I’m acutely aware, if not a little uncomfortable, that I’ve started writing a blog about work-life balance at a time when unemployment rates around the world are rising to an all-time high. Just yesterday, it was reported that in the UK alone, the number of paid employees is down by 700,000 since the start of the crisis.
And it’s not just that one industry or company is facing collapse resulting in job losses. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on entire economic sectors, the recovery from which is difficult to foresee in the immediate future.
Being stressed and overwhelmed at work is one thing. But finding yourself involuntarily out of work is a whole other ball game. My upcoming work-life balance profile includes a story of redundancy, so the impact it can have on a person is fresh in my mind.
However mindful you are that it’s the role, not you, that has been made redundant, it is incredibly difficult not to take redundancy personally. In some cases, it is a welcome release. But for many, the resilience it takes to overcome it is huge.
It’s not just that you’re back to ‘square one’ in terms of finding employment, which in a competitive jobs market is itself overwhelming. Finding yourself unexpectedly out of work – especially not by choice – evokes a sense of loss and shame that can make you question your value. Compounded with the financial pressures it brings, being on the receiving end of a redundancy can be the lowest point in a person’s career.
But it can also be the making of a person’s career, and I know many (myself included) for whom in the long-run, redundancy has resulted in being exposed to new opportunities they would never have had the time, imagination or courage to pursue. In the midst of the rejection and panic, it’s hard to see how things might work out for the best. But they might.
I will share three pieces of advice, for what it’s worth:
1. Don’t stop moving
The best piece of advice I was given immediately after being made redundant was from a client who told me not to sit still. By that, he meant to pursue new job opportunities while my work experience and skills were still at my fingertips. It’s a lot harder to return to the workplace after an extended period of leave when examples of what you have done are more dated.
I also interpreted that to mean not to let the redundancy puncture my spirit. Of course, you need to lick your wounds and recover from the shock and upset. But don’t let self-doubt creep in and hide under your duvet for months on end – it will take all the confidence you have to weather the storm of rejections ahead of you until you find your next move.
This client was an astute businessman though, and I think his point was more calculated: You are one of many looking for a new job. Don’t sit on your laurels, and don’t indulge in self-pity. It’s a race – get out there and beat the queues!
2. Network, network, and network some more
Your network is worth its weight in gold. Finding a new job is a numbers game and the more people you speak to and mix with, the larger your pool of opportunity expands. You never know what ideas may come up and who you might be connected with as a result.
One shouldn’t underestimate the excruciating humility it takes to knock on the doors of busy people, even if those are friends or former colleagues. But most people are flattered to be approached for their advice and help. And it’s a long game – you never know when your paths may cross again and, in all likelihood, one day you will have the chance to pay it forward.
So, fill your diary with catch-ups and coffees. Having a busy schedule may in itself give you a sense of purpose, motivation and positivity.
3. Use your time wisely
Having unexpected time off work may not be what you’d have chosen, or what you need, but it is nonetheless time to yourself you would not have otherwise had. Looking after your physical and mental health after the shock or disappointment of redundancy can help you feel better, and give you the strength you might need to continue caring for others during this difficult time.
Also, this is a chance to reflect meaningfully about what you want next from your life and your work. Think carefully about what you loved and didn’t love about your job and your work-life balance, and look into options for forging new career paths. This may be the opportunity for change that you would not have taken had it not been imposed on you.
Finally, amidst all the job-hunting, give yourself permission to enjoy yourself too. Redundancy is tough enough – there’s no value in punishing yourself. Go for a swim in the middle of the day, attend the exercise class you could never make when you were working, or wander around an art gallery (all within the Coronavirus guidance of course). You may not get this time to yourself again for a long time, so try to make the best of it.
These are unprecedented times and the wider impacts of living through a pandemic are only becoming evident as events unfold. Change in uncertain times can be frightening and anxiety-provoking, and for those forced to be without work – something that anchors and identifies you – even more so. Keeping the faith that a new livelihood will come along in time, and that it may even be better than your last job, is not easy.
I’m not usually one to turn to pop-star teen idols for inspiration, but I’m reminded of the catchy song that Ariana Grande sang about her string of exes. She saw her future in each one of the people she loved, but when things didn’t work out, she moved on, concluding that what is most important is the love she has for herself.
Committing to a job or a career is to give of your time, energy and self – not hugely dissimilar to how you might invest in your personal relationships. Being cut loose can be a kind of bereavement. Recognising all that you benefitted from during your employment, and what you are grateful for, can help you muster up belief in your self-worth, which you’ll need in order to move on. Because clichéd as it sounds, if you don’t believe in yourself, there’s really no reason you can expect future employers or customers to.
So perhaps there’s some wisdom to glean from pop star millennials and the like, that in the face of redundancy, it might just help to summon that teen spirit, toss your ponytail (albeit metaphorically), and say: “Thank you, next”.