I’m always surprised when someone in their early career asks ‘what is redundancy’? Then realises they are almost guaranteed to experience it themselves, or know someone close to them that will go through redundancy, at least once in their careers.
We often hear of friends that have been made redundant and ask the question, ‘so how are they doing’?. If we still see them around in their casual gear and at school drop off months later, we may not ask in case it’s not going so well.
A redundancy in an early stage career can be confronting, like our first relationship break-up. But, generally speaking, there are enough options and advice to transition quickly. Facing a shock redundancy in mid to late career is more like the divorce you didn’t ask for, complete with the complexities of loyalty, trust, financial commitments, narrowing options due to specialisation or seniority, low confidence and fear of irrelevance.
Unless we’re very close to someone we may not want to ask all the details. So I wanted to share a few case studies of people who have experienced redundancy in their mid to late careers that have transitioned to a new phase including some of the challenges. The names here have been changed for privacy.
Case Study 1: Michelle
Learning there are other options if you give yourself permission.
As a member of the senior leadership team for almost a decade, Michelle didn’t enjoy her job any more, but was working such long hours under stress that she didn’t have the time to work out what her options were and whether she was on the wrong career path or in the wrong industry. After the decision by the organisation to cut senior headcount to create immediate savings, the redundancy conversation came as a shock. She was notified she would be finishing in two weeks after handing over to a subordinate.
With large financial commitments and having not looked for a job in almost 10 years, she didn’t feel she could afford to sit out of the market ,and was fearful at 50 years of age she may not have many options. Very quickly after being made redundant, she was contacted by a recruiter about a senior role within the tech industry which she interviewed and accepted. It fulfilled her need for security and maintained her salary, but they needed her to start as quickly as possible.
With only two weeks between roles, which was a positive for her cashflow and redundancy payment, she went straight into a new role already feeling burnt out. The organisation she joined within the tech industry also proved to be the wrong fit, with a toxic culture, excessive work hours and bullying behaviours. She resigned within seven weeks.
Feeling even more stressed this time, she booked a holiday then took time to assess her options, including where her time and knowledge could be best spent. What cashflow did they really need each month? Could they make some adjustments in their lifestyle to reduce their monthly outgoings?
Two months later and with time and space, she came to the decision that she was ready to move on from her corporate career and to embark on a new career phase that she has often wondered about but not thought possible. She enrolled to study nursing. To support their household while she studied, she found a part time role within an organisation with a positive work culture. The role was one level down from her previous level which allowed her to contain her workload within the part time hours and carried less stress.
Michelle was calmer, healthier and happier than she had felt in years and could see future options. Even if she changed plans again in the future, she felt she had control that only a few months before had seemed implausible.
Case Study 2: Chris
Never too late to adapt to a changed world.
As a qualified specialist with twenty years in one organisation, this senior executive was blind sided when the company decided to restructure. Having the majority of his career devoted to one company, his identity, loyalty and community were reflected in his email signature.
The organisation offered him a generous transition package, aware they had blind sided a significant long term employee. By his own admission, he had also become complacent and comfortable. So now unemployed, the shock took weeks to process, and months before he had accepted that he needed to reinvent and sell himself to the market. But the employment market and nature of that industry that he had known was completely different to today. At nearly 60, and financially not in a position to retire, the fear, uncertainty and doubt he felt was at times paralysing.
He worked with executive career coaches to build his confidence, articulate his value and reinvent himself as a brain for hire rather than a job title. Guidance for his ongoing professional development, financial well-being, physical and mental health were important to help navigate the highs and lows he experienced while not working, as well as provide structure and purpose to his open diary.
The biggest emotional challenge was the shame of losing his identity – as a person that was respected for their knowledge, solved problems and made critical decisions. In two decades having been the person that everyone came to for answers, he had never had to ask for help himself. Having to learn how to project confidence, while also being open to how others can help, took time.
As the primary earner, taking direct steps to be clear on household cashflow and make adjustments, he was able understand his financial security and the period of time needed to be earning any level of income should finding the next permanent role take more time.
After personal reflection and development, Chris was able to reinvent himself to create five different income opportunities including consulting, contracting, individual advisory, board appointments and a start up venture. By redefining his identity away from the job title, organisation and industry, and towards where his knowledge and experience holds value, he has gone some way in future proofing the next phase of his life.
Case Study 3: Vivienne
Knowing your value and market can mean a quicker transition.
After a successful career transitioning from a clinical role into management, and a focus on service quality and patient outcomes, Vivienne’s employer was merging with another organisation which resulted in a restructure of the management team to reflect the larger operation.
In her mid-late career, Vivienne was told that her only choice was to apply for a more specialised senior leadership role, otherwise there was no future role for her with the organisation. She was given one month to decide if she should apply for the role without any guarantee or accept redundancy.
She had really loved her time in her current role and could see the culture was changing. On paper, the promotion seemed like a great opportunity, but instead it caused a great deal of stress trying to work out if that was what she really wanted. Did she have the skills to even apply? If not, would she have other options outside the organisation?
By clarifying her strengths, skills and what aspect of her work gave her fulfillment, she recognised that the senior role would be too removed from being able to have impact on staff, patients and their experience. She realised she was still passionate about what she did and wanted to be part of making the sector better. Still with uncertainty, she made the decision to accept redundancy.
As she had already identified that she wanted to stay within her current industry, the level of role and what value she would bring to an employer. She was able to quickly focus on the mid level employers that wanted to stand out in the industry for their service and quality. She then tailored her resume and LinkedIn to fit.
Lacking confidence and not being a natural networker, she followed a structured process to begin conversations with her closest contacts to get insight into what was happening, and also get their feedback on her strengths and ask for trusted introductions. Each conversation helped build confidence in her valuable skills and knowledge, and that she could make a difference. She secured a new role 6 weeks following redundancy to a growing mid-size organisation looking for someone with her unique mix of skills.
Transition is possible but will always require some level of change. If we wait for change to happen to us, then we can find ourselves flat footed and taking longer to recover. If we are aware of possible change and what our choices may be in different scenarios, adapting can feel more in your control and certain.