Carillion, Help for those left behind!

With news headlines flashing “Where did it go wrong?” (BBC), and “377 Carillion workers to lose jobs” (BBC News), the news about the collapse of Carillion is big news. But what about those organisations who have to manage change – scaling up or scaling back – on a regular basis? We very often only hear about organisational change when it is dysfunctional, and many jobs are being lost. However, there are organisations who don’t make the headlines (and don’t want to for the very obvious negative exposure that the Carillion collapse has revealed) but who have to make decisions about whether to keep people in an under-performing business or make changes to their business which ultimately impacts their people.

It’s never an easy decision but unfortunately businesses are businesses and strive for economic stability Without it, how could you feasibly employ people, right?! The reality is (and has been for a long time), that people lose their jobs every day – it’s no longer unusual to experience redundancy. So why then does it feel so personally unique every time it happens? And how do you face the very real certainty that you’re entering an uncertain world?

I remember like it was yesterday when I lost my job, having moved from a sales role in Canada to start my “dream job” in London. Six months into a 12-month contract, I was informed that the company was being sold. My initial reaction?

  • Shocked (how on earth could this happen to me, I have a contract!);
  • Complacent (they’ll never get rid of me, I’m really good at what I do);
  • Panicked (crikey, what does that mean for me);
  • Terrified (I’m on the other side of the world doing my dream job, I’m never going find anything better!);
  • Desolate… “Now what do I do?”

Helen Kuber-Ross, author of On Death & Dying, and attributed as the originator of what we know widely today as the ‘Change Curve’, offers great insight into what we can expect when presented with drastic change. Originally written for people who are facing loss, it was later applied to the how people respond to change more generally. When change is forced on us we react, we feel a loss of power and prestige and think about how we are viewed by others.

It can lead us to isolation, feeling unable to tell our partners, families or peers. However, as challenging as it can be to tell others it is essential to share. Surrounding yourself with a supportive group of friends and family makes sure you have them by your side whilst you experience this new uncertainty in your circumstances. You’d be surprised how sympathetic people are –redundancy is much more commonplace than ever before as I’ve mentioned; who’s to say one of your friends hasn’t experienced the same things as you?

In terms of my own job loss, I was on my own and knew very few people, being so new to the city. After the shock wore off I tried to devise a plan of action. In retrospect, knowing what I know now, I would have taken the time to ‘mourn’ as Kubler-Ross suggests, and to understand all the emotions I was feeling rather than jumping into the first role offered (which turned out to be not my best choice!). But we live and learn.

Helen Kuber-Ross research states there are five stages we experience when faced with loss or change:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Everyone experiences these stages differently; some individuals may start planning their ‘recovery’, whilst others may struggle and get stuck in one particular phase. Reflecting on, and recognising, your own personal stage of change is an important step to moving forward – change is very personal, and one size does not fit all.

Either way, once you’ve recognised where you are in the change process, it’s time to tackle it head on.

Stage: Denial. Tends to be short lived. It is the initial shock and disbelief we feel when we experience something unexpected. You need time to process what has happened. Sometimes moving forward is impossible. Moving to the UK in good faith (when the company secretly knew they planned to sell) to subsequently have my role made redundant was alien to me. Having been in a position of responsibility and trust, it was a complete surprise to find myself being treated this way. A valuable lesson. No matter how much you love your company, remember it is a business first. Decisions will generally always be made with the business’s livelihood in mind, not yours. This is happening, it’s real. Better to start to accept the change than deny it because now is your opportunity to do something you really want to do with your career.

Stage: Anger. Often, once you’ve accepted the reality of what is happening, anger takes hold. And it’s usually your nearest and dearest who experience this behaviour. But it’s perfectly normal to feel this way and you should allow yourself time to be angry. What helped me deal with the anger was to take early advantage of the outplacement services offered to me; the company wanted to make sure they made the transition as smooth as possible. The career coach I was assigned recommended finding a peaceful place, grabbing a pen and paper and without thinking too much beforehand, write down what was going on in my head. The advice was to imagine who I was upset with, write down everything making me angry, then yell and scream at the page. Once I’d had a good shout, I ripped the paper into small pieces and threw it away. Best piece of advice I’d ever received for dealing with anger! From that moment I was ready to form a plan of action.

Stage: Bargaining. After the fires of anger have been blown out, the next stage is a desperate round of bargaining, looking for ways to avoid having the bad thing happen. Bargaining is often a vain expression of hope that the bad news is reversible. You may find yourself inadvertently negotiating with a higher power or someone you feel, whether realistically or not, that has some control over the situation. It should also be noted that bargaining is not a bad thing. It’s about trying to regain a modicum of control when everything feels like it’s slipping from you. But be careful if they start making promises; they rarely transpire.

One of my candidates recently experienced the pain of ‘bargaining gone wrong’. As part of the senior management team, she was well respected by her European and international colleagues. When they learned her role was being made redundant, discussions started about how to keep her in the business, offering her a role in a newly formed team, with similar responsibilities and influence. Sounds good right? Well, the negotiations continued for nearly three months – most of her notice period – but all sounded positive and it looked like things might work out. Wrong. Only one week before she was due to leave the business did she learn that there was no role – there never had been. Instead of using her notice period coming to terms with the fact she would be leaving the business, he was thrown right back to the beginning of the change curve all over again.

Stage: Depression. This stage can be exceptionally painful and tough. Also known as the pit of confusion, depression can freeze you in your tracks. Up to this point, you may have felt sadness, but you’ve been able to operate – now there’s nothing more that can be done. The job is gone, and there’s no more fight left in you anymore. You may feel an emptiness that rolls across everything you do – like a dense fog crawling across a lake – and it may feel like this feeling will last forever. However, it’s important to understand that this is not a sign of a mental illness; rather, a very natural response to circumstances beyond your control.

Losing my job a second time was a complete shock. I’d changed industry sectors and just bought a flat. The blues hit me hard. Not only was I jobless again, but how on earth was I going to pay my mortgage?! For me what helped was breaking down everything that was overwhelming me into small tasks, e.g. making one call, applying for a single job – and I made sure I got exercise. And instead of isolating yourself, it is essential to surround yourself with people who can and will support you; ignore the naysayers and those who bring negativity to the situation. This process is hard enough without having those types of people around!

Stage: Acceptance. Acceptance does not necessarily mean we’re happy, but that we are now more resigned to the situation, recognising that it’s time to deal with what happens next. Of all the stages, this one seems to have the most fluctuating nature, dependent so much on each individual’s capacity to deal with change.

Acceptance is a positive step – you are starting to take ownership for yourself, your situation and your actions. You may find yourself starting to accomplish small tasks that make you feel good: going out to have coffee with friends; looking at the job boards; completing an application form; updating your CV. This is the opportunity for you to move forward, to ‘get over the hump’ and let people know that you have something to offer.

Finally, for those at Carillion, or anyone experiencing redundancy, a few tips:

  • Understand what support your company may be offering you as part of your severance package. As whether outplacement is included – in the UK, companies are not legally obliged to offer it so it’s definitely worth asking the question.
  • Have a lawyer check through your proposed settlement before agreeing to anything.
  • Take the time to process the stages of change, and recognise where you are.
  • Use the Job Centre and take advantage of the support offered, as well as the government benefits available to you.
  • Ask for help from people who will positively support you, and who can offer solid advice. If that’s a career coach through an outplacement programme, use them.
  • Take time to think about what you’d really like to do next. Losing a job can open up many different opportunities that you may not have considered before.
  • Write your CV…properly. There is lots of information on the internet, but there’s also a myriad of CV review companies. Find a reputable one or ask your career coach for help with structuring it. Without a decent CV, your chances will be limited.

You may feel, even when you’re proactively job searching, like you’re on an uphill struggle and things will never change. When this happens take a break, go for a walk or meet a friend for coffee. Persevere and follow a plan. After all, the change curve is a little like a hill – reaching the summit is an accomplishment and brings with it exhilaration and an accomplishment. The outcome of your job search efforts will be the same, if not better.