Tom O'Neil: Keep your parachute at the ready

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Others are there to help you during stressful times. Photo / Getty Images
Others are there to help you during stressful times. Photo / Getty Images

We're doing what?!

You know something bad is about to happen when the entire company is called to an emergency meeting, led by a 'Transition Manager' from overseas ...

"Head office has said New Zealand is not as profitable as they would like it, therefore as of today you are all made redundant. That is all."

As crazy as that scenario is, a friend experienced that exact situation in 2002. With a new wife and infant family, his secure employment with a large international firm was suddenly left in tatters.

Thankfully he rose from the ashes and took the opportunity to be self-employed, ultimately leading to his own successful business.

Employment law aside, this example is startling in its bluntness.

Hundreds of people staring at each other in shock, having to go home and tell their husbands, wives and children they won't be at work next Monday.

On the whole, however, I have found this is the exception rather than the rule. I find my clients really do agonise over the decision of whether to make staff redundant or not. That agony is then genuinely echoed by HR practitioners having to pass on the bad news to people they work with everyday.

Are you your job? I once led a large outplacement project in Northland for senior managers of a major government department. In this part of New Zealand there were few leadership roles of any description available, and the chances of getting a similar position was very limited. One way to find those most at risk emotionally during this process was to ask a very simple question: "Describe yourself ..."

Those who responded in a career focused way (e.g. "I am a senior manager in a large government department"), were at far more risk than those who gave more of a general description about their life (e.g. "I am a dad to three boys, really into rugby and have been married for five years"). For the first group there was not a lot left for them to cling to in times of major change.

Outplacement specialists and HR practitioners have to understand that it's more than just about a person temporarily losing their main income stream (it's easy to miss this when you are sitting safely in your own role).

In my experience, redundancy most often results in a lot of negative self-esteem, financial issues, marital discord and in some cases substance abuse. Therefore it's imperative that those affected are treated with the respect and care they deserve.

In my experience, employers can help a person successfully transition through this difficult time by following a number of key principles:

* It's not personal - Help those affected by letting them understand it's not personal. No one in head office personally selected them to 'be fired'. It was a choice made by senior management that took place after due care, consultation and consideration.

* Be as transparent as possible - Obviously there are strategic decisions made on high that are not shared with everyone. However, try to give the 'good oil' to your people as much as possible, without breaking any company confidentiality or employment law.

* Provide good outplacement support - Let your team members have an independent person they can bounce ideas off, coach them in job hunting and blow off steam with. Your own HR team are too close to really provide any objective advice or support.

Now, here are some key things to do if you find you have been made redundant. Kathryn Jackson (executive coach and author of How to Keep Your Cool if You Lose Your Job) has some great ideas:

* Stay calm - remember that it's your role that is no longer required, not you! Consider whether this is the opportunity to update your training, or try something new.

* Find your cheerleader - At times like these it's really important that you surround yourself with positive, helpful people who are going to support you in deciding your next steps.

* Make a plan and prepare - Your full time job is now to find a new job; whether in your current industry or something new. Prepare an awesome CV and read up on good interview practices.

* Working together - If both management and those recently redundant approach the process with a clear head, it will alleviate a large amount of stress for all involved, and help everyone move forward faster.

Tom O'Neil is an international author, award winning speaker and MD of both Outplacement.co.nz and CV.CO.NZ. You can contact Tom at tom@cv.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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