Are you ready for a tap on the shoulder?

Are you ready for a tap on the shoulder?

In recent months, several colleagues working in HR have had to make employees redundant. While they didn’t personally make the decisions, they still had to be in the room while people loyal to the company for five, ten, even twenty years were let go, some of them just a week or two before Christmas.

On hearing the news, the reactions were quite different. Some were distraught, in tears as they contemplated the difficulty of finding new jobs as mature-age workers. Others were pensive or grateful or angry or in denial. Despite the variances in their reactions, most of them had one thing in common: they felt unequipped to confront the employment market as a retrenched jobseeker.

Many of us do very little to make ourselves more employable should the time come when we’re unexpectedly chucked out. 

This is perplexing. We live in a world where, for decades now, barely a week goes by without a news headline wailing about layoffs. Everyone surely knows at least one person who’s been made redundant in the past few years. And yet despite these incessant and loud warning signals, very few people do what needs to be done to prepare for their (perhaps inevitable) turn to be dismissed.

At the heart of the problem is complacency. Many of us land a job, enjoy it just enough not to quit, and then stay there doing very little – if anything at all – to make ourselves more employable should the time come when we’re unexpectedly chucked out.

This could be you. If in recent years you’ve done nothing to further your skill set, nothing to form new industry connections, nothing to make yourself more valuable or knowledgeable or necessary, the pain you’ll feel if you’re someday retrenched will be much more acute, and your recovery, too, will be significantly more difficult. Unless you start planning for it now.

Underpinning this angst is that we frequently define ourselves by our job title. We’re a PR agent, secretary, factory worker, marketer, miner. The risk with identifying so strongly with one profession is that it makes it harder to adapt to something new when those jobs become irrelevant, and subsequently replaced, in the future.

Some analysts are already predicting the demise of particular jobs over the next ten years. If you’re a cashier, postal worker, journalist, typist, or an operator of a toll booth or switchboard, you’d be nuts doing anything other than finding tangible ways to make your résumé more impressive and competitive.

From a psychological perspective, it’s also important to look at the role work plays in your life. For some people, it’s just a place that provides the funding for a separate more-satisfying lifestyle. But, for others, it’s much more than that. Their work is their life. Their friends are their colleagues. Their hobbies and passions reside within their job. And the fall is therefore much harsher when they’re unceremoniously dumped.

It’s critical, then, to assess how dependent you are on your employer in terms of income, happiness and your social life. Having enough cash in your savings account, pursuing interests unrelated to your job, and maintaining friendships unconnected to your work, are all essential protective mechanisms.

In the book Keeping your Head after Losing your Job, Dr Robert Leahy notes the prevalence of depression, physical ailments, and anxiety among the unemployed. All of these, he writes, can be overcome by being active rather than passive: “You may not have a choice about what happened to you, but you do have a choice about how you handle your period of unemployment.”

What he should have added is that you also have a choice in how you handle the period during which you’re still employed. Being retrenched can be traumatic. It doesn’t need to be that way if you realise that, in a cutthroat world, there are things you can do in advance to cushion the impact.

Have you ever been retrenched? What were your experiences?

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