Getting the sack has its upsides
Losing your job — by whatever manner— is traumatic and needs managing, writes Sophie Toomey
YOU’RE sacked, we’re downsizing, we’re restructuring, we’re going to have to let you go. It doesn’t matter how it’s said, the end result is the same. You’re going to be packing your desk, saying your farewells and eventually looking around for another job. And whether you saw it coming or not it’s always going to hurt.
For solicitor Sarah Webb getting fired came as a complete shock. ‘‘ I thought it was going to be a chat about the job I was working on and I was completely off guard.’’ Webb says she didn’t cope well and cried in the boss’s office. ‘‘ I didn’t argue but I did burst into hysterics and have to leave the room and then the building with a red face and puffy eyes. It was awful.’’
Webb says it didn’t get much better from there and over the next few weeks she became extremely negative. ‘‘ It didn’t seem to matter that I hadn’t loved the job and that work had been tense. I became fixated on the idea that I hadn’t been given a chance to change. I felt completely grief-stricken — as though I had lost my identity. Then I felt absolutely furious and after that totally ashamed.’’
Helen Hooper is director of Creative Coaching solutions and a career coach of 25 years with a masters in psychology and HR management. She says it is normal to go through a grieving process after a job loss and that people experience everything from shock and anger to a deep sense of rejection and a loss of confidence.
‘‘ There is a lot of baggage that goes with being sacked for poor performance. People can feel deep humiliation as well as consuming bitterness and resentment.’’
Hooper stresses that people’s feelings will vary enormously depending on whether the job loss is the result of a sacking or a redundancy. ‘‘ Being let go for underperforming has a stigma attached that doesn’t come with a redundancy. When you are fired it’s much harder not to take it personally but people who are made redundant tend to think ‘ it’s just business’ and move on.’’
Richard Morris, a trainer in the pharmaceutical industry, lost his job three times in five years as a result of corporate restructures. On one occasion he had just received funding for a major project and did not see job loss coming. Morris says he didn’t experience feelings of unfairness or bitterness.
‘‘ I didn’t feel ‘ why me?’ at all. I now know so much about how corporates operate that I just don’t get shocked any more. It’s part of working life and I remind myself it happens to hundreds of people every day of the week. I’m always prepared for uncertainties around employment,’’ Morris says.
Hooper says it’s almost inevitable that people who are dismissed will question their skills and ability and suffer a dent in their self-confidence. She advises people to move through this phase as quickly as possible by going through any feedback they’ve been given, assessing its merit, making a plan to address valid issues and moving on to the positives. ‘‘ I’d advise people to look really honestly at what they did and figure out what they can learn from the feedback but certainly not to spend too long on that or any other negativity. Making a list of strengths and weaknesses is something Hooper advises should be done as soon as possible.
While Webb ultimately moved through her experience, there are those who fall into depression after a job loss and in those instances Hooper advises seeking professional help which some companies offer as a part of redundancy packages. Says Hooper: ‘‘ There are studies that suggest those who have an optimistic view on life tend to look at job loss as merely a temporary setback whereas those who are generally pessimistic can start to feel there is no hope and spiral into clinical depression.’’ Morris is one of the optimists. ‘‘ I try and see job loss as an opportunity to get a better job. Hopefully the money will be better, the people more friendly and the commute a little shorter!’’
Hooper believes the majority of people who are sacked could benefit from professional help to move from a negative to a positive frame of mind, and make the most of the experience. ‘‘ Having another perspective can help people with an honest self-appraisal, assessing feedback and getting to a point where they are once again able to be truly positive about what’s next. Positivity about the future is going to be a huge drawcard when looking for your next job.’’
How quickly you recover from a job loss can also be dictated by how the sacking took place as well as what work was like in the lead-up. Joydeep Hor, lawyer with Harmer’s Workplace Lawyers, says that in his experience those who feel they have been unfairly treated have greater difficulty moving on, particularly if entangled in legal proceedings.
In addition, Hor says that those who have suffered long-term unpleasantness or conflict at work can find a sacking very hard. ‘‘ While most large companies have really sophisticated procedures in place for warnings and feedback, there are always going to be renegade managers who are appalling with criticism — and exacerbates an already bad situation.’’
Hor advises all employees to be responsible about clarifying feedback so that if dismissal does come it won’t be such a shock. ‘‘ Ask how serious feedback is when it’s given and ask clearly about the ultimate consequences of the feedback.’’ Hor says most employees can tell the difference between critical commentary on the run and serious feedback, but there will always be bosses who aren’t entirely clear. ‘‘ There are plenty of managers who are people pleasers and are uncomfortable with criticism. They will always frame criticism nicely. Ask them to clarify things if you are in doubt. That way if it is serious you don’t have to let it get to the point of a termination.’’
Hor says many employees are unclear about what is required of employers before a termination. ‘‘ There seems to be a myth that companies must give employees three warnings before terminating their employment.’’ Hor says in fact fairness is the benchmark. ‘‘ It comes down to whether a manager has been fair, clear, helped an employee to understand any problems and let them know when things aren’t good enough. Generally it’s a question of whether communication has been good enough.’’
Hor says that while most companies have good feedback mechanisms in place and try to adhere to them, there are still situations where employees go through a sudden and brutal sacking. ‘‘ The on-the-spot ‘ you’re fired’ is certainly rare these days. But it does happen and
that many employees are not in a position to make unfair dismissal claims.’’ He says that for those who believe they have been victims of discrimination should seek legal advice. ‘‘ There is always the protection of anti-discrimination and human rights laws.’’
Hooper says that while there is often a great deal that people can do to modify their behaviour and working habits, job loss is frequently a result of a people simply being in the wrong job. ‘‘ People don’t get fired because they are not good people, but because they are in the wrong job. They then take on a new position and it’s a perfect fit.’’
Though sudden dismissal might seem like the end of the world, Hooper says that she frequently meets people for whom job loss turns out to be ‘‘ the best thing that ever happened to them’’. ‘‘ If someone has been in a job for years and years and would never leave of their own accord, a redundancy or sacking might be the catalyst for a change they would never have made on their own — but often wanted to. They change careers or take a break and find a brilliant new job and wonder why they didn’t do it sooner!’’
Hooper says if people can afford it she would tell them to take a break and some time to recoup. ‘‘ It’s a great time to do that if you can, to allow yourself some time to step back and reassess your priorities. Particularly if the job hasn’t been a good fit for you then take time to think about what might work better.’’
Guiding hand: Helen Hooper counsels people on coping after job loss