Employment lawyer Laura Valcin reckons redundancy can be an opportunity to rethink your career and make it what works for you
Already many working dads are having to deal with the prospect of redundancy. Many more will face the reality of it in the new year. The economy is likely to unravel further before it picks up.
Redundancy is never good news. However just as there have been positives from the pandemic experience – particularly for working dads who’ve enjoyed more time with their families – there are different ways to approach redundancy. Employment lawyer turned life coach Laura Valcin has some timely advice for anyone facing the spectre of unemployment.
According to the Government’s economic watchdog, UK unemployment is likely to reach 2.6 million in the middle of 2021, or 7.5% of the working age population. It’s currently about 1.6 million.
Of course, this is likely to have a devastating effect on a lot of families and individuals and on top of the other effects of Covid-19 we have had to endure this year.
The furlough system introduced at the start of the first lockdown has meant a lot of employers have been able to continue employing their staff. Thankfully, in light of the second lockdown, the Chancellor has announced the extension of the furlough scheme until March 2021.
The furlough scheme has been a saviour for a lot of businesses. However a lot of other businesses have sadly already closed. Others, including some of the big high street names such as Top Shop and Debenhams look unlikely to survive.
During the first lockdown, I saw a huge downturn in my work as an employment solicitor because, instead of negotiating exits and advising on settlement agreements, everyone was trying to hold on to their jobs. More recently, I have seen a small increase in some of that work in mostly settlement agreements where businesses have decided that, in order to survive, they have to make cuts and restructure.
As I said at the start, for most people this will be devastating news, but for some, this is an opportunity. In my experience, I have found people generally fall into one of three camps when being told that they are being placed at risk of redundancy.
Which camp are you in? The first camp consists of those totally taken by surprise, are shocked and find it very difficult to accept that they may lose their jobs. With that shock and surprise comes a raft of emotions, including anger, anxiety, panic, blame and a lot of worry. These are generally the group that feel their loyalty to the business has been betrayed and feel the decision is unfair. However, in most cases this does not result in an unfair dismissal claim.
The second camp consists of those people who are less taken by surprise, maybe because they have seen the writing on the wall. These people understand generally that, in order for the business to survive, tough decisions have to be made. I am not saying that they too will not feel worry and concern, but they are able to better rationalise things and come to terms with it.
The third camp, and it is this group that I am addressing here mostly, are those who are quietly happy they are being made redundant or, while not exactly happy, are prepared to think out of the box a bit. This group will consist of those who have been employed, normally for a fairly long time, and whose redundancy pay is perhaps enough to not put them in a state of panic about finding something quite so quickly.
They may have thought about leaving, but a good enough reason has never presented itself or they decided that staying put was the safest option, preferring security over risk. I think we can probably agree that no job is completely safe. Another observation is that, having been placed at risk, some clients proceed to tell me of all of the things that they had been unhappy about; mostly over a long period of time, and I mean years, and to connect those things to their selection.
In these cases, they generally wish they had done something about it long ago. It is always very painful for someone who perceives they have been, or indeed has been, badly treated over the years or whose loyalty has not been appreciated, to find that they have been selected for redundancy. Often it has nothing to do with their selection, but nevertheless, it is not easy to rationalise.
I should say that unless there are grounds for an unfair dismissal claim, there is little that can be done about losing their jobs. However, what serves them better is addressing their emotions, accepting the situation and looking to their future.
Often, the overriding emotion for the first group is fear; how will they be able to find another job; how long will it take and what happens if they can’t find anything quickly. With rising unemployment expected next year, one can imagine that this is likely to be the number one emotion for a lot of people.
Naturally, most will want to get back to work as quickly as possible, generally into the same kind of work they will have come from as this is likely to be the easiest option.
But what if we consider a different approach? How often do we get the time to really think carefully about our next move?
Often, we are so busy working our jobs and not having the time to think of anything other than what we are doing that we don’t stop to consider whether we are really happy with what we are doing. Or it might be that we have accepted we are not really happy with our jobs, but are not prepared to think of doing anything else; it’s easier just to stay. We just put our heads down and carry on, irrespective of whether or not it is fulfilling, satisfying or rewarding work, generally thinking it might not be any better anywhere else. We do it because we need the money or have to earn a living doing something so it might as well be this. We do this for years and years!
My question is how do we know whether things might be better elsewhere if we are not prepared to at least explore that possibility?
Stopping for a while and considering what you want, or no longer want, from a job is crucial. Jumping into another similar position is likely to deliver the same degree of unhappiness.
Irrespective of how you feel about redundancy, it can bring opportunities and it may be just the thing that allows you to stop and consider carefully your next move. It has been said that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. How many of us can truly say we love what we do?
Even if we can’t say we love everything about our work, we might, with some time and space, be able to decide what elements of what we do we find satisfying and really enjoy and so would like to take forward into our next job, while leaving behind those elements that are not so rewarding.
A colleague of mine, after a period of real burnout and despondency about his job, was able to take some time out to consider his position. What he came back with was a suggestion to his employers of how he would like to work and that led to him doing his dream job! While this did not come about due to redundancy, it did come about from him taking time out to really consider what he wanted to do.
For a lot of people juggling with hours and jobs that are not child friendly causes a lot of stress in our working and personal lives. Even if spending more quality time with your children is not the issue, you may just want to be able to have more personal time for yourself to pursue other interests and perhaps working flexibly will allow that.
I know when I worked full time with my daughter there was very little time for play at the end of the school and work day and sometimes my weekends were stolen by work. Becoming self-employed has allowed me to take charge of my time and also pursue other avenues.
Sometimes, however, it is not about the hours, it’s about what you do that is the issue. Doing work that does not energise or fulfil you is likely to cause a number of issues.
Taking the time to weigh up the pros and cons of working differently (or not) is invaluable to ensure you make the next right move. It might be working for yourself or working more flexibly or simply working in a different field. Ensuring your next position ticks all, or as many as possible, of the boxes for you and your family has to be worthwhile.
If you are considering doing something entirely different, but not quite sure what, I would suggest a series of questions like these.
Doing this exercise allows you to prioritise what is important in your life and also changes your mindset to finding something that aligns with those priorities and will hopefully stop you from jumping back onto the hamster wheel. I like to think of it as finding your freedom!
What Covid-19 has shown us all, I think, is that we have all had to change the way we work. Working from home was alien to a lot of people before and might never have been a consideration. Certainly, a lot of employers would never have even considered it previously. Although not ideal, we managed somehow, even if it meant working from the kitchen counter or ironing board while doing Zoom calls! For those with children, it also meant managing them being at home and home schooling. Hats off to you!
Families have had to operate in a different way. Maybe being at home as a family and spending more time together was a good thing and you have decided, going forward, that you would want to incorporate some of that into your future working pattern.
It might be that the more philosophical of us have realised there is more to life generally than the treadmill we have been on for a great many years and it is time to step off. Certainly not having to commute meant we gained a few more hours in the day.
So, before you rush into onto your next hamster wheel, here are my tips:
One final thought. I have written this article in the context of redundancy, but, of course, you can always and should always take the time to assess where you are in relation to your work and decide whether it is working for you. It’s a two-way street!
Lorna Valcin started her legal career as a legal secretary before qualifying first as a legal executive and later as a solicitor in 1997. Lorna specialises in employment and immigration law. After achieving partnership in a national law firm, Lorna decided to become a self-employed solicitor working with a number of firms. More recently, Lorna has qualified as a life coach and has set up life coaching business LV Coaching