Managing Retrenchment

How can you manage the shock of retrenchment?

New Zealand’s unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to a 13-year high as the pool of jobs shrank for a second straight quarter with a flat labour market in Auckland and fewer full-time workers. In the face of this; what can you do if faced with retrenchment from your job? Being fired (or retrenched) is an enormous upheaval and a significant source of stress.

Change in itself, whether for better or worse, is stressful, according to psychological literature. Like divorce, retrenchment is not an event, but a process. It may play itself out over a long period of time, and affects everybody in the company. Those who have been retrenched are possibly the worst affected, but individuals who are doing the retrenching and those left behind are unlikely to escape unscathed. Psychological consequences may be seen in the termination meeting and will also present themselves after the individual has left the company.

The following feelings and reactions are likely during the termination meeting:

Anger/hostility Many individuals react to bad news with anger. In a retrenchment situation, the underlying feelings may be hurt, disappointment and rejection, which find their outlet in loss of control or an angry outburst.

It is suggested that the manager stays calm, listens carefully and allows the employee to vent. Managers should refrain from becoming defensive and arguing back, and should remain as calm as possible and stick to the facts. They should resist the temptation to tell the employee that there is no reason to be angry.

Denial/bargaining The underlying feelings could be shock, disbelief or fear. Employees may panic about what is going to happen to them. Managers should keep the tone business-like and professional, and explain the next steps clearly and concisely. The message should be repeated as often as necessary – don’t negotiate or bargain.

Grief/sadness – The underlying feeling is most likely worry, fear or vulnerability. The manager should give the person space to grieve, show compassion and understanding (without trotting out platitudes) and clearly explain the next steps. Don’t attempt to minimise or negate what the employee is feeling.

Formal/procedural The underlying feelings are controlled, suppressed, unacknowledged or vengeful. The manager should allow time for reactions, offer to answer questions and clearly explain the next steps.

Quiet The underlying feelings or motivations of this type of reaction could be controlled, passive or numb. Again, the manager should allow time for reactions to develop, offer to answer any questions that may arise and clearly explain the next steps. The message should be repeated as often as necessary.

Relieved – The underlying feelings of this reaction may be optimistic, fearless or certain. As with the above two reactions, managers are advised to allow time for reactions, offer to answer questions, explain the next steps and repeat the message as often as necessary.

If you have been retrenched consider the following points:

1. Don’t take it personally

Redundancy is rarely, if ever, personal. Don’t let it affect your self-confidence and morale. In most cases layoffs occur as a result of a changing economic environment or mergers and acquisitions, which are typically outside most people’s span of control. Never point the blame squarely on the person who informs you of your layoff, as s/he is only a messenger.

Retrenchment is not the end; but rather the beginnning!

2. Retrenchment is not an end, but rather a beginning

Even though we may not expect it, throughout various stages of our lives doors close and others open. When one door closes and it is a shock, we may not immediately see other doors opening.

3. Take advantage of outplacement support

If your company provides outplacement support make full use of it. If no outplacement support has been provided, ask if the company could provide assistance with a registered outplacement firm. Research has shown that job seekers with the assistance of a qualified outplacement consultant have a better strike rate in job interviews.

4. Sort out your finances

Discuss with your partner or spouse your financial situation and make adjustments where necessary. Few people realise that this transition may be a gift to help you change direction. Poor financial planning may propel you into a less than favourable job and close down opportunities to explore what you really would like to be doing.

5. Be realistic about time

Expect things to take a while. The more senior your previous job, the longer it will take to find something else at the same level. If you change careers to start your own business, it will take time for you to achieve the same feelings of effectiveness. Be patient when making a new transition and go easy on yourself by not expecting too much too soon.

6. Forget the ‘labels’

Recruitment consultants are rarely concerned with the fact you were retrenched. They are more interested in how you respond when the chips are down and how quickly you took control of your situation. It’s not what happens in life that distinguishes us, but rather what we do about it.

7. Explore all options

Talk to a specialist career advisor or business coach. This may just be the chance to propel you in a new direction. With assistance you may uncover skills and pathways you may not have previously had the time, inclination or confidence to embrace. Alternate pathways such as owning your own business or franchise may offer you financial security and personal flexibility.

8. Get some exercise

There is limited appeal in sitting around the house in your pyjamas until lunchtime. Get up early and get some exercise. The endorphins will keep your mind energetic and creative and assist you through the transition.

9. Volunteer your time to a worthwhile cause that interests you

This will help keep your self-esteem high and provide activities that may help you explore new avenues, or maintain your current skills. At the very least it will keep you busy and stop your brain turning into ‘TV-mush’.

10. Feed your spirit

Find exhilarating testimonies of people who succeed against all odds. If you are not an avid reader, then now is the time to start, and ensure you are keeping your mind positively challenged with the heroes of our time. It will help keep things in perspective.

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.



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