How to cope with losing your job

Losing your job is a traumatic event - akin to a death or divorce. Agencies and counsellors speak of a "cycle of grief" - but say it is a healthy process you have to go through.

A few days before the last election, my manager took me over the road for coffee, presented me with a large cheque and my letter of resignation, and told me to be on my way.

Call it redundancy, a firing or whatever, the end result was the same. I was without a job, one that had consumed so much of my life up to that point. I was devastated. Not only from the initial disbelief and shock of it, but the unfairness of it all, compounded by the way in which it was carried out.

Last week we looked at how firms should "remove" staff properly. This week considers the redundant or fired worker and how to ease their transition to another job.

Losing your job is a traumatic event - akin to a death or divorce. Agencies and counsellors speak of a “cycle of grief” - but say it is a healthy process you have to go through. First is the shock and initial disbelief, then the anger (I initially wanted to do some damage to my former employer). Then comes sadness, and perhaps depression, guilt, shame or loss of hope. Eventually, you accept the change and and sense the struggle is over. Finally comes the restructuring, when your enthusiasm, optimism and commitment returns and you put your life back together.

If you feel you were unfairly treated, consider legal action. I took the money and ran. I wanted to put events behind me and move on. But had the cheque been for less, who knows?

One former colleague at the same firm decided to go through the courts. Her redundancy saga dragged on for months and was a traumatic process for her. She eventually received less than half what I was given. It was not about the money, she said, but a principle; teaching her old boss that he cannot treat people as he does. She felt the only way to hurt him was through his wallet.

But whatever you decide, don’t dwell too long on the negative.

Employment agencies say redundancy must be seen as a fact of life and those who overcome it best are those who prepared for it. Consequently, many recruiters offer courses.

Candle IT & T Recruitment’s “Looking Ahead” programme offers help on managing change, stress management, positive thinking skills, self-marketing, updating CVs, interview techniques and personal development profiling. Once people rationalise their situation and possible options, “things don’t seem so bad after all”, says course operator Jan McKenzie.

HR Solutions offers similar courses and help with coping strategies, developing support networks and identifying skills.

“Often people do not realise that they actually have a lot of transferable skills that can open up opportunities in a whole new role or industry,” says HR Solutions consultant Paul Jacobs. “People often get back to us and say that their redundancy was the best thing that ever happened to them - many started new careers that they are loving, [feel] they are no longer in a rut and have started their own businesses,” he says.

Morgan & Banks’ consultant John Stevenson recommends people develop a career plan as "insurance". Option one is looking at how you would reapply for your current job, how you would demonstrate your value or add value to your current role. The second option is talking to other people in your firm or industry to see what opportunities exist for your skills, career direction or interest. This can develop relationships and strategies that may prove valuable later. This latter option is not about seeking a job, but gathering information and establishing relationships should your role change.

“This is particularly important for people who consider their age or lack of qualifications could put them at a disadvantage as they compete for advertised roles,” says Stevenson, adding that 70% to 80% of jobs are filled by networking.

Those with career plans and established networks cope best with redundancy, he says, and “to use the cliché, as one door closes, many other open. The key is in the preparation."

“Finding your next job, the rule is network, network, network,” confirms Candle’s McKenzie.

McKenzie believes redundancy can be seen as "career transition" as it offers a chance to take time out and reassess one's working life. Redundancy is largely a self-help affair, she says, though stresses that friends of the redundant shouldn’t say “snap out of it” or “I know how you feel”, but just be available, listen and keep in touch.

Newly redundant shouldn't try to hide the fact that their job is gone. There is no great stigma attached to it nowadays. Most people will have been through it themselves, or know someone who has. People will be very understanding and eager to suggest where other jobs may exist. Change is revolutionary in IT and people are often left behind with redundant technologies, she says.

“People must always look ahead to see what’s on the horizon, and make sure they are well-placed to ride that wave of change. Not getting too comfortable with the platform or technologies they are working with, but on the lookout to train in something new or move in a different direction is vitally important."

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