The thing everyone should know about redundancy

01Feb11

I mention this since family and friends still think I’m the go-to guy if they need a CV writing, and I’ve had a few calls lately.

Many, many years agom back when a previous Conservative administration was creating mass unemployment, I occasionally did some copywriting jobs for an outplacement agency. The firm’s services were hired by big companies to help employees they were laying off to find new jobs. My function was to write CVs from the long personal reports the agency got their clients to write.

So I’ve read the nearest thing that around 1,500 Britons with no great interest in writing will ever get to doing an autobiography. They ranged from white collar staff  through to Napoleons of commerce whose names regularly appeared in the business pages. Mostly they were middle-managers, often with considerable technical skills.

(Oh yes, while Thatcher was destroying mining communities and allowing wide boys in the City to build their houses of cards, she wasted a huge amount of good old British engineering know-how.)

As part of the process, clients were invited to describe their feelings about being laid off. The figures break down very approximately thusly:

– A tiny minority were happy to be being made redundant because they’d already got a better job lined up, and were getting a fat pay-off as well. An equally small number were cool because they were cool about everything; they were confident they’d find another, better job soon. From what I heard, they were usually right.

– About 10% were happy to be made redundant because they hated the job, and/or were getting a big pay-off, and/or were on the verge of retirement anyway. Many in this category owned caravans, and their first move on leaving the firm would be to take the tin tent and mellow out with their better halves in Rhyl, or Paignton. From what I could see, these men (they were all men) were the nicest, happiest and most well-adjusted chaps in the world. It’s a terrifying thought, but if you’re male, the secret of a long and happy life might well be caravan-ownership. (And possibly also a wife resigned  to a lifetime of disappointment.)

– The rest – 85% or so – took redundancy with emotions all along the scale from seriously pissed-off through psychotic rage all the way to thousand-yard-stare and therapy. They couldn’t understand why their loyalty had been so shabbily rewarded. All that unpaid overtime! The new customers they’d won! The profitable operation they’d helped build from scratch! The way they’d turned a basket-case department into a paragon of efficiency!

They’d often say they’d been wasted because they weren’t cronies of the boss, or were ‘not interested in office politics’. A special bucket of bile was usually reserved for the manager who had made the decision to lay them off, almost invariably described as a scheming, two-faced incompetent.

The great majority of people, then, took redundancy badly.

But here’s the big, fat, hairy important thing.

Ready?

THEY ALL KNEW IT WAS COMING!!

Occasionally, organisations close completely out of the blue, but it’s far more usual to have months, if not years, of warning. Poor trading results, negative media stories, takeovers, a new industry fashion for outsourcing jobs to children in Cambodia, public spending cuts – there are always rumours and speculation in the pub, or around the outdoor ashtray or the hot-slop machine.

What I still can’t get over was this huge proportion of people, in all sorts of different industries, who knew that lay-offs were coming but who remained in a state of denial. They allowed themselves to become victims.

The moral? If you have serious good reason to believe you might be getting your P45 in the next 18 months, plan the exit strategy. This might involve joining a union (often useful for negotiating redundancy terms), finding another job now, sleeping with a senior manager, cultivating contacts in other offices/firms or plotting the overthrow of capitalism.

Or it might simply involve keeping your head down and hoping they waste someone else instead of you. Do this by all means, but only if you’re absolutely certain you can handle it with a smile and an unexpectedly early pub session if your number does come up.

You cannot choose whether or not you keep your job, but you can choose whether or not you’re going to be a victim.

This might sound blindingly obvious now. In the months before they were laid off it would also have sounded blindingly obvious to about 1300+ very angry people I once had dealings with.

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One Response to “The thing everyone should know about redundancy”

  1. Great post Eugene. Especially at a time when a large per centage of the workforce is living in fear of being made redundant. Exploring now what you might do if you did get made redundant might help take some of that fear away.

    Allison


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