The emotional response to redundancy will vary considerably from person to person. Ian Gooden, has both experienced redundancy and led HR teams managing the exit process. He explains how individuals can go through multiple phases as they navigate their way out of an organisation.
It’s not personal, its business
No matter how many times individuals hear that, it doesn’t change the reality that if you are on the receiving end of redundancy it feels deeply personal. I was only 20 when I had to do my first consultation meeting with someone about to lose their job. He was my father’s age – early 50s – and with the best part of 30 years of service under his belt. He cried. No matter how good the communication, and how well the ground is laid, the actual moment you hear the news is quite often a shock.
Sometimes actually getting the news is, initially at least, a relief. Weeks, possibly months of living with uncertainty can be debilitating. Finally getting a decision means you can make plans and begin looking forward. “At least I know where I stand” might be a good way of summing it up.
I don’t believe it
I’ve met many people in 40+ years of HR work who simply can’t take in what’s happened. Its almost as if they believe not accepting the situation will mean it will go away. Some hang on to the belief that somewhere between decision day and leaving there will be a reprieve. “That can’t really mean it”.
I’ve even known people return, week after week, to former workplaces in the hope that somehow there’s a way back. They can’t process that the relationship is over. Often they are people for whom work is core to their personal identity.
Redundancy can feel extremely unfair. Especially if you’ve been a loyal employee who has given great service to an organisation. It can also be the product of managers creating false hope – “… don’t worry, it won’t be our department…”
Redundancy provokes such extreme responses often because it feels like a breach of trust. I have a personal contact who joined a business only to be made redundant a few months later. He was furious that the company had taken him out of a safe job only to discard him almost immediately. “They must have known…”
Taking away someone’s job can severley impact their sense of security and self-worth. Suddenly a world that seemed stable is anything but. Questions ranging from “how will I pay the mortgage?” or “will I ever work again?” flow through the mind.
The recent re-boot of the Full Monty brought back memories of how the character Gerald was scared to tell his wife. And fearful of the impact on their relationship when he had to tell her their new financial reality. Redundancy doesn’t just impact those directly involved.
I think a lot of the historic stigma around redundancy has faded. However that doesn’t mean you aren’t scared of telling others. Or of asking for help.
Redundancy can create new opportunities. For someone whose been stuck in a rut it could be the chance for a career re-boot. For some redundancy brings the funds to start their own business, go travelling or accelerate retirement. If you know you can get a job quickly you could land a nest-egg. And if you really didn’t like your job, being paid to leave might be a blessed release. In that situation the emotional response to redundancy could be joy.
“I have no idea what comes next”. If you’ve not been on the job market for a decade or more then redundancy can leave you feeling completely powerless. A ship without a rudder so to speak. Will anyone take you seriously as a candidate? How do you even find jobs these days? Where do I even start writing a CV? Just formulating a basic plan can be a challenge. And that sense of not being in control can result in a downward spiral.
Its not just those going…
Let’s just consider the emotional response to redundancy for everyone else involved. I once described my early HR experiences of making people redundant as traumatic. I was inexperienced and had barely two years of HR experience – most of it in administration and process. Nothing was done to prepare me for how I might feel. I am sure a lot of HR professionals have felt the same. We are often trained to do the nice bits – hire people, develop people, motivate people and reward people. I don’t remember ever once on my CIPD course doing anything about resilience or delivering bad news.
For line managers the experience can be just as stressful. They must experience that same sense of breach of trust – letting people go who they’ve hired and developed.
And then there are colleagues – who are in many cases likely to be friends too. What are they going through as they see valued co-workers leaving?
Experiencing redundancy often takes you through all the emotional states above – and more besides. One day you are up, the next down. One minute excited, the next scared.
What you need is help to navigate the emotional as well as practical implications of redundancy. Help a great career coach or career advisor can deliver. Here at Chiumento we’ve also invested in training Mental Health First Aiders who can recognise people who are struggling and signpost them to where they can get help. We can include an on-line counselling service in our programmes to supplement the work our coaches do. We approach outplacement not just as a jobseeking process but an emotional journey too. Let us help your people navigate the journey.