Recently I’ve had several clients who have come to me because they are threatened with redundancy, or have recently been made redundant. (Yes, I know it’s the job that is redundant not the person, but I’ve yet to meet anyone experiences it like that).
While I wasn’t surprised at the number of people bringing redundancy as an issue in the current climate, what impressed me was that all of them were exploring what opportunity this new situation offered.
The questions being asked were:
What is possible now?
What do I want?
More like this or something new?
It has set me thinking about how employees facing redundancy cope or fail to cope, and why, and it reminded me of a workshop I ran a while ago, for people who had been out of work for a long time.
I had been running workshops for a while on interview skills and confidence and so on, and during a conversation with the commissioning client, we found ourselves wondering why, despite all the support the project gave people, so few had actually applied for jobs. I thought it might be a fear of the workplace itself (any workplace) that stops some people from applying for work, so we agreed as an experiment I would run a workshop entitled ‘Confidence in the workplace.’
I duly turned up and started assessing where the attendees were in terms of their confidence, and it was clear that everyone in the room shared a major anxiety. Eventually someone said that they had been made redundant twelve years ago, and they had never felt the same about work again. It turned out everyone in the room had, at some stage been made redundant. I put my planned course notes to one side.
“Me too,” I said. “I think this is something we should explore.”
We talked briefly about when and how redundancy had occurred for each of us, and what a blow it had been, even when we thought it was what we wanted.
The issues that came up were
Feeling de-valued and dis-empowered
Feeling that we were not treated like real people
Feeling that there was no point in ever trying that hard at work again
People described the experience as:
One person hadn’t had a ‘proper’ job since, feeling so worthless that he could not consider a job that used his considerable skills.
What do you do with a room full of people so distressed by something that happened (in some cases) a very long time ago?
I don’t know whether I’m right in saying this, but timeline has always seemed to me a very personal and private technique (perhaps because it is so effective), and doing it ‘in public’ a potential invasion of privacy, so I was thinking on my feet.
We aligned ourselves and I asked everyone to think of a time before his or her redundancy when everything was fine at work, and notice what it was that made it a good experience. I asked them not to say what those things were unless they wanted to, but to keep them in mind.
We picked up a few good examples for ourselves, and then in tandem, all together, we walked the timelines straight through the redundancy, and on to the present, holding on to the good things about work. I asked them to notice when they stepped over the redundancy, and to consciously keep walking, and notice they were walking away from it, and to keep going til they felt ok, and just notice where it was, in the past, right now, or the future?
This very simple exercise, which took under ten minutes, worked for all but one of the participants. He was deeply unhappy, and said,
“I feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world.”
Me: What is it you’re carrying?
Him: All the bad feelings of being made redundant, I can’t forget how badly it was handled and how bad I felt, I’m dragging it around with me.
Me: How heavy is it?
Him: It’s so heavy I can hardly move.
Me: What would it be like if you could handle the weight?
Him: That would help.
Me: So if it was the weight of… an elephant that would be too heavy?
Him: Yes, it needs to be lighter than an elephant.
Me: How much lighter?
Him: Like one of those medicine balls?
Me: That’s pretty heavy. How about a football?
Him: That would be good.
(All the while we have been moving very slowly away from where ‘redundancy’ was in his time line, and he has been holding himself more upright with each step.)
Me: Why stop there? What if it were an orange?
(He laughs and steps forward without me.)
Him: I can hardly feel it.
Me: A grape?
(He takes a huge step forward.)
Me: How if it was a grape pip?
(Without any prompting, he flicks an imaginary pip off his shoulder.)
Me: What was it you were carrying again?
Him: Wow. I never thought I could think differently about my past.
So, what is the true cost of redundancy?
If you are facing redundancy, try to look beyond to when things will be ok again, and that you are still the same talented unique individual you’ve always been, and any sensible employer will be only too glad to have you.
And what if you are the employer?
Are you about to ‘let some people go?’
You might want to think about the impact you can have, for good or ill. Redundancy can be a positive experience, handled right. Handled badly it can leave long-term scars in a person’s self-worth and confidence in their abilities.
So whatever the technicalities of making ‘jobs’ redundant we all need to remember it’s people that it happens to.
copyright Cherry Potts, Change from Choice 2010