Not a week goes by without news of yet another corporate cost saving program, huge layoffs and company restructuring initiatives. I am living in a part of the world with a high density of corporate headquarters and a big expat community. I often find myself talking to people who have just been made redundant or are facing the risk of redundancy.
From my own experience and from all the conversations I had in the last couple of years, I put some advice together that helped me and some of my colleagues and friends to get through this challenging time.
1. It is not about you.
The most important thing and the hardest at the same time, is to not take it personally. Inevitably you will feel hurt. You will start digging into your memories of conversations and encounters at work, try to read something into it and post-rationalize why this happened to you. You may have self-doubt or feel outright angry about having been treated so utterly unfairly. However, redundancy is not about you. Organizational transformations and layoffs are never personal. Most often you are a box on a complex org-chart or a number in an overheads calculation that must disappear in an attempt to fulfill a financial objective.
A company is not a person, it is an entity. Look at the relationship with your employer purely as a business relationship and try to get emotions and feelings out of the way.
Senior managers can find it particularly hard to cope with redundancy. The concept of major white-collar layoffs across all seniority levels is fairly new. When senior managers started their careers 10 or 20 years ago, this was simply unheard off. It is only recently that we experience this magnitude of industry transformations in the ever-accelerating race of globalization and profit optimization. Today, people across all industry sectors and seniority levels can be affected by redundancy. It has nothing to do with you or your performance as a manager or as a leader.
Once it happened, you should focus on yourself. Think about what is best for you going forward. What are your short-term goals? Do you want to leave as soon as possible, or do you want to try staying as long as possible, potentially on a short-term project, in order to get some head-space and to re-calibrate your life? How can you get the most out of this situation? More importantly, define your long-term goals and how you want to pursue them. Don’t worry about how your situation looks from the outside and what other people might think about you. Rushing into the next best job just to keep up appearances and to prove to yourself that you can easily find a new job, could easily lead you to take the wrong decision.
This is just a short episode in your lifetime career. It’s a trigger to think about what it is that you want to do with the next 10 years of your life rather than in the next 6 months. Look at the bigger picture and make a priority list together with your partner or family. Decide what it is that you want and what reasonable compromises are. Do not rush a decision and do not let your decision be ruled by your emotions.
Finally, look after yourself. A redundancy is emotionally and physically exhausting. You might have to say goodbye to a job and company you love, to dear work friends and to a lifestyle you enjoyed. It is a mourning period and it takes time. Be kind to yourself and look after your health. Do things that you enjoy doing, with people you love.
3. Funnel your energy.
Most people don’t go to work just to get the paycheck. Many go to work with passion for what they do, they want to give their best and bring all their energy and conviction to work every day. They are eager to perform well and to improve the business performance of their employers. If you love what you do and do it with enthusiasm, redundancy is especially painful. You may think that passionate and enthusiastic people brush it all off, effortlessly landing on their feet with a better and more exciting job. In reality, passionate people often struggle to leave things behind and to move on. To stay sane in this situation it is important to funnel the passion and energy you brought to work and focus it on yourself, on your professional future and on the people, that matter to you. You could get bitter and spend hours thinking about your old employer, the boss who let you go or the colleagues who did not seem to care enough. Being bitter however sucks energy out of you. It is emotionally and mentally draining and puts you into a standstill. Try not to let this happen to you. Whenever bitterness or bad feelings creep up, try to let them go and focus on the good times:
4. Remember the good times.
A work experience that ends with redundancy skews memories. It is important to remember the good times. Don’t let the negative experience of the last weeks or days at your workplace be representative of the time you worked there. Think about the moments when you were doing well at work, when you got a lot of positive feedback or when you had successfully completed a project. Focus on these memories to boost your confidence and to feel good about yourself. The company you worked for gave you the opportunity to learn and to experience things that you can now benefit from. You might have learned skills or worked on a specific project that could be interesting for a future employer. The company paid you and gave you the chance to learn and to practice, you showed up and gave them your best and that is the end of it.
Even if this might be difficult don’t have any hard feelings against people. Thinking and feeling badly about people is just another thing that sucks energy out of your system. Remember the times you met people you liked and be grateful for having met them through work.
5. Ask for help.
Engage your own network and do not rely on headhunters to find a new job for you. Some headhunters are brilliant, are great to talk to and are often able to give you a real confidence boost. So, talk to them, but do not rely on them.
The people that you know from previous jobs are the most resourceful in helping you to find a new job. Don’t be afraid to reach out, most people are very happy to help and the ones that are not should not matter to you. It can be hard to reach out to people and ask for help. It can make you feel vulnerable and exposed, but keep in mind that the most effective way to find a new job is through your own network. These personal connections are also very important in another way: They give you the opportunity to talk. If you spend too much time alone with negative thoughts you could start feeling quite depressed. Talking to people about your experience will make you feel better. It is good to get things off your chest and to hear another perspective. Making new meaningful human connections can be a light at the end of a tunnel in a redundancy situation.
6. Make job-hunting your job.
If you feel excited about the free time you suddenly have, great! Enjoy it as much as possible. However, a lot of people feel a huge lack of energy when they are suddenly at home all day and when their days are no longer structured by work. When looking for a new job, make job-hunting your new job. Take it as serious as you would take an actual job. Establish a routine to get through your day, plan your work weeks and find a workplace in a professional environment. If you sit at home in your tracksuit bottoms whilst writing job applications, you might not be able to have the right tone of voice in your emails or phone calls.
Make a to-do list: Update your CV, polish your LinkedIn profile, reach out to all people in your network, define companies you could imagine working for and reach out to people you might know there, make it known to your network that you are looking for a job, get to know the headhunters that are relevant for your industry and make sure they all have your CV.
7. Don’t look back.
Life is a journey that takes us forwards not backwards. I read somewhere that we should live our life as if it was a novel. You want your life’s novel to be a page turner and not a boring one that you put down after a couple of chapters. I have been thinking about this many times in the past when I was at a point in my life where I needed to take a decision on what to do next. I wouldn’t have left my job if I didn’t have to, but how much more boring would my life have been? More years of the same stuff. This is not about the cliché of “Redundancy is the best thing that ever happened to me, it made me find my true calling.”. Whilst I am sure this is the case for some lucky people this is certainly not true for me nor for most of the people I know.
Try to look at the redundancy as a chapter in your novel. Yes, it might feel awful while you are in it, but it will eventually make the story of your life much more interesting. It will give you the chance to take action and to write a new and unexpected chapter.