Global pandemic notwithstanding, when it comes to tough mornings, there are few things quite as bracing as opening your laptop on the first day of unemployment to see nothing but a solitary email from Groupon and a request from your mum to feed her cat. I know this because I have been in exactly this position.
In fact, I’ve been made redundant not once but twice in my life. I could share with you the many deeply unhinged ways in which I behaved in the aftermath of these seismic events but instead, in the interest of being helpful, I am going to use this piece to pass on some wisdom I have learned along the way. Here’s how to organise yourself when your job is no longer.
I've just been made redundant, what do I do first?
As the date of your redundancy approaches it’s very important to get your ducks in a row as much as you can. First things first, you need to make sure you are educated on what you are entitled to and that you haven’t been completely messed around by your employer. I was genuinely surprised to learn how many rights employees have. So many workers are on fudged rolling contracts or haven’t been treated properly so it’s good to check that your redundancy is definitely fair and lawful, especially if you haven’t actually left the building yet. Whatever it is that’s worrying you the most about the future – landlords, tax self-employment loopholes, your payout – Citizens Advice is truly the best when it comes to helping you feel your way through the initial admin. You can get in touch with your local bureau here.
Understandably their helpline has been pretty busy recently so make sure you set aside a full day (if not more) for this tedious task. Put them on speaker and find something you can do while you’re on hold to avoid going completely insane. Squats, descaling the kettle, some colouring – whatever makes you feel less sad.
Remember that the whole thing is a bit of a car crash so patience is what you will be needing. I found this page on preparing for redundancy genuinely useful as it tells you how to access tons of free services like career and financial advice but also about the nuts and bolts of the redundancy stuff that may have been poorly communicated to you by your awkward boss over Zoom.
Also, please, if you are over 18 and have less than £16k in savings, apply for universal credit right now. This brings together help with rent and living costs as well as what used to be called jobseeker's allowance while you look for a new job. You pay your taxes, so this service is there for you. To find out how much you are eligible for, head to Entitled.to, a free and independent benefits calculator.
How do I deal with redundancy and mental health?
For a generation subliminally indoctrinated into believing our self-worth is defined by how many unread emails we have, we’ve internalised a lot of career-based nonsense that can hit us like a train if we take a knock. If you are a millennial, becoming unemployed is very likely to cut you deep. Despite your role being terminated for purely economic reasons which have nothing to do with you, of course it's going to feel personal: you've poured your very being into a job that's turned its back on you. But there’s no point crying into your hustle harder pyjamas while staring blankly at your KeepCup. Once your self-worth is circling the toilet bowl there’s no job in the world that could bring you back. First things first: just take a moment. Look yourself in the mirror and say "My job is not my identity" 200 times.
I spoke to Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, who said it was important not to skate over the psychological implications of a job loss because they can really spiral. She said: "You may feel a range of emotions – shock, anger, resentment, relief and much more – all in a short period of time and that’s absolutely okay. Also, remember that being made redundant is nothing to be ashamed of. You aren’t to blame. Make sure you give yourself space and time to express these feelings and talk to other people about what you are experiencing."
In fact, now is a very good time to reach out and allow friendly former colleagues and current friends to boost your self-esteem. On top of that, you need to be saying kind things to yourself about who you are and what you offer the world. Emma says that it’s always a good idea for your mental health to "spend some time reflecting on what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Write a list of all the brilliant skills and qualities you have, and take a moment to celebrate them."
If you feel like your mental health is really getting on top of you, then for please don’t plough on regardless or go to ground. There is help available. Mind has put together loads of very practical stuff about who exactly you can contact. If you are really concerned about debt, do not let it get on top of you. Good old Martin off of MoneySavingExpert has also put together this extremely useful guide on how to manage financial problems alongside mental health ones, including stuff like what you should and shouldn’t tell your bank about your issues, how to manage scary debts and benefits you can claim on account of mental health issues. If you are already in debt, then don't bury your head; StepChange is incredibly helpful when it comes to giving you the tools you need to figure out the next steps.
It’s super important to regroup for your own mental health but as founder of Seven career coaching Evelyn Cotter tells me, it will also massively benefit your career. "I see so many people who literally go through a grieving process and that is perfectly natural, your identity and sense of security has been threatened. That’s why you need to go through the whole thing and take stock. Lots of people aren’t prepared for redundancy." But, she says, it’s a bad idea to start hurling yourself at the job market straightaway. "I know that action feels better than inaction – but it’s no good if your actions lack strategy. Even just a week is worth taking.
"It’s a real moment for people to take a step back from the hamster wheel of what they were doing and work out what they really want."
How do I tell people I've been made redundant?
You may not be feeling tip-top about the conditions of your redundancy but it’s important not to allow this to affect your future. "By all means vent to your friends with a glass of wine," says Evelyn but when it comes to prospective new employers, "I would say don’t be an open book. People like someone to be honest but be wary of being too open about what’s happened. I find people fare best being open about losing their job when they have traction and a clear idea about where they are going next." She continues: "Can you reframe your redundancy in your own head? Your brain is likely naturally leaning towards the negative but right now you’ll need to brainwash yourself positively. If you own the narrative about it not being the right job for you, you are clear to start new beginnings."
How do I go about getting a new job?
When it comes to locking down a new gig, it doesn’t pay to apply for every job advertised. Career coach John Lees, author of How to Get a Job You Love, has a very straightforward approach. He says that when you find yourself jobless, "There are two outcomes you are looking for all the time. One is to shorten your job search time, the other is to improve your odds."
You might be tempted to start texting and emailing everyone you've ever met in a work-related situation like a maniac, but Evelyn advises starting with your own network. If you know any interesting connected people who you feel comfortable with, she recommends that you reach out to them and get a warm intro from someone they know.
One of the benefits of everything being online right now is that you don't have to leave the house to do your networking. Evelyn recommends engaging with the things people share on LinkedIn. See if people you admire are doing webinars or Instagram Lives you can get involved with. "Have a strategy – build up to it – be up to date with what they are doing. Find some people whose careers you admire and whose work you admire. Shortlist them and find a way to them – maybe a 15-20 minute coffee or Zoom call. The natural goodwill of people to help someone out is so often underestimated by my clients."
John agrees these meaningful connections are so important. "When people feel connected to you, they start having ideas on your behalf which is what you want. I would recommend you do some work researching companies, even if they aren’t hiring. Who in theory could have a need for you? Waiting to see roles advertised in a recession is actually a bit of a dangerous strategy because people apply for anything and everything."
A better strategy, he says, is to find an organisation which may need the skills you’ve got at some point. Make a direct approach. Don’t overcomplicate your message. Don’t send a CV. Do send a short email with six bullet points summarising your career history. But do your homework. Find out what challenges they might be struggling with in the pandemic. If they have laid people off, where did they lose staff? You can present yourself as an opportunity to that company. He also says, "Do the simple stuff like making sure your LinkedIn looks brilliant as you can bet that’s the first thing they will look at."
Since your LinkedIn is essentially your shop window now, I asked one of their career coaches, Charlotte Davies, how you can jazz yours up. In her view, the more info on your page the better. "Make sure that it reflects your personality. If you don’t wear a suit for work, don’t wear a suit in your profile photo; share articles that align to your interests as well as your industry and include any volunteering or passions that are important to you, as it may well become a talking point with a future employer." Members with profile photos receive up to 21x more profile views, she advises. "We’ve also seen that having your current position listed could make you receive up to 10x more messages." Also, hot tip: if you list more than five skills on your profile, you’re 27x more likely to be discovered in searches by recruiters. Employers can see how you work and which roles might suit you.
It can be pretty hard and lonely doing all of this digitally but when you do get that face-to-face time, Evelyn says there are even little tweaks you can make there. "Have a nice wide shot on Zoom to make sure they can see you gesticulating with your hands. It sounds silly but get your tech right. Make sure your audio is good quality. You don’t want anyone to have struggles connecting to you."
Are there any positives?
Finally, without sounding like a total nihilist, it’s worth remembering that for many of us, jobs are often just sending emails about other emails, punctuated by the odd tuna baguette and you are so very much more than that. So, in the quiet moments, it’s worth asking if maybe a redundancy was the perfect moment to come up for air. There is something quite exhilarating about the prospect that you can do literally anything during a moment when the entire world has had a major wakeup call about the meaning of life. Could this spell the start of a whole new chapter for you?
Even if you are currently in a blind panic, know that when you hold your nerve and seek the right support, it will pass. People will tell you that you’ll be fine over and over again and it will be quite annoying at the time, but the truth is, you really will.