Life After Redundancy

by Melanie Allen

This article is about people who have been made redundant, how they have fared since then and the advice they would give to anyone in the same position.

Interviewing people who have come through redundancy has reinforced my opinion that there really is no best way to deal with it, no infallible 12-step plan. This is one of the hardest things about it: you're in unknown territory. Your reaction to being made redundant and subsequent action (or inaction) depends on your personality and on the circumstances surrounding the event. Different people give very different advice, so it's up to you to decide whether to take it on board or not.

Yes - there is life after redundancy!

The good news is that people can move on after redundancy. Even better news is that only one out of all the people interviewed said that he'd have his old job back, given the chance. Two months later, though, he's doing well and progressing in a new position. His advice is:

‘Don't feel sorry for yourself. It's not your fault - it's gone. There's nothing you can do about it, so look around and see what else there is. There's always something you can do if you've got a mortgage and a family to provide for.'

Use your down time to look at what you really want out of your work

Another response from a former production manager was:

‘I needed the kick to get me started with my own business, which is doing well and which I really enjoy. I may never have jumped as I was too comfortable!

His advice is:

 ‘See it as an opportunity. Don't rush into another job the same as the last one. Use your time to think about what you really want and don't want to do with your life.'

Think about retraining

Retraining was an option for a former PA, whose job was axed when the company went bust. 

‘I don't like change. It was a huge shock at the time, but I'm glad it happened. I had to take stock of my life. I'd often thought about teaching, but before this I had been put off by the thought of retraining and starting from scratch in my late 30s. After a lot of soul-searching and a few temporary jobs, I applied to do a PGCE in ‘early years'. I loved the training - all completely new and different from office life. One of the schools I'd done my teaching practice in offered me a job. My life has changed so much - and definitely for the better.'

Her advice is:

‘Don't be put off by how long any re-training will take - that is an experience in itself, and the time flies by. If you want to do something different, go for it'.

It's not all good news

The decision to restructure and make redundancies within an organisation is a commercial one, implemented for the benefit of the organisation’s bottom line. The individuals involved are collateral damage and the process is often unfair to those people, even if it is carried out meticulously and sensitively, which often it is not. It’s up to you to look after yourself, come to terms with your own situation and do what is best for you.

The bad news is that if redundancy is unexpected, it can be devastating. The emotional fallout comes in many forms, from hopelessness to loss of confidence. The important thing is to acknowledge the (very common) feelings of resentment and betrayal that you might feel. If you ignore them, it may be hard to get on with the rest of your life. One lecturer whose job ‘disappeared' in a college merger said:

‘I refused to admit that anything as ordinary as redundancy could upset me. So I started off, from day one, making myself get up every morning to look for jobs on the internet. I'd spend days hopping from website to website - and playing solitaire. But if I saw a possible job, I couldn't face applying. I'd think, "What's the point?" and then get wound up about how good my previous job had been. After a month, I was getting nowhere, hiding behind the PC screen, seeing no one and beating myself up for being pathetic. I ended up in the GP's surgery, feeling depressed and hopeless. The GP suggested a course of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which helped me a lot.'

One year later, she is doing some private tutoring and training as a counsellor, which she thoroughly enjoys. She commented:

‘Looking back, I made my situation worse by refusing to admit how miserable I was. If I had admitted it, I could have avoided so much distress. It was devastating, and I didn't handle it well, but I did get through it. Give yourself a break if you need one, ask for help and support - and allow yourself to feel sad!'

Look at your relationship with your ex-organisation and learn!

This former Studio Manager was made redundant twice in a year.

‘The first time, I didn't see it coming until the weeks beforehand - and even then I didn't think it would be me! It was handled badly by the company and a couple of us were so angry we went to see a solicitor to put a case of unfair dismissal together. We could have done, but when we thought it through in the cold light of day, we realised that getting our jobs back - when we knew we weren't wanted - was a non-starter. We were just out for revenge. I saw that although I worked hard and what I did was always good, I was not an easy employee. I had never made any effort to join in and be one of the office "in crowd". Those who had made an effort kept their jobs! '

The second time was six months later. I'd found a new job and, three months in, I was redundant again. I didn't get on with the boss's wife (the office administrator) and the atmosphere was awful. A pattern was emerging! This time, the business went under and I was glad to go. I'd already decided to go freelance as a graphic designer and now I wouldn't dream of going back to work in an office. I'm no diplomat.'

His advice:

‘If you are made redundant and others are not, ask yourself why. There's usually a reason (though not always your fault). Then you can either change your behaviour or change your goals.' 

It is as well to think hard about the outcome you want if you take your case to an employment  tribunal.   In the example above, the people involved realised that their motivation came from anger at the unfairness of the situation. In the circumstances, they were advised that they could only hope for reinstatement as an outcome, and this is not what either of them wanted. This is not so for everybody and there are times when it makes sense to go for it. However, be aware that you may not get what you want from it and it can be a stressful experience. 

The advice - in summary

  • Don't feel sorry for yourself. There's always something you can do.
  • Don't rush into another job too soon. Use your time to think about what you really want and don't want.
  • If you want to do something different, go for it. Don't be put off by re-training. It's an experience in itself.
  • Give yourself a break if you need one. Ask for help and support - and allow yourself to feel sad.
  • Ask yourself if you would benefit from a re-evaluation of your values and needs.

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