As if consuming 24/7 news about Covid wasn’t enough, it now comes served with lashings of statistics about how the economy is tanking, with job losses dolloped on top. At the time of writing, the number of people on payroll in the UK had dropped 730,000 in four months, with over nine million people furloughed. Maybe you’ve been made redundant, too, or been worrying about when the employment rug will be pulled from under your feet. And that’s the thing: redundancy isn’t just about money, it’s about our minds, too. ‘It’s likely the economic and social impact [of the recession] will be felt across the UK and will have an effect on our mental health,’ says Rosie Weatherley, information content manager at the mental health charity Mind (mind.org.uk). And psychotherapist Simon Coombs, founder of Working Minds (workingminds.org.uk), which offers a redundancy support service, says he’s already seen around a six-fold increase in calls. In other words, if it happens to you, you’re far from alone. While the future is uncertain, we do know one thing: if you’re made redundant, remind yourself of the bigger picture and put your situation into perspective. Here’s how…
‘We tend to hear stories about those who have this life transformation after they’ve lost their job, and that’s brilliant. But for a lot of us, it’s awful,’ says business psychologist Clare Mulligan-Foster (cmcbp.co.uk). So if you don’t immediately launch a line of artisan sourdough, that’s A-OK! ‘Redundancy is a form of loss and we can experience grief,’ Clare adds. In fact, she says people often go through the Kübler-Ross model of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). So if this is you, know that it’s a normal reaction.
Of course, some people feel they can’t speak about the sadness of job loss, because they feel others have had it worse. ‘But someone else’s loss doesn’t make yours any less significant,’ says Carly Attridge, founder of The Loss Project (see below). One way to anchor yourself is to reflect on other times of major change or loss. ‘Jot down notes on how you managed at that time, to remind you of the skills you already have to cope now,’ suggests Clare.
As if the sadness wasn’t enough, there’s that horrible feeling that can slither in and take a stranglehold: shame. After all, even the word ‘redundant’ is brutal. But here’s the crucial thing: ‘You haven’t been made redundant, your job has,’ stresses Clare. Read that again. Let it sink in.
It can be easy to value ourselves in monetary terms. ‘It may be that when you look for work, all that’s available pays half of what you’re used to. You see your new “value” as being half of what it was,’ says Clare. The key to escaping this feeling? Focusing on the ‘c’-word: context. ‘Recognise we’re in a pandemic. Recognise that many people are being made redundant,’ she explains. ‘And think about what sort of salary you need to cope until you’re in a position to find a job you want. What you do now can be a stepping stone.’
Simon notes that claiming benefits is another thing that may provoke shame, but he says to think of it like this: you’ve been making National Insurance (NI) contributions, so see it as a savings pot that’s exactly for this eventuality.
‘We have many different identities, but our work identity is one of our strongest,’ notes Clare. She suggests writing down 10 others that are also yours. Maybe you’re an amateur painter, a yogi, an auntie… to remind you that you’re more than your job.
Plus, she recommends challenging the assumption that your identity is dependent on that job alone. ‘We’ve seen stories of pilots who’ve become supermarket delivery workers. So earning and keeping busy might
have been important to their work identity. And there’s a connection between the roles – both involve driving, shift work, delivering (albeit food rather than people) – so it makes sense that there are similarities.’
And even if you can’t land a job in your sector, a different one (or voluntary work) might help to keep elements of your identity alive. The other crucial thing this may give you? A sense of purpose.
Simon recommends keeping up a routine, even if you’re out of work – get up at a fixed time and keep to ‘working’ hours (applying for jobs) and ‘non-working’ hours. The latter is as important as the former, he stresses: ‘Exercise and relaxation are just as crucial in your day, and will stop you from burning out.’
We tend to think of ‘closure’ in relationships (break-up bonfire, anyone?), but Simon points out it’s key in redundancy, too. ‘If people don’t say goodbye to those who’ve been part of their lives, it’s psychologically damaging,’ he says.’ So consider a Zoom send-off, or a meal with close colleagues, when restrictions allow. Of course, if you’re being let go, it’s quite likely others in your workplace are, too. Clare says, ‘Keep in touch with each other and pool resources: help with CVs and share contacts. Set goals and check in with each other – accountability spurs on action.’
Living in fear of losing your job? ‘Uncertainty feeds anxiety, so the more certainty we can have, the more in control we’ll feel,’ notes Simon. And Clare recommends talking to your manager to let them know your concerns and to get a breakdown of what you’d be entitled to if you were to lose your job. This, she says, can help you focus on ‘if I lose my job, this is what I’m going to do’. Simon also suggests getting a handle on your finances – including finding out what benefits you’re entitled to. Answering these queries might help you sleep a little better at night.
Finally, one thing Clare doesn’t recommend is working all hours to prove you’re invaluable. Redundancy is often very little to do with you and more to do with high-level, company-structure decisions. But, she adds, ‘Remember that, although your job has gone, you and your professional experience haven’t.’
The Loss Project…
… offers free monthly support sessions for people who’ve gone through loss of any kind.
The Squiggly Careers podcast…
… covers everything from understanding your strengths to finding career confidence.
The Calm app…
… is packed with helpful meditations to keep those worries at bay, including mindfulness at work, for those who are panicked and stressed about redundancy issues.
Note: if you’re concerned about your mental health and feel it’s having an impact on your daily life, seek help from a medical professional. For information and advice, you can also call Mind’s helpline on 0300 123 3393.