Paul Wilson
Mar 17, 2021

The many emotions of redundancy: reflections of an agency leader

Making sense of losing your job takes time but sharing your experiences can help, confides Vizeum's former global strategy chief.

Photo: Getty Images/Westend61
Photo: Getty Images/Westend61

Like many other people I was recently made redundant. It is a huge shock to lose your job and that has been amplified by the uncertainties of lockdown and the emotional roller coaster of the past 12 months.

Thankfully, the sense of stigma attached to redundancy is decreasing. A recent LinkedIn survey showed that while 82% of HR professionals believed there was stigma surrounding unemployment before Covid-19, nearly half (47%) said it has reduced since the pandemic. But it is still not a subject you hear much discussion about.

Our jobs are closely linked to our identity, so it is important to talk about it when things aren’t going OK at work, as well as when they are. Just talking about our successes gives a skewed perception of the realities of working life. Talking about issues like redundancy is uncomfortable and hard: but it is important that we do.

I wanted to share some of the emotions I felt during this time. Recognising and identifying emotions is difficult because you aren’t always aware of what you are feeling when you are feeling it. 

I’m sharing it here because, if you have been made redundant, then some of these feelings might resonate. Equally, you might know someone who has lost their job and it might provide some insight into what they are going through and what they are thinking.

I’ve tried not to dwell on the specifics of my redundancy and certainly not named anyone involved. Instead, this is a reflection on how I was feeling at the time and an attempt to articulate my experience. It has been a helpful exercise for me, and I hope you might find it helpful too.

Numbness

Strangely for an article about emotion my first reaction to the news my role was being made redundant wasn’t an emotion at all. I remember feeling weirdly numb, like an observer of the situation rather than a participant. I knew straight away that this wasn’t going to be a good phone call.

The news was both a surprise and not a surprise at the same time, but I don’t remember feeling any particular emotion. I was more concerned about practicalities: what was going to happen next and who else was affected.

These situations are often shown on TV in a dramatic way but that’s not how I experienced the shock. For me, it didn’t register emotionally at first; instead, its impact was felt much later.

We all have an idea of the emotions we are 'supposed' to be feeling but it is interesting to notice how you are feeling. You might react in a different way from others but that isn’t a 'wrong' reaction.

Irritation

The first sign of an emotional impact was an increased level of irritation. I became really tetchy and irritable. With lockdown confining us to the house, my wife and daughter bore the brunt of my petty irritations. I’m usually fairly laid back but I noticed my fuse was much shorter. I didn’t know where an outburst would come from; they often appeared from nowhere.

It was like a big scream of “Don’t tell me what to do!” Perhaps it was a reaction to being told what to do by my work, just displaced onto something else and someone else? I found noticing my moments of irritation helped me to start understanding and controlling it.

Anxiety

At the same time, I noticed a growing sense of anxiety and fear. I was in a lucky situation because I didn’t have any immediate financial concerns. Instead, my anxiety was a more foundational level about my identity. When would I get another job? Perhaps this would be my last job in advertising? Maybe my role was terminated because I wasn’t that good? What value do I really add anyway?

These thoughts didn’t suddenly arrive but slowly grew – especially in the small hours of the morning as I lay awake. Doubt also infiltrated my hunt for jobs. Should I apply for that position? Do I have the skills and experience or am I being deluded about my suitability? That inner voice was at times exhausting and draining.

Sadness

After the initial numbness and shock, I remember being struck by moments of huge sadness. Sadness for the exciting projects I would not now complete, for colleagues I loved working with and for my team whom I’d seen start to flourish and grow.

These journeys were being brought to a sudden close and an imagined future destination now had to be rethought and recalibrated. I was proud of what we had achieved, but was sad I would no longer be with them on this journey.

Anger

Alongside sadness I also felt moments of intense anger. If I am honest with myself, most of the anger I felt about redundancy was due to ego. Why have I been made redundant? Why have they done this to me?

I was particularly angered by the timing. Everyone had made sacrifices throughout the past year and this felt like a poor way to repay that sacrifice – particularly as our client scores had gone up, employee scores had remained stable and we were profitable as a business unit.

Anger turned to thoughts of revenge – I’ll show them! I’ll make them sorry for their decision! Most of this involved getting the lawyers involved.

Surprisingly, what helped here was getting excellent advice and realising that I didn’t really have many rights and there was not a lot I could do. One particular quote stuck in my mind: “We need to prove that they discriminated again you – courts aren’t that interested in discussing if a company made a bad decision or not.” In essence, whether I agreed with the company’s decision or not didn’t make much difference.

Frustration

One consequence of redundancy is that a key anchor in your life is suddenly cast adrift, so you look for other signs of certainty. Redundancy is a messy process and large-scale redundancies more so. I was frustrated early on by the lack of clear information and context around what was happening, as well as who was making these decisions.

But it soon became clear that there were limited answers, and certainly no answers that were satisfactory to me. Some of what I was told was confusing and contradictory and some was just unclear. Meetings revealed few additional details and were mainly focused on the process of redundancy: what was going to happen. I was more interested in finding out why it was happening and what the implications of this new business structure were for me and my team.

I never got any satisfactory answers or answers that made sense to me, so I tried to focus my energies outside the business and in finding a new role versus clinging on to an old one. As the situation became clearer my frustration ebbed away and was replaced by something else.

Apathy

As the timetable became clearer – and what I could control about the situation became less and less – I started to feel less motivated and less enthusiastic. Why bother? Why care? Why does it matter? It became harder to find the enthusiasm to do anything – like write my CV or finish a project. Even small tasks felt hard to start and to get going on. I felt flat and without energy.

I’d started the year in a positive frame of mind and had made an effort to transmit that energy to my team but I felt like my legs had been cut from underneath me. It felt harder to get up again and rekindle that energy and enthusiasm.

Optimism

Punctuating these more negative emotions were bursts of optimism and glimpses of happier future possibilities. Now I no longer had to attend endless update and co-ordination meetings, I was free to do other things. All sorts of interesting possibilities and long held-off projects popped into my head.

During the pandemic, new behaviours and habits have emerged and that has created new opportunities and possibilities. And the world of work is being transformed through new working patterns and an influx of talent into the market as companies restructure.

That opens up new possibilities to work in different ways, to partner different people and tackle new and interesting problems. That filled me with excitement and hope for a better future.

Gratitude

Many of these possibilities came from conversations with friends, colleagues and interesting people whose paths crossed mine. I’ve been hugely grateful for people’s time and the fresh perspective they have given me. I’ve been surprised by how generous and supportive everyone is when you reach out and ask for help. People are busy, they have their own struggles, but many are more than happy to help if asked.

I’ve also been grateful for comments on the things I’ve shared on LinkedIn. Projects at work have dried up and I’ve felt invisible within the organisation – particularly when stuck at home. Publishing work and receiving comments have helped me feel "seen" again. They made me feel like I had something to say that was of value.

What I’ve found helpful

So, what have I learned from this experience? What has been helpful for me and what might be helpful for others in a similar situation?

Here are some suggestions:

Take time to reflect on your experience

In times of uncertainty and change I’ve found that scheduling in time to reflect on previous events has been hugely beneficial. That might be five minutes at the end of the day to notice my emotions and how I am feeling. Or it could be 20 minutes at the end of the week, thinking about what went well that week and what I learnt. Taking time to reflect helps you make sense of things – both what is going on and why you might be reacting to things in a certain way.

Notice and label your emotions

Alongside moments of reflection, I found the act of noticing and labelling my emotions helped me manage them more. It was as if putting a label on them helped me to know what I was dealing with and made them feel smaller and less daunting.

Share your experience

I have tried to be open about my situation and found people have been very helpful and supportive. Some support has been very practical, especially around navigating the ins and out of redundancy regulations. Other conversations have helped me to see opportunities and strengths that I’ve glossed over. It is easy to get lost in your own head and your own world. Talking to others helps you to realise that you aren’t in this alone.

Getting good advice is now easier to find

There are lots of good resources around that provide excellent advice to people who are being made redundant. I found the Nabs guide to redundancy particularly helpful and easy to navigate. Nabs is the support organisation for people working in advertising and media but its advice is quite universal.

Redundancy has been a roller coaster of emotions for me. It’s not so much how am I feeling today as how am I feeling in that hour. But I feel in a different place from where I was months ago. I still have moments of anxiety and I know there are tough times to come. But I’m also optimistic about the future and about the new possibilities that lie ahead. Onwards!

Paul Wilson is former global head of strategy at Vizeum. This article was originally published on LinkedIn

Source:
Campaign UK

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