Get­ting the sack has its up­sides

Los­ing your job — by what­ever man­ner— is trau­matic and needs man­ag­ing, writes So­phie Toomey

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Careerone -

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.’’

Pic­ture: Amos Aik­man

Guid­ing hand: He­len Hooper coun­sels peo­ple on cop­ing af­ter job loss

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