Job Layoffs: The Aftermath of Redundancy

In a previous post, I mentioned there was a rumor of redundancy for some friends of mine. Some people were in fact let go, though none of my friends were among the unfortunate ones.

Redundancy — losing your job in a layoff — is difficult for most people. I’ve worked with many people who have been made redundant and struggled with the aftermath. On the whole, these individuals have been hard workers, intelligent, and loyal to their companies; when the hammer finally fell, they often went into an emotional tailspin.

After the initial shock, and even though many had been compensated well for losing their job, it’s interesting to note money became the least important factor.

What really mattered was suddenly losing direction and meaning in their lives. Without work, they became unsure and lost.

One executive I worked with received a very healthy financial package when he’d been made redundant. With money and time on his side, he could have used this opportunity to take his family away for a long-needed vacation, something he hadn’t done in many years. But instead, all he started to focus on was, “I should have done better at my job. I’ve failed.” This became his daily mantra and within a week he started to become very depressed.

His sense of self had been totally shattered by this turn of events. He’d worked with the same company for twenty years, he was the VP of a large multinational company, and his identity was wrapped up with what that meant: the power, the prestige, and the financial trappings that came with the title. In his eyes, he’d absolutely failed, therefore he was a total failure. Period.

There was no rational thinking going on here — he wasn’t able to step back and rationally examine the work situation, and what might have lead to him being let go. He couldn’t see that after his company had been taken over, the new management structure meant there were two people in his position. Too many chiefs and his position was superfluous. Nothing personal.

To add to his depressive emotional state and irrational thinking about being a failure, he began to create anxiety by asking his wife over and over, “I will be all right, I will get another job won’t I?” At the beginning she would reassure him, but as is the way with anxious thinking, his incessant need for reassurance meant she lost patience with him, causing a rift in their relationship, which he then used to reinforce his belief that he was a ‘failure.’ Down, down, down he went.

Long story short, he tried to hang himself — and fortunately failed. This is when I met him and started to help him on a long road back to being a confident, capable man.

Redundancy can be a shock to the system, and that’s completely natural. It threatens our sense of safety. But when our sense of safety is threatened, our emotions can take over. It’s important to keep calm because anxiety and depression are not good bedfellows. The last thing you need to do is have your cognitive abilities impaired because you’re thinking irrationally about yourself and the situation you’re in.

Don’t let your thoughts overwhelm you. If you catch yourself constantly thinking things like, “I can’t stand this, I must get another job” or “I’m going to lose everything, I’m such a failure,” then there’s a good chance you’re going to become anxious and depressed – and that’s not going to help.

If you are in this situation, I always think it’s a good idea to talk to somebody else, quickly. Often people feel shame for being made redundant and will hide away, but don’t ruminate on your plight, talk. Friends and family are helpful, but they may not be objective enough. Also, family members tend to have their own anxieties about you not working and this might influence your thinking and mood. One of the best early options is to talk to a coach or therapist. This can be an efficient way to help you organize your thoughts, while setting realistic goals and addressing how you’re going to achieve them.

Some people worry about the cost of this help, but it’s quicker and cheaper to spend a few hours with a coach forging a sense of direction than it is to ruminate on your plight and become depressed. If depression takes hold, you probably won’t be in a good place to think rationally, or function well enough to look for work, let alone be able to work. In the face of redundancy, it helps to be calm, be smart, and get support.