may have done the best job they could given the almost impossible situation they found themselves in.
Through all of this, it is important to protect our dignity and self-respect – 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 posts on social media, or well, smashing wine bottles over managers’ desk may be something we later regret (I didn’t do it by the way). Anger is best let out in enclosed spaces rather than in public ones.
Throwing pillows or cushions in an enclosed ornament-free environment is quite therapeutic and reasonably safe.
We cannot always control events, but we can always control our reactions to them. And our dignity is the one thing that people can’t take away from us.
3 : Loss, Doubt & starting to Rebuild
The redundancy robot has completed its work, the day arrived and we have finally left our job, or rather, our job has left us.
Much more than Job Loss
Now there is little to get up for. We miss our old adversary, the alarm clock. We miss our frenetic morning schedule. There is no gossip to keep up with, no boss to complain about, no endless “to do” list. There are no meetings, interruptions, phone calls, difficult customer, crises to manage. We used to quite enjoy a good crisis. We are missing the bad, as well as the good.
We are experiencing loss – something very important and meaningful has been wrenched away from us without our agreement. We are not only hurt and angry – we are bereaved.
Perhaps most of all we miss the social network we had unconsciously built up and come to rely on. Of course, we have friends and family outside work, and we will keep in touch with some of our colleagues. But all of that will require effort and organisation. Something which seems far too difficult right now.
In the workplace (at least before Covid) we had conversation on-demand, always available. We could chat about anything at any time – however trivial – and usually it was. Swivel the chair round, meet at the mythical water-cooler, grab a coffee or sit at the same table in the canteen. It was all very easy and undemanding. And now it has gone, and even social media cannot compensate for it.
There are nine “human givens” – the vital things we all need in order to be happy & healthy. These include “security”, “status”, “community”, “competence and achievement”, “meaning and purpose”. Our job gave us a big chunk of all of these. Read that list again.
That’s an awful lot to lose in one go, so a feeling of loss is to be expected. There is no easy therapy, no one magic solution. The thing we want to reverse is irreversible. Remember – loss is not a problem to be solved. It is something to be with and to learn from.
Lots of Doubt About It
Meanwhile, long hours of loneliness and boredom stretch out before us. And because our emotional nature abhors a vacuum, our feelings of emptiness can soon be occupied by yet another unpleasant feeling – self-doubt. Were we made redundant because we failed in some way? Am I not as good at my job as I thought I was? How will I ever find anything comparable?
It may be many years since we engaged with the job market, had a job interview or “sold” ourselves. What if nobody wants us? What if, actually, I’m not very good? The redundancy money will only last so long. Self-doubt eats away at us, nags at us, undermines our self-esteem and takes away our energy.
These self-doubts will twist around our loss, anger and hurt; those four emotional assassins ready to attack us at different times. In the absence of activity, we will have too much time to think, and far too much time to feel.
So here is the good news (you are probably ready for some).
Acknowledging and recognising these feelings is the first step in your recovery. Stay with them, talk about them, don’t deny them or minimise them. Then, slowly but surely, you will find yourself looking in the other direction, forwards through the windscreen, rather than backwards in the rear-view mirror.
Rebuilding and Replacing
You can start to rebuild and replace some of those “human givens” which have been stolen from you. Create a new – more relaxed – routine, with a daily timetable and weekly schedule. Structure is good for us, but remember to build in “me time” – times when you have permission to do whatever you want to. And always good to schedule in some exercise and fresh air.
Then we can warm up a few old friendships and spruce up our social network. We can start to discover a new sense of self-worth by doing things for other people we rarely had time for. We can find some mental stimulation and meaning in other ways – join a book club, start a new hobby, engage in a campaign, write a blog!
Maybe now is the time to rediscover some of those long-forgotten pleasures – like reading, walking, cycling, cooking or simply having a mid-week lie-in. And we have a golden opportunity to spend quality time with those we love, or just like.
It is a slow repair, but if we play our cards right, our days can become full, interesting and useful – but far less frenetic and stressful than they were. We can replace the good, without keeping the bad.
It will take time – we need to process our anger, loss, hurt and self-doubt, but we don’t need to wallow in them. We can start to look ahead more than behind. Beginning to gently rebuild our lives and enjoy all the wonderful things which life still has to offer us, is probably the best therapy of all.
4. Casting away and gathering stones
There is a time to process and learn, and a time to progress and earn.
And, as one philosopher had it – a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather up stones.
Looking forwards begins the moment we know we are leaving. This is an essential part of our emotional health. As we saw in the previous three articles, we need to properly process our anger, our hurt and our loss. But we also need to start to look forwards and to take control. It will do us nothing but good.
So-called “redundancy” is the perfect time to re-evaluate where our very special abilities can be put to best use, maybe in a surprisingly new place or in a new way.
Do not say “I have been made redundant”. Nobody is redundant and nobody can make you redundant. You are a unique combination of talents, energies, values and experiences. We are not redundant – we are indispensable. When we discover exactly where we are indispensable, we will be at our most productive, most energised and our most fulfilled.
So yes, now is the time to cast away those old stones – our old job, our old routine, maybe our old frenetic or tedious lifestyle, and to gather up something new, different and better.
Life is short – and whether we wanted it or not, we have been given a rare opportunity to rethink our future. In hindsight, we may even be ironically grateful to those who “did this” to us.
CV or not CV?
This does not mean spending the next weekend “updating our CV”, signing up to countless job boards and whisking off endless applications. For one thing, this strategy rarely works. For another thing, it misses the whole opportunity to have a fundamental re-think.
Please do not just “update your CV”. So many people search through their files for their last CV and tag the last few years of responsibilities onto the end, add a few well-worn phrases like “Excellent communication skills” or “experience in stakeholder management” and then reduce the font size or narrow the margins to keep it down to 4 pages.
This will not work, will not impress prospective employers and misses the whole opportunity to re-present yourself in an authentic, personal and convincing new way.
It also pre-supposes that you are looking for the same job you just left – or maybe any old job you can find.
Writing Your Manifesto
So, don’t start with your CV – we will come to that later – start with a blank piece of paper. A big one. Divide it into three.
In one section, make an honest list of your strengths, talents and skills. Think of times in your career – or outside of your job – where you enjoyed particular success, what qualities did you bring to that success? Don’t worry about the phrasing – use the words which come into your head – and don’t be too modest.
In the next section, note your bottom-line job requirements – employed/self-employed, contract/permanent, minimum income, maximum hours, location, ethical limits etc. Things which are non-negotiable with yourself.
In the third section, write down the characteristics of your ideal employment – the things you enjoy doing, things which energise you, the type of organisation or business you want to work for. Be imaginative and don’t be constrained by what you have done before.
Talk all of this through with a couple people you trust – until you are happy enough with it to put it on your wall as your Manifesto.
You may be clear and content to look for a similar job to the one you have left. But do this exercise and see what it comes up with. It may surprise you.
After my job was made redundant for the second time, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. I had enjoyed my role – it gave me a feeling of importance and a good salary and I got on well with people. It met all of the “human givens” we looked at in the last article. It would have been easy to pitch back into a similar job in a similar organisation.
But that job also gave me a frenetic lifestyle and feelings of frustration and disappointment. Maybe there was a better balance available? Maybe there was a place I could use my abilities more directly, without forever having to convince other people in the organisation – people who were often more interested in maintaining the status quo or protecting their own territory. So, I added “more autonomy” and “working with positive and supportive people” to my manifesto.
Raising your profile
Now you have your manifesto, you are allowed to spend time on your CV.
As a recruiter, I have read– or to be honest skimmed – hundreds of CVs. I know what busy managers’ look for and I know what they ignore. You can read endless books and articles on how to write effective CVs, but I have five simple tips:-
- Be authentic – write your own CV, in your own style, using your own words and make it personal. Dare to be a little bit different if you want to stand out from the crowd. A truly authentic CV cannot be written by a ghost-writer, you need to write it yourself
- Start with your manifesto – include your skills, strengths and values in your summary statement and make sure they are evidenced by what you have achieved.
- State your personal achievements and how they benefited your employer or customer at the time. Don’t list endless things you were “responsible for”, or “involved in”. Focus what you actually delivered and the real value you personally added.
- Are you pitching as a project manager or a plumber? Do not try to be all things to all men – otherwise your CV will go straight to the “confusing pile”.
- Two pages maximum. Your CV is there to get you to interview, not to tell your life story. Otherwise it will end up on the “can’t be bothered to read” pile.
- Get someone to proofread it, sense check it and spell check it. Does it make sense to someone who has never worked in your organisation?
Recruiters are increasingly using LinkedIn to scour for suitable candidates. Apply the same six tips to your LinkedIn profile as for your CV. And don’t be afraid to ask people to endorse you and the specific skills you are selling.
And finally . . .
After my role was made redundant, I started to think in a new way. I realised that it wasn’t me that was redundant from the job – it was the job that was redundant from me.
I didn’t need it anymore. It had served its purpose, and we had a good time together, but it was time to go our separate ways. I bid it goodbye, wrote a “dear John”, bid it farewell with a “thanks for the ride” and moved on to a new chapter in my life.
It was a golden opportunity to cast away old stones and gather up some new ones with which to build something better. So that is what I did.
5. Planting seeds & enjoying the fruit
If your role has been made redundant, I hope articles 1-3 are helping you work through your anger, hurt, self-doubt and feelings of loss. In article 4, we started to look forwards, to grasp the opportunity to cast away the old and build together the new. You should now have a Manifesto, a CV and a LinkedIn profile. Links to articles 1-4 are at the bottom of this page.
Well done if you have come this far. You have climbed a hill, and the view ahead is panoramic.
Now is the time to start planting seeds for the future.
Last year I left my big corporate job and started looking for new work. I wanted to do something different and create a more balanced lifestyle.
I set myself the daily challenge of planting 5 new seeds and watering 5 of the seeds I had planted earlier. I bought myself a gardening book – a plain old-fashioned brown A5 notebook. With a fine line black pen, I wrote down which seeds I have planted and where I had planted them. As I nurtured them, I tracked their progress.
A seed is nothing more than a small and simple step or connection which takes us towards our manifesto. As we see our seeds take root and come to life, we see our garden blossom and grow.
The garden I was planting was to be self-employed, rather than part of a large organisation. I had a number of different plants and trees in my design.
One tree was to provide leadership and team coaching for businesses and organisations. This was fuelled by the desire to give back from what I have learned over many years about good, bad and ugly leadership and teamwork.
I wanted to help leaders to be brilliant leaders of fantastic teams. I know that when leaders truly lead (rather than manage) with authenticity, courage, imagination and humanity, and when teams truly collaborate and work enthusiastically to clear objectives – businesses can be transformed. And everyone is energised and happy in their work.
I also wanted to help people facing particular life-challenges or taking time out to re-evaluate and re-direct their lives. I know when we understand and accept ourselves and those around us, we can learn to make choices about how we feel and react. We can move forwards with clarity and confidence to our chosen positive future.
Alongside coaching, I set out do some business consultancy (building on my change management and technology experience), take on a worthwhile non-executive director role and do some pro bono charity work.
This was the fertile ground I planted my seeds in, and where I am now seeing good growth and some nice fruit. The “writing a book” seed I planted down the bottom of the garden is struggling to grow under the shade of the other trees. I need to find more light for it.
If you have completed your manifesto, you have your own, personal garden designed and your soil is ready. You are ready to start planting
A seed may be an email, a message, a job application, a Zoom or a phone-call. It may be a partnership with someone else. It might be a book or a training course. It could even be an article or a blog.
Our seeds need to be sown openly, casually, honestly and carefully. Neither under-selling nor over-selling. Being clear, focused and not too demanding. Wherever possible, they should be personal, with people you know and feel a connection to at some level. The more people we meet and interact with, the wider our seeds are blown on the winds of our network – often to places we did not expect.
Be prepared for rejection, or worse still silence. Some – maybe many – of your seeds will die on the ground – you won’t even get a response. But don’t be afraid to risk a follow-up. Most people don’t respond because they are too busy. Others may just have nothing for you. Others mean to reply but just forget. It’s less likely that they hate and despise you! But it is frustrating and discouraging to have repeated rejection or silence – particularly after having gone through the rejection of job redundancy. So, I usually follow up twice, and then stop. Surprisingly, the final often does succeed. But if not, simply plant another seed in a different place.
A few seeds will take root and start to grow. An email comes back, you have a meeting. Soon you have a stem with maybe a few shoots. More contacts, more ideas. You follow some of these up. Some are dead branches, some are more fruitful.
I draw these growth lines in my gardening book. Some of them I chose not to pursue because they didn’t fit with my manifesto – or simply seem too difficult right now. Or I may update my manifesto with a new thought.
In the midst of all of this, helping others – maybe in a similar situation – has its own reward. Life is not all about earning money, it is also about feeling useful and valued and in a small way making someone else happy. I’m a firm believer in “what goes around comes around”. The more we help others, the more we get help back.
At best planting seeds is exciting – at its worse it is hugely frustrating. It takes time. Great patience is required. Seeds planted in the hard ground of winter may or may not survive, and spring feels a long way away. But, given time, and with careful nurturing, more than one seed will grow into a tree which will bear some lovely fruit. And of course, in this metaphor – money really does grow on trees.
Many of my seeds have borne fruit – I am now a fully trained and working coach, with a new expanded network, some great new colleagues and friends, and a much less frenetic life. I am still planting and watering. If we stop gardening, the ground grows hard, some of the plants die and weeds start to appear.
Enjoying the Fruit
Do you pick the first ripe apple, or wait to see if a bigger and juicier one comes up? The financial constraints of your manifesto may give you little option. But be determined to stick to the heart of your manifesto, and compromise only around the edges.
If you don’t, you may find yourself telling your friends with great delight that you are back into employment, in a much better job. But deep down you may be disappointed in yourself. Chances are you will have dropped back into your comfort zone and are simply repeating the experiences of your previous job.
At the end of their lives – or their working lives – people regret less the things they did, than the things they didn’t do. So, go on – be brave – cast away those old stones away and gather up some new ones. Plant some seeds, water them carefully and – when it is ready – enjoy the fruit of your heart and soul.
I am an empathetic professional coach offering help with anyone in this situation. Please take a look here :- https://www.moonriseconsulting.co.uk/services