It’s impossible to understand the impact redundancy notice has on your life. Probably because it’s so unique to you. For some people it’s a familiar territory, in some sectors redundancy is something which happens, regularly, without notice. Other people watch others being made redundant as their service increases, and hope for the same.
My experience of redundancy seems unique for my organisation. I ‘survived’ fourteen years without any brush with redundancy. And then came up against two in quick succession. So, this is my experience, the things which made it easier and the areas which I completely messed up.
The first thing they say it that it’s not you they’re making redundant, it’s your role. This was much harder to hear the first time. The first time, whilst seconded to another role at the time, I couldn’t understand how they were saying my role didn’t need a full-time person associated with it. The truth would be that there was no commitment in the long term to those aspects of the organisation. They didn’t want the role and it really was that simple.
The first time, I decided almost immediately to accept the offer and trigger my redundancy notice. My team and I had been through a really difficult time and it seemed better to cut and run. I spent three months exploring the outside world. At the end of it, I went out for coffee with my mum, exploring what job I was seeking. My mum asked me why the job I had been seconded into wasn’t it. She was right, it ticked all of my boxes. I applied for the permanent role and stayed.
That was 2015. And whilst it might have been 14 years in the making, it would be only two years until I found myself in the same situation. On the whole the second time was easier. Move to an office base 200 miles away or leave. Whilst that decision could be made, the part I had no control over was the when. Of course goal posts moved and it ended up being over two years before leaving was possible. And that was the most difficult part.
Initially I felt on the front foot, I had learning from recent experience. But it would transpire, coming out the other side, my prior learning was only the first part of the journey:
Learning Point 1 – Understand what job you want
Both times I’ve had a longer list of the things I don’t want than the things I do. And this seems important. Some things are negotiable, some things aren’t. And I think it’s good to define this.
I don’t want to work in the private sector. I’m not great at putting corporate aims ahead of societal benefit. It’s a choice, when there is a redundancy offer, which is possible to consider. It may not play out when looking at the job market, but initially it helps narrow your options.
I can’t be a consultant/ self-employed. Lots of people leave my organisation and become consultants using the expertise they gained. During my first experience I explored this option as a preferred approach, but when it came down to it I knew my commitment to tasks prevented me from being able to factor in remembering to look for the next assignment.
In my second experience, I also decided I wanted to be as far away from my organisation as I could without disadvantaging me. It had become all too familiar that people left and started bashing the employer who they had accepted a salary from for however long. It felt disingenuous and it wasn’t something I wanted to risk.
Beyond setting up a list of the job I sought, the rest of my learning is more focused on how to cope once you’ve decided to leave.
Learning Point 2 – Pace yourself
During my first experience, I committed to applying for two jobs per week. It was only when I mentioned this to the person assigned to my redundancy consultations and she questioned my target that I realised I was pushing myself without really thinking about anything other than securing a job.
I’m used to setting myself targets, to know what success looks like. So, in a world of the unknown I had tried to apply the same logic. It doesn’t work. Applying for jobs for which you don’t fit inevitably leads to being told you don’t fit. At a time you don’t need to cope with any more rejection, this isn’t helpful.
Second time round I made sure I applied for jobs I wanted to do. That I could demonstrate I had a passion for.
At work I continued with my time-taught focus of weekly to-do lists. I have always found that if I spend my last 15 minutes at work on a Friday writing my to-do list for the following week it meant I could switch off over the weekend. Knowing each week, regardless how it felt, that I had achieved something was at times the reinforcement I needed.
Learning Point 3 – Remembering how to focus
There have been three incidents over the past six months where I have forgotten the benefit music has on my life.
The first was when I forgot my headphones when I was working away in London. On day 3 I put Spotify on as I got ready in the morning. I realised why the previous days had been so tough. Music makes my world better.
The second is my absolute recommendation for anyone coping with redundancy with a love of music.
I found myself at minus four weeks heading to present to the Executive team. Initially, there was a feeling of melancholy until I realised I had to go back in my final week. I changed my thought from “One last time” to “One more time”. I explained to my director, who, now entertainingly, offered up Brian Harvey. But!
For the next month I committed to a track each day. Whether preemptive to prepare me for the day or retrospective to help me process what happened.
It’s unbelievably helpful. As a challenge or as a way of processing. And I will do it again. After I enjoy listening to the soundtrack created, certain days are now truly anchored in tracks.
In my new job I stopped carrying my headphones to allow me to travel light (me and buds don’t work well). But when I eventually prioritised carrying my headphones I managed to process 93 pages of my scribbled notes into four A4 pages on a train journey home. Music is great for processing – emotion and knowledge.
Learning Point 4 – Using moments to escape
Whether it be podcasts or books, there was a need to remember that life isn’t all about work. No matter how impossible this feels when your core income is at risk.
Reading to me is an escape. To switch off my brain from worries, concerns and nagging doubts. Books can offer hope, a new way of thinking, an appreciation. Some books are nothing other than a page turner, providing a temporary enjoyment.
Other books remind you of who you are are, who you want to be, and the ability you have to influence the direction you take.
Learning Point 5 – Holding those who matter close – and letting them hold you
There is no doubt this was my biggest oversight. It’s only through reflection that the impact can be seen. With hindsight it’s because my redundancy period was so long, and I was living it. I felt the enormity of the pressure to find continued employment.
But in doing this I overlooked how it crept into family life. Maybe coincidentally each of my family’s health was worse at the end of last year. Apart from mine, I was too busy at work and trying to find a job to get ill. Everything went a bit awry as we all focused on the end of the year.
And with a month off, being able to invest in family. Being in a job where I’m home more. The improvements in all of us are noted. Improved health, better behaviour. This really should have been a greater focus- for all of our benefit.
As well as family, it’s after the event that I’ve realised what fantastic friends I’ve made at work. I wrote about why this had been one of my blockers, and now, meeting up since we’ve left, I’ve realised that we could have been stronger with the same support earlier in our journey.
Learning point 6 – Celebrate everything you achieved
At first it was tongue-in-cheek, but then it began an anchoring- breadcrumbs to the event. Seven weeks before I left I went for drinks with a friend and colleague. I joked on Facebook about the countdown. And, the following week, when a stakeholder unexpectedly gave me a leaving gift, I celebrated.
Each week in the run up to the final day I decided to celebrate. Whether with friends, colleagues or just milestones. For me, it made just a difference. I felt like I had appreciated all the best parts of my career, leaving on a high. It also meant I made sure I spent time with people who had made my life a better place, appreciating that so much had made my career what it was.
It’s difficult, because this is my experience. But, I guess, some of these things, I would have liked to have been reminded of. Maybe, really, it’s just about saying- remember who you are. At a time when all the focus moves into employment, a job- remember who you are and hold it a bit tighter to make sure you come out of it the person who signed up to the job in the first place.