Restructuring and downsizing seems to be the name of the game at the moment and what that means on a personal level is ‘retrenchments.’  

There will be some people in any organisation eagerly awaiting that news because it fits timeously with their career plans to downsize, retire early, start a business – and they are looking forward to the package that will give them a kickstart.  But for most people it’s definitely not good news.  At the same time that you’re losing your job, there’re generally just fewer jobs around. This can all be very daunting so we have come up with steps to guide you through:

  1. Keep your wits about you.  Retrenchment may be just what you’ve been waiting for or it may be a huge unwelcome upheaval in your life.  Either way you need to be informed.  If the intention to retrench has just been announced, make sure you understand exactly where you stand even if it means engaging with a labour lawyer for a consultation.  
  2. Use all the resources available to you.Many companies provide all or some of the following in the process, in addition to the monetary package due to you. Counselling, career coaching, professional CV and LinkedIn profile, financial advice, retraining or polishing your existing skills.
  3. Deal with the emotional fallout first.  Retrenchment is a ‘no fault termination’ in South African law.  Nonetheless it doesn’t always feel that way. Acknowledge your negative emotions, which can range from feeling inadequate to fear for the future, anger and shame.  It is entirely normal to be going through these feelings.  Find an appropriate person to help you process the feelings faster but be selective.  Don’t be tempted to rehash the event over and over with inappropriate people, particularly people who may introduce you to your next career opportunity.
  4. At the same time focus on your wellbeing and sense of self worth.  Whilst processing your negative feelings is important, it mustn’t take over.  Don’t let the voice in your head that berates you for losing your job go unchallenged. You have marketable skills.  You can choose to reframe the experience as an opportunity to investigate new career options.  You can use it as an opportunity to take stock of your life.
  5. Make techniques to build your self worth a daily practice.  You have to be intentional and develop a routine.  Useful techniques include doing physical exercise, nurturing yourself in whatever ways work for you, meditation practices, keeping a journal where you can give vent to your feelings privately, taking up a creative activity, talking to an appropriate person.  
  6. Create a victory log.  Initially this is a list of all your strengths and all the positive experiences and learning you have had in your career. At the end of every day, as a practice, review your list and add to it as more things occur to you.  In addition, write down 5 things you did in your day that were positive and successful. 
  7. Consider confronting the situation in a legal battle very carefully.  Maybe your retrenchment was legally unfair but extended legal battles whilst satisfying a sense of justice take a lot of emotional energy.  Step back and carefully assess whether it is really in your best interests reputationally and in the interests of moving forward, to go that route.  Get some advice because it may be that getting your story out there is exactly the right thing to do and signing confidential exit packages can limit your ability to do that.
  8. Invest in yourself.  Even if your company has not made services available to you, consider yourself a worthwhile investment.  First and foremost make sure that you get financial advice from a qualified financial advisor to plan and invest wisely.  Consider how you need to adjust your lifestyle until you are settled in a new role.
  9. Invest in a coachto help you move more rapidly through the process, enable you to process negative feelings safely and give you honest feedback.
  10. Retrain or sharpen your existing skills.  This of course depends on your financial situation and should be part of your planning but if at all possible, take the opportunity of the break to sign up for a course or programme that will enhance your skills and career options.
  11. Develop a strategy and plan for your next career move.  This should be your ‘job’ until you find the next move.  Although you need to engage in rebuilding your sense of self, it can’t become an avoidance tactic.  Developing a plan that requires daily action towards your next move is important.  It should involve researching and clarifying possible options in the corporate sector, SME sector and entrepreneurial options and then planning where and how you will look for work.  
  12. If you want to start your own business, make sure you are equipped for entrepreneurship. It is not the easy option.  No matter how disenchanted you are with being an employee right now, starting a business is hard.  Very few of the skills of manager in the corporate world transfer into being a small business owner.  Think of it as the difference between playing rugby and playing tennis. The rules of the game are different.
  13. Do not isolate yourself.  Tempting, as it might be to retreat and lick your wounds in private, reach out and participate in your existing networks of family, friends and professional colleagues, start to build new ones or breathe life into networks you have neglected. *Research shows that acquaintances with whom you may have only very limited contact are more helpful in steering you toward opportunities than close friends.
  14. Find opportunities to exercise your skills in a voluntary capacity.  If you can’t find a job immediately, working as a volunteer has a number of benefits from keeping your skills sharp to exposing you to a different set of people.  It looks good when you are interviewing that you have not allowed your skills to lapse.

* Study at Stanford University found that where people found jobs through personal contacts 55.6% did so through acquaintances that they saw once per year and 27.8% through acquaintances they saw less than once per year.  This is because close friends tend to share the same networks whereas people more removed from you are able to introduce you to new people and contacts.

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