My truth about redundancy

I've been made redundant four times in my career and although I don't believe in absolute guarantees, it's a reality of working life that you will face redundancy at some point throughout your career — either directly or indirectly as one (or some) of your colleagues' roles are no longer required by the business they're working for.

Through business failure, recession and restructuring I've had to sit on the side of the table that has the box of tissues, the payout check and at times, the tears — the receiving end.

I've also had to sit on the other side of the table, having had to make the decision to make certain roles in my business redundant and delivering the news to the people who held those roles.

Redundancy, on both sides, is filled with stress, emotional turmoil and fear so I thought I'd try to help uncover some things for you.

Bitterness, anger and resentment

Feelings of anger, bitterness and resentment are expected and common once you've been made redundant.

The first time it happened to me was during the dot-com bubble of 2000. I was in a room of 25 other people and we were all told at once, that the business no longer required us.
Yes, we were all told at the same time — 25 people, one bullet.

I was so angry at the time because the news came from the person who hired me and the first thought that flashed through my mind was that if my job interview was one on one, why couldn't this be one on one too?

In hindsight I was actually angry at the fact that I wasn't ready to go. They made the decision for me and I was unprepared, surprised and taken aback. I wasn't in control and that pissed me off.

If you're in this situation, before making rash decisions, saying or doing something you'll regret, think about the situation from all angles. 

Go home and consider it from the business' point of view. If the business has acted lawfully there isn't much that you can do. 

Say your goodbyes, tie up loose ends and look forward to your next chapter because if you treat the experience in the right way, the next chapter will be better than the previous one.

Always be ready

When I finally came down from the shock of losing my job I rushed to get my CV in order and applications out to prospective employers.

I realised quickly that this was what I was scared of, the fear of the unknown and the fear that I wasn't anywhere near ready (or capable) to face a new world of job interviews, hunting and gathering for a new job.

  • What would I say about myself in the interview?
  • What questions would I ask?  
  • How would I learn to make new friends?
  • Would they like me?

It was horrible. I felt like I was starting from square one all over again. I was completely unprepared. I had taken for granted that this would ever happen to me. I was comfortable, content and happy in my job and never considered that it would all go away in a flash.

With that first experience I swore that I'd always be ready to jump into another role and I suggest the same for you. Irrespective of how comfortable you are with your current job or how much you love the work and the people, you should always be ready for the unknown to be coming screaming around the corner and heading straight for you.

The unknown might be a redundancy, a restructure to your current role or the business or industry collapsing.

The unknown may also be a job offer that is too good to refuse leaving you with a decision to make. 

It pays to always be ready so:

  • keep your CV updated
  • keep your LinkedIn updated
  • continually add people to your LinkedIn
  • keep your folio up to scratch
  • keep your network thriving

It's not personal

I can't recall if it was the second or third time I was made redundant, but there was a time when I was asked into a 'meeting' with the MD and I knew, by the look on his face that it wasn't good news for me.

The white envelope he held in his shaking hand was also a bit of a giveaway.

By this time I had come to terms with the fact that redundancy was going to happen and it was going to happen often — building a career after a recession and through the dot-com boom worked to reassure me of this expectation too. 

As the MD mumbled through some preamble about the business not doing so well, tears welled up in his eyes and I knew where this was heading — so I finished it off for him.

I told him I understood the business was in turmoil, I understood he liked me but my role was expensive, and he didn't need my role because there were a couple of other Designers on lower salaries who had the necessary skills to see the year through. I also told him it was just business.

He cried and said that he was glad I understood.

I took my envelope (checked that the contents and quantities were correct), thanked him and walked out feeling good about myself.

I was ready for my next challenge. 

When done correctly and lawfully, redundancy is not personal. They don't dislike you, they don't have an issue with your skills. The business has a set of goals to meet and your role may no longer fit into the roadmap to meet those goals. This is OK.

If you're working in someone else's business and if it is a private business, you're helping the owners of that business achieve their business and quite possibly, their personal goals. If you're working in a publicly-owned business you're doing all of that for a group of faceless shareholders. 

Yes, you're meeting your own goals as well — it's simply an agreement you have with your employer that both of you can choose to end at certain points in time if the conditions deem right.

Mitigate the risk of being made redundant

One of the subscribers of this journal once asked me what they could do to ensure that they wouldn't be made redundant. An excellent question.

In reality, if the business chooses to make your role redundant it will and there isn't much you can do about this, although there are things that you can do to try to mitigate the risk of ensuring that you are at least putting them in a position to keep you and offer you another role.

Firstly, you have to understand that in a redundancy situation, it is your role that is being made redundant, not you. When your role is made redundant it's like the business saying to you 'we don't need your role anymore'.

It's just like you saying to the business, 'I've found a new job and I'm resigning.'

It's important to understand that redundancy is not a personal thing, it's about the business removing or restructuring a role and it just so happens that you are performing that role at this point in time.

If you'd like to mitigate the risk of being made redundant and increase the chances of being offered another role in the business if your role is in fact made redundant, I suggest you aim to add enormous amounts of value to the business.

Don't just perform within the boundaries of your job description, look at all areas of the business and ask yourself 'how might I add value here?'.

If the business has KPIs it needs to meet, how might you help achieve them? If the business has goals it aims to reach, how might you be able to enable them?

If you're adding enormous amounts of value to the business your role may still be restructured or made redundant, but any decent employer will see the value you're adding and offer you another role within the business.

It's now your choice to take it or not. A choice you may not have had if you didn't work to add that value.

The fair way to handle it

As an employer you will be criticised for handling redundancies unfairly by staff who feel angry and bitter at the fact that people in the business were made redundant. This is OK and expected during a period of restructure. This type of criticism is also common from people who have never had to deal with redundancy and are experiencing it for the first time in their careers. I felt the same way when I first faced it too.

It's also not uncommon for people to resign when other people in the business are made redundant, this too is common and most experienced managers understand that there may be a turn over when a restructure happens and may take this into consideration when making restructure decisions.

If you're on the receiving end and angry at the fact that you've been made redundant, consider the following:

  • Has the business acted within the law? Check your local government website, in Australia we have the FairWork Ombudsman which outlines fair practices for employees and businesses.
  • Has the news been delivered in a respectful manner?
  • Was it made clear that it had nothing to do with your performance?
  • Have you been offered the choice to stay for the length of your notice period or leave that same day with your entitlements paid in full irrespective of your choice?
  • Have you received the news verbally and in writing?
  • Have you had an opportunity to ask questions and have them answered?

This by no means constitutes definitive legal advice — but it will give you context.

After my own experiences in being made redundant, I prepared a mental list of guidelines in readiness for the next time. Here they are:

  • I always took the option to leave that day. I'm not a fan of long goodbyes.
  • I took stock and stayed close to my family and closest friends that day. Sadness is always best shared with those you love.
  • My CV was ready to go out to market within 24 hours, my LinkedIn is always up to date.
  • My network knew about about my availability within 48 hours.
  • I followed a simple, repetitive and methodical method for hunting for a job until I found one.
  • I contacted my mentors and set up meetings with them.
  • I contact people I knew who were influential and connected within the industry to let them know of my situtation.
  • I wasn't precious about what job I was going to do, I needed to put food on the table.

All of this helped me face the reality of losing my job and move on as quickly as possible, putting my job, my ex-colleagues and the sadness well and truly behind me.

(The law for businesses making employees redundant are different around the world, if you're interested in learning more I suggest you contact the fair work ombudsman in your country for more detailed information. The information in this article is not to be used as legal advice, it is simply opinion from my own personal experience.)

My StoryJim Antonopoulos