A retrenchment process is precipitated by operational factors beyond your control, thus fighting or resisting the process is likely to make you burnt out, frustrated and in the wrong state to find a better career option. Rather, you should consciously detach from the drama, surrender to the fact that the process is taking or has taken its course, spend some time building on yourself with structured career planning and move forward on the understanding that the experience is an opportunity for you to gain so much more.
This is easier said than done, for it is an inescapable reality that being retrenched is an experience which cannot be taken lightly. In understated terms, it is numbing, mind-shattering and ‘scary’ with significant consequences. In essence, you are being told that you no longer have a job and this has huge repercussions, not only on your life, but also on the lives of your family who may depend on you for survival. This is even more challenging if you fall into the category of being “middle aged”and have been a loyal employee for your entire working career. The initial impact hits you at every level and in every sense. It is usually unexpected, often unfair and seemingly unaligned to reason or business sense.
Physically the stress can make one feel disembodied, immobilised, drained of all vital substance, weak, sick – as if hit by a ton of bricks. This may result in irritability, sleeplessness, depression or even illness.
Mentally one feels panicked and fearful. Worse still, one feels a failure. The automatic response is to imagine the worst scenario – that of being unemployed, unable to cover basic living expenses with no support structures or back up planning in place. Taking this a step further you might contemplate the loyalty and effort which you invested over the years – an exercise which serves only to build bitterness, cynicism and anger which in turn impact on the way that you relate to those around you.
Emotional reactions are linked to mental responses, for as indicated in the previous point, the thought builds the feeling. In a retrenchment situation one can feel unfairly targetted, maltreated, even abused in a sense. This has the potential to grow into deep seated, burning resentment and anger coupled with dread and fear – a toxic mix with dire consequences on your essential essence and thus on your ability to rebuild yourself.
All of these reactions are normal. Remind yourself of the following:
• The process will happen thus there is no point in wasting time anguishing about it.
• Feeling ‘wiped out’ fearful and immobilised is normal but you cannot afford to over indulge in this.
• This is simply a phase which will pass and is designed to move you on to better things and a more fulfilling career. Many individuals who were retrenched have moved on to create an exciting career, founded on something they were passionate about.
• You have freedom of choice in how you react to this. You can choose to be a victim, or you can create so much more. Susan Jeffers, in her book “Embracing Uncertainty” suggests that we should practise what she calls the Hero Exercise whereby when difficulties arise we reject the victim mentality and start looking for the good.
The point is that neither your employer, your family, recruitment agents nor anybody else is accountable for your career. You need to make this happen. Transitioning into positive mode, utilising and developing your skills, mustering all available resources and networks and getting out there is your responsibility. For a multitude of people, being retrenched has been the spring board for an exciting new career chapter, more satisfying and rewarding than they believed was possible. By working through the basic psychological, financial, legal and technical career aspects, you can make this happen.
It is necessary to go deeper and to do some psychological clearing. In dealing with a blow such as news of a retrenchment, all of us tend to react differently, based on our unique, intrinsic patterning and conditioning. More analytical, reserved personalities might withdraw and ‘put their heads in the sand’ while expressive and assertive types are likely to vent, resist and rage. The point is that whatever your emotional reaction, it needs to be processed prior to moving on to a phase in which you begin building on yourself. Keep a journal, talk to an appropriate person, nurture yourself and do some physical exercise.
Moving forward is the next step. Once you have cleared some of your emotional stuff, specific techniques can be applied to start moving forward. Endings are necessary for beginnings to occur. Change is a constant.
The facts are as follows: you have been retrenched and you have the power to choose the way in which you respond to this. You can resist, rant and rave, becoming bitter, angry or depressed and thus immobilized and fearful or you can choose to remain calm, utilise available resources and plan to build a more satisfying career, knowing that you have what it takes to create this.
“Barn’s burnt down – now I can see the moon” – Zen Master Masahide
Instead of immersing yourself in subjective, emotional responses, learn to be objective. The fact is that your current job has come to an end, thus you are going to find a new career opportunity. You have a variety of skills and options and will utilise a structured action plan to achieve this. Focusing on the fear and uncertainty aspects, tempting as this may be, is only going to hold you back.
Unbelievable as it may seem to you at the time, sometimes things happen for a reason. Fretting and ‘stewing’ about the circumstances relating to your retrenchment are pointless for they are already in the past. There is nothing more you can do about what happened, so mentally detach from the experience and move forward, ensuring that each day that passes is spent working towards your goal of a fulfilling and rewarding career.
Remind yourself of your skills, experience and support structures. Things tend to happen for a reason and this is an opportunity to re-assess, to be inventive and to build a new career path doing something about which you are passionate. The fear may return but that is normal, the point is not to allow this to deter you or to diminish the new sense of wholeness which you are working towards.
You are not your job. You are so much more and if for a while your true substance has been temporarily disabled, that is OK, for this process will reclaim it.
It is a valuable exercise to spend some reflective time focusing on who you are and on what you have become. Frequently what you have become may not be congruent with what you want to be – particularly in a work culture where there has been undue pressure, little appreciation and values discordant with your own. If so, this is yet another reason to be grateful for the opportunity to make a new start. Often what you have become is what others want you to be, thus it is important to do a ‘back to basics’ self -check, asking yourself some initial coaching questions and taking notes on your answers.
Do not try to force the answers. It may take some time for them to flow but as you begin clearing the old and formulating the new, you will start to gain a better sense of what your authentic self and real purpose is. Again, be grateful for the opportunity afforded you to do this, for many people live their entire lives without ever grasping this. Start envisioning the new you and formulating the various aspects and facets of this, for these aspects will link into your career choices and approaches.
Your self -worth has taken a knock and that is entirely normal. Life circumstances and people demoralise us at times. The critical learning point is how to build on your own wellbeing and sense of worth so that you are able to put this in perspective and bounce back.
Extracts from “A Coaching Handbook for Re-inventing Yourself After Retrenchment” available on Amazon, written by Jennifer Ritchie