Redundancy. What next? – By Natasha Stone

However it may feel, you’re not the worst person in the room, you’re not the weak link. I promise you this.

Redundancy is always a difficult topic, there’s often a tranche of posts extolling the virtues of ‘Best thing that happened to me, gave me a kick to get on with what I wanted to do’ and such like, but, having been through it myself three times, at various stages of my life and career, I thought I’d share my experiences for those who’ve never been made redundant, to perhaps offer a perspective on what their friends and colleagues might be going through. Or perhaps offer a few different perspectives and dare I say, some hope, for anyone who is currently going through this right now. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being made redundant, whatever the circumstance, it’s deeply stressful, and it’s really ok to not be ok with that.

The first time I got made redundant, it was my first job after university. I’d had difficulty finding a role in the first place, as I was ‘overqualified’ for most things, and ‘underqualified’ for absolutely everything else. As a result, I accepted a role at a local call centre. 24 hour working, and a rather challenging customer facing role, as well as dealing with contractors. I’d never done anything like it before, but I was a quick learner, and ecstatically happy to be earning money. Four months into my happy new life, the R word was released into the open, and I watched as my colleagues started to crumble and become distressed with the process. I am embarrassed to admit, that at the time – I had no idea what the implication of this truly was. For me, it was just an inconvenience that I’d have to go back to the temping agency and hope for something else to come up.

I remember having conversations with friends about how they would pay their mortgages, what else they could do, the fact they’d been there for countless years and weren’t skilled to do anything else. I remember the hopelessness of it. And I remember the discussions around the inability to look elsewhere but to do what the company wanted them to do. i.e. be made redundant from their current roles, and be moved to others, which paid less, because whilst they weren’t technically the same roles, it involved much the same, but packaged in a different format. Where more buoyant job markets might have caused a mass migration to other companies, many of the long term serving employees, simply chose to stay and move to the other roles, even though redundancy pay was on the table.

From my position, I took the money and left. I had no ties, I lived with my parents who supported me through it all, and that particular money, became the deposit for my first house. My first redundancy experience really wasn’t that bad for me. And yet, it still was stressful – I often think back to that and realise just how lucky I was to have that learning experience of redundancy. How it affected my friends and colleagues, how I could support them all, and mercifully, with little to cloud my judgement at the time.

The second time, was quite some years later. And this time, I had a mortgage, the job prospects were not so plentiful, and the pressure was definitely ramped up. Plus there was no entitlement to redundancy pay.

I’d worked in call centres for a number of years by this stage, and I’d branched out into being a Personal Assistant – something I was incredibly proud of. Being a Personal Assistant is a much tougher role than many will give credit for, and you’re often given access to business critical information which you’re responsible for guarding, and also managing very complex stakeholder relationships. All whilst trying to give an air of capability and not being a pushover. In any new role I start, I always make sure I get to know the PA/Office Manager/Administrators in my office, because sure as anything, they’re the people who are the most dependable, and indispensable colleagues you’ll ever meet. However, as I learned to my dismay, non-fee earning roles, i.e. Administration, is generally the first to go when it comes to redundancy. These areas of our businesses, are the first to be scaled back to bare minimums – and I challenge you to go and speak with your administrators whom you depend on, and ask, if they’ll freely share with you of course, how many times they’ve been made redundant. I can guarantee, that they’ll have endured this at least once. Not to mention on a low salary too.

This time, for me, the entire company when into Administration, which meant that the factory workers with whom I worked, also lost their jobs. Not knowing what my options were to carry on, there were lots of others who were in much worse situations to me, and whilst I understood the intricacies of claiming job seekers and redundancy benefits – many didn’t. Many just hadn’t prepared for this. So on the day all of this was announced, when most had walked out and hit the pub, I sat and wrote out all the application forms for benefits, for those who couldn’t navigate the complex paperwork involved. Redundancy is tough whichever way you look at it, but when you have a family, commitments, and no understanding of complex bureaucracy – I would urge you, if you possibly can, to reach out to others who might be struggling too. Support in numbers always makes the challenges more surmountable. These people were your colleagues, if anything, they need you more now, than they did before.

The third time was the one I remember the most clearly. After I’d had the experience above, I’d spent time temping and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was constantly worried about being in administration and being made redundant again, and so, whilst temping in a construction company, I looked into the career options available to me there. This was my start in the construction industry, and my new career home, retraining as a Quantity Surveyor.

For the next four years, I re-trained for my post graduate diploma part time, and worked in two Construction companies, the second one, was where I found myself being made redundant again. This was the biggest shock for a number of reasons. I’d felt so empowered retraining into a new career, and one, which I’d been told, was eternally secure as QS’s were always in short supply, so the likelihood of being made redundant, was virtually null.

But that wasn’t the case. This third redundancy shattered my confidence and I tried to be brave and carry on, and instead, I retreated to the comfort of what I’d known previous to my re-training. I took two years away from my new, beloved career, and took time to reflect on what it was that I really wanted. As it happened, my next major Executive Assistant role was within a Construction company, and it’s there that I began to realise how much I really loved the career I’d worked hard to build for myself. Many of my colleagues in this firm gave me the time and space to continue to build my confidence in my abilities again, learning more, new and different ideas – which is when I realised that Infrastructure was where my heart truly lay.

I prepped my CV, took a deep breath, held my head up once more and went back out into the world of surveying again. From that point, I’ve never looked back.

Through all of this, I’ve learned a lot. It’s been an absolute emotional rollercoaster, but if there’s one thing I can use this experience for, is to perhaps help others in the same circumstances at this time. My words might seem pointless, but if they help one person, then that’s good enough. It only takes helping one person to make a difference.

So here are my top lessons learned:-

  1. Being made redundant is not a personal move. However it may feel, you’re not the worst person in the room, you’re not the weak link. I promise you this.
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others. When you’re in a place of shock and despair, you will only see the negatives, and that will only serve to make you feel worse.
  3. Reach out to others for support, and reach out to help others. Your colleagues may be in the same situation, so they will know exactly how you’re feeling. Take that help, give that help – it really does settle you in uncertain times, and gives strength in numbers.
  4. Take some time to breathe. If you’re not ready to go back into the same job/industry that made you redundant, then don’t. Having a job is important for finances etc, and more importantly self-worth, however there are so many different jobs out there that can be done short term – try something new, trying something with no stress. Obviously this all depends on your financial stability, but what I’m saying is, what you’re going through is stressful. Taking some time to recover before stepping back into your sector, builds confidence, builds other skills, learn something new. You might find a new love – like I did. I would never have considered Infrastructure Commercial Management before my period of reflection.
  5. It’s ok to not be ok. Really. Suppressing your emotions is just postponing the inevitable outpouring. (I refer you to point 3 above. Reach out to others for support).
  6. You will get through this, and although it might not seem like it now, change is always good. Turn this into an opportunity to pursue those things you always wished you’d done, but never had the chance.

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