March 14, 2017
Redundancy is nearly always a shock, and can leave you reeling. However, there are ways to keep your head screwed on, avoid panic, and find a new role with confidence!
Writer, journalist and online video producer Kristin Wong was made redundant three years ago, when she was 30. “It was the first time it ever happened to me; it was my biggest fear coming true,” she says. “I was a writer and online video producer for a major news site. It was a lot of fun.”
Kristin wasn’t the only employee to be let go – a major group layoff meant several of her friends and colleagues also found themselves out of work. Unlike the depiction of redundancy in films, often featuring financial and sales sector workers leaving that day with cardboard boxes, Kristin’s redundancy was a gradual process, which helped her readjust as best she could.
“I was given a fair amount of notice - my employers were as cool about it as they could be,” she continues. “They laid off all of their writers and cancelled all of their original video content. It wasn’t anything personal, but it’s hard not to take things like that personally, of course.”
Despite the decision not being related in any way to Kristin’s work ethic or her output, she took her redundancy hard – and blamed herself for her job loss. She ran a gauntlet of emotions, none of them particularly helpful. “I felt like a complete failure,” she says. “I actually went through the traditional five stages of grief.
“I was in denial for a bit, I was depressed, I got angry - I even bargained with myself. I convinced myself that if I dressed better, the universe would give me a new, better job. I told myself, “I don’t dress the part. How can I expect to get a decent job if I wear jeans all the time?” My reasoning was if focused on my appearance, my career problem would heal itself. That’s the epitome of bargaining, and to drive the point home, I work remotely, so no one even knows I wear jeans all the time! It was a totally bonkers way of thinking.”
Many people facing redundancy go through a similar process – obsessively looking back over their time in their job, and mentally berating themselves for perceived wrongdoings, such as speaking up in a meeting, or occasionally leaving early. My mother, upon finding out about my company’s redundancies, asked me ‘Have you done something wrong? Could you have worked harder?" – thoughts which jarred unpleasantly with what HR and my heads of department had told me after they’d made their decision.
Luckily, even though she was going through a rocky time, Kristin had some great people around her to boost her confidence.
“Thankfully, I had a strong support system,” she says. “My parents and my fiancé understood where I was coming from, but I don’t think they understood how hard I took it. My identity is very much tied to what I do for a living, so when I lost my job, I felt like I lost a part of myself. That’s probably not healthy, and I don’t think it’s something my friends or family could relate to.”
Redundancy is a life event that you’ve either been through, and understand, or you can’t. (A bit like having kids or deciding to be a vegan, neither of which appeal to me.) People who haven’t been through it can sometimes say the wrong thing, thinking that they’re being helpful – or pulling you out of your slump in a brusque, no-nonsense, get-yourself-together way.
“Everyone told me it happened for a reason, and I even convinced myself of this,” Kristin says. “It actually made things worse. I kept waiting for that reason, and it didn’t come. Eventually, I realised that stuff just happens. To everyone – and I’m not immune from bad things happening to me. This was a supremely motivating realisation.
“Yes, there were bigger and better things out there, but losing this job had nothing to do with it. If I wanted to progress, I had to make it happen myself, not wait around for the reason to become clear.”
Kristin’s clarity of thought and willingness to accept her redundancy for what it was – a random event, which she had no control over – helped her develop her sense of control over her situation. “I started to think about things I didn’t have control over, and things I could control, so moving forward meant focusing on the latter and not dwelling on the former,” she says.
In Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell speaks about his time as lowly dishwasher in a Parisian restaurant. Long hours, poverty, filthy and tiredness reigned supreme. Surprisingly, hitting rock bottom – everyone’s worst fear – was not the debilitating experience he had always dreaded.
“It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out,” he wrote. “You have talked so often of going to the dogs - and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.”
Kristin experienced the same feelings after losing the job that she loved. “Losing my job was my biggest fear,” she explains. “However, then it happened, and I was fine. Facing my fear was very liberating.”
Determined not to allow herself to wallow, Kristin worked on being productive, and structured her day. “I worked as much as I could, picking up freelance gigs on the side. When I ran out of work, I volunteered at my local library. Volunteering helped a lot. It encouraged me to get out of the house, maintain my social skills, and it helped me feel needed. Basically, I tried to feel as useful as possible,” she says.
She also continued to apply for roles that she was genuinely passionate about, sensibly acknowledging that she would potentially have to tell new employers about the situation.
“I was very upfront about my redundancy,” she says. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and you should never feel shame over what has happened to you. Plus, lying is never a good way to kick things off with a new employer. That said, I focused on my accomplishments and how I benefited the company during my time there. I chalked up the layoff to forces outside of my control, which was true. My transparency definitely made the whole process easier.”
These days, Kristin is enjoying her new role as a successful freelance writer – she’s contributed to numerous online and offline publications, including MSN Living, Lifehacker and mental_floss. It’s fair to say that although her redundancy knocked her for six, she was able to pick herself up and carry on working in the discipline which she loved.
“I won’t lie – the whole experience was devastating,” she continues. “I’m thankful that things worked out the way they did, but at the time, I felt really rejected. It was a roller coaster ride.
“I’d get an interview for an amazing job, I’d be thrilled, and when I didn’t get the job, I felt rejected again. It’s part of the process, and that’s when it helps to tap your support system for reassurance. Sometimes you just need to call a friend and have them remind you that you’re not a failure and you have to keep trying.”
Should you ever find yourself in our situation, Kristin has some great advice to keep you motivated. It’s not all about running home and starting to pummel the jobsites – take time out to look after yourself, and don’t forget that it’s OK to admit that you’ve been through an unpleasant experience. Nobody expects you to bounce back that afternoon.
“Acknowledge your emotions and process them,” Kristin advises. “It’s easy to beat yourself up during this time, and that often means criticising yourself for having feelings which you may feel embarrassed about. This only makes things worse.
“As you interview for new jobs, you want to be at the top of your game, and that means taking care of yourself so you’re in the right frame of mind to ace anything that comes your way.”
Kristin did a great job of picking herself up - and you can, too. All you have to remember after getting made redundant is not to blame yourself. Take some time off, readjust, and carefully start exploring your options. Don't be afraid to look for support, guidance or advice - your family and friends will help you rebuild your confidence and look to the future!