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Preparing for redundancy

Ben Williams (a Chartered Psychologist who works as a strategic adviser and executive coach) with a timely review of some of the effects of redundancy, and how to react to it.

26 May 2009

Redundancy may creep up slowly, its approach hardly noticed until the last minute. It can arrive suddenly and without warning. Sometimes people read the signs accurately and expect the worst – occasionally it can be a relief.

Whether redundancy is expected or not, it is usually a shock, and psychologists are very strongly placed to help. In some instances it may even be a case of 'Psychologist, heal thyself!': psychologists are no more immune to job cutting than any other profession.

While the threat to one's bank balance and the need to meet family and other financial responsibilities are the most obvious effects, it's important not to underestimate redundancy's emotional impact. The key to reducing these negative effects is planning: taking precautions as soon as the threat of redundancy registers.


It's wise to put contingency plans in place against the possibility of redundancy in today's economic climate. Yet surprisingly few people consider doing this. We insure our lives, our homes, even our travel, but not our careers. If the worst happens, having plans in place will mean you are less likely to feel devalued, worthless or a failure. By planning in advance, you can take a realistic overview of possible career paths and evaluate them calmly and without pressure. This checklist should help convert potential disaster into probable success.

I     Prepare as much as possible in advance to avoid being surprised. Take time to research likely organisations for future employment in your area. And of course, every time you complete a successful project, add the details to your CV.

I     Define what you would regard as equitable terms for your termination of employment, and be ready to negotiate effectively. Improve your negotiating skills in readiness for this!

I     Examine and define your personal and career goals, ensuring that these are in line with your value system.

I     Establish in advance which career directions or changes might realistically satisfy you in terms of contentment and success.

I     Make yourself aware of how your current skills, talents and ambitions are transferable and match
the requirements of the employment marketplace.

If redundancy happens, you will be more ready to approach the marketplace if you've accepted the possibility than those who have refused to face up to it, hidden their head in the sand or viewed it purely in a negative light. You will be more effective in job-search, and better prepared to perform well at interview.

If you're prepared, you will be less likely to sign redundancy agreements while in a state of shock. You should always examine such documents carefully and negotiate terms to take full advantage of financial entitlements and all possible outplacement and support services your employer may offer.

This preparation time should involve doing as well as thinking. Raise your profile in at least one professional organisation or association, for instance the relevant Division of the British Psychological Society. Begin networking with colleagues in other organisations or areas of work where you might be interested in progressing. Making contact with others enables you to update your professional skills. Your morale is more likely to remain high if you talk with other people rather than simply thinking about issues in isolation.

Apart from the obvious period of unemployment and financial difficulty the prime danger of redundancy is succumbing to disempowering despair and dysfunction. It is important to maintain an active routine, to keep physically fit and mentally active.


Like all major difficult life events, it is important to understand the need to go through recovery, often referred to as a 'mourning process'. This involves a range of, initially negative, emotions of varying degrees of intensity – shock, disbelief, anger, fantasy, depression and guilt. It is during this negative phase that people may need support. This sequence can be rehearsed over a short or indefinitely long period, but in most cases negative emotions will give way to more positive ones. The positive elements begin with acknowledgement of the reality of redundancy, followed by self-awareness, goal-setting, planning, taking action, gaining results and finally, acceptance. It is during these positive processes that most people will respond best to being challenged.


Asking yourself 'What would you have, or do, or be, or achieve, if you knew you could not fail?' helps to establish life and career goals. Answers should be 'SMART', i.e. specific (not a generalisation like 'happiness' or 'health'); measurable (set a recognisable standard for your achievement); acceptable (will fit the chosen ecology of your life as you want it); realistic (will involve skills and talents you already have or can develop); and timed (set a specific and finite time for the achievement of each item).Once 10 different answers have been established, each of these goals should be broken down into sets of objectives, which, in turn, are broken down into daily tasks. Daily tasks fall into two categories: progress and maintenance tasks. Progress tasks are those which initiate a new activity, make an introduction, or establish a new approach; maintenance tasks are the regular tasks which make things happen. Over 20 years experience as an occupational psychologist dealing with redundancy suggest to me the need to: understand fully the value of your skills and experience, and prepare a statement which accurately describes them; establish what you want from your new job, or your new career, and disclose this positively to interviewers and to people you meet at your prospective new workplace; be ready to explain that you will make a positive effort to fit into a team in your role, and take a collaborative approach with colleagues; indicate that you wish to build your career with the organisation (if this is not the case, consider why you are making the effort to join!); be ready to enhance and develop your skills and experience with training, mentoring and coaching.  

A journey

Success is a transient state, rather like happiness; you can consider it as a journey rather than a destination. Bertrand Russell said that 'Success is getting what you want and happiness is wanting what you get'. It is my view that both can be achieved, but only if you are prepared to choose very carefully and then take positive and persistent action.