Keep your head in the face of redundancy

When you are faced with the prospect of redundancy, the stress and feeling of rejection can be overwhelming. There are, however,...

redundancy When you are faced with the prospect of redundancy, the stress and feelingof rejection can be overwhelming. There are, however, some ways to keep it under control.

Between January and September last year 36,000 UK IT employees were made redundant, according to Amicus, the IT professionals' trade union. Careers in the technology industry have always been fast moving, but when economic uncertainty is added to the situation, the stress levels can ratchet up.

David Rippon, veteran IT director and professor of IT infrastructure management at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, recalled the time when his company, Land Securities, bought the younger and more entrepreneurial property business Trillion. "I went on holiday fearing I might return to redundancy and that is exactly what happened," he said.

IT directors from both companies had to reapply for one position as director of the two merged companies.

"I was in a competitive situation and lost out. Effectively I was demoted, which added a further level of stress," Rippon said. After that came the redundancy and the realisation that he was expendable which brought further distress.

Rippon cannot dispense an easy remedy to people living and working in a similar experience. "In the end, all you can do is keep your head down and keep working," he said.

Extreme reactions

While the best strategy for the workplace might be to keep quiet, Rippon said he found it was important to talk about the situation to family and friends.

"Do not bottle everything up. You do not want to have to continue the facade of going into work because you are scared to tell your partner you have been made redundant," he said.

With her background in Jungian analysis and as senior consultant for outplacement specialist DBM, Anne Howarth knows how traumatic redundancy - or the fear of it - can be.

She is often on-site when large-scale redundancies are announced and remembers an occasion at an engineering company when an IT employee tried to strangle his manager. "He literally had him over the desk," she said.

This dramatic example illustrates what can happen when somebody allows the prospect of redundancy to become terrifying.

"Stress comes into play when we are no longer in charge of our decisions. People mistakenly believe that a job is for life. If we all had the same outlook as a contractor who comes in on a daily basis and looks to deliver a good job, there would not be a problem," Howarth said.

She believes that a healthy outlook in the modern economy is to reject the dependency values of employment, where a manager, or company is responsible for validating your output. "Everyone should perform a job to their own level of satisfaction," she said.

In that way, people are always in charge and in touch with their abilities and skills. "Transferring skills elsewhere, when it comes to the crunch, is no longer such a big deal," Howarth said.

The incident with the engineering IT employee had a happy outcome. Howarth took him outside to walk off the anger and talked him through the reality of his employment contract.

"He was furious because he felt very rejected," she said. However, after discussing possible future roles, he became quite excited about his prospects. He was in a new job in three months.

Personal performance indicators

Keeping a vigilant eye on stress levels enables people to cope with any economic uncertainty that might arise, said Clive Pinder, managing director of Vielife, a health and stress management consultancy.

In the fast track of IT, people are already vulnerable to stress because it is a fast-moving, immature industry that is not well understood by human resources managers, he said.

Vielife has learned most of the stress and health management lessons from the high-octane world of Formula One racing. "There are important synergies between Formula One and IT. Both are global, big businesses with tight deadlines."

In Formula One, a car has to be on a new starting grid every two weeks and the consequence of poor performance may be death.

The four indicators of performance are sleep, stress, nutrition and physical energy, and Vielife takes a reading of them all to assess an individual's state.

While an athlete knows precisely how they are performing through their personal best and latest times, a employee does not have this precise indicator, said Pinder.

He recommended keeping physical activity up when the chips are down, even if it only is a brisk 30-minute walk at lunchtime. "IT professionals are sedentary. The nature of their jobs means they are PC potatoes."

Pinder has his own mantra that has seen him through the turbulent dotcom boom to his current stewardship of Vielife. "There are more jobs in this world than I can possibly get fired from. It is about an attitude," he said.

Think positively

The value of positive thinking is not confined to the echelons of senior management. Sarah, who worked in product marketing for a medium-sized IT company, faced the double whammy of redundancy and, as a UK resident on a work permit, losing her residency status.

"Faced with the prospect of having to move back to the US after seven years of building friends and a life in London, I was determined not to be made redundant," she said.

Sarah threw herself into the job with even more enthusiasm. With so much inertia around, her initiative stood out and was seen as loyalty during a time when many people resorted to unsavoury Big Brother tactics.

She kept her job - one of five out of the original 30 - and outlived two bosses, a president and a chief executive


  • Do a career stocktake. List your skills and attributes, both learned and innate. What do people say you are good at? Just as important, what do you know you are good at? Write it down, because that stops you taking it for granted and makes you realise it as an asset

  • Do not be a PC-potato. Maintain levels of physical activity, especially when you are going through a stressful time such as downsizing

  • Talk to family and friends.

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