Redundancy – an occupational hazard – Willem’s story.

Published by: Johann Taljaard

Published on: 17 Oct, 2019

With a flexible UK economy, redundancy is a fact of life. For some, it can come as a shock but given that shock, discover how one man found a new direction and gained lifelong lesson.

The UK has a very flexible economy, this can be very helpful overall and encourage employers to invest and create jobs but it does have personal costs.  It can mean that we can all lose our jobs, not because we have done something wrong but because circumstances have changed and the company no longer needs us. When this happens, if we are employed by the company, we are made redundant and this means we have a right to compensation. If we are employed as consultants or in other ways, we can just be let go and have no entitlements.  In this blog, Willem tells of the shock of being made redundant, how he coped, found a new direction and shares his life lessons.  As it could happen to any of us, it is well worth a read.

My story around redundancy is the story of many others in their working lives. I was very unfortunate to be made redundant twice in 8 years.

I must confess that it was an absolute shock and upset me deeply. I have however learnt much about the process, as well as things about myself which has strengthened me no end. At the time,  though,  it did feel very different to how I see it now.

My background is one of being an immigrant and when I came to the UK,  I burnt with a passion to do and build great things for my family and myself,  having been given an opportunity to live and work in this country. I built a career in systems and broadcast engineering. It was great. There were many world firsts and the UK lead the world in things like Interactive Television, etc.

The first redundancy came as an absolute shocker because where I came from, there was no such thing, at the time, as a redundancy process. You either had a job, or you had no job in which case you created a job to survive with your family. Social Security was almost non-existent so there was no government support if you had no job.

So, when I was called into the office and told that my job (role) was at risk of being redundant it was very confusing. One of the most upsetting events was I was then marched through the office and my laptop was taken away, I could collect my personal stuff and was then frog-marched to the door on “garden leave” for 14 days after which I would be called in for a consultation and  told the decision around my “role” having become redundant.

It was agonising waiting for my wife to come home and sharing this dreadful news with her. She was, like me, devastated.

I stumbled through the next two weeks, with some hope that things may change and that my role was safe, but I received a letter asking me to contact an employment lawyer before the meeting. It almost felt at that point that the process was out of my hands and negotiations took place between the lawyer and the company. The outcome was that I got a Redundancy package and the lawyer seem to have gained further Annual leave renumeration from what they had offered. To be frank, I would rather have had my job than the package.

What followed was probably the darkest days in my working life. I really struggled to find work. I would get up in the morning and work flat out phoning, writing applications, changing my CV and it felt like desperate times.  Oh, I got many interviews but always made it to the number two position despite having the right and extensive experience for the roles I applied for. In retrospect , I may perhaps conclude that my age did not work for me at the time.  I was 49 when I arrived in  the UK and this was 3 years later. The redundancy money started running out and it was just dreadful.

Eventually I found work contracting into the industry and the relief was enormous. I was once again at the forefront of technology, working harder than ever and earning really good money. When that contract expired, I almost immediately found another permanent role and was back with most of my previous colleagues from a few years back. It felt like home. I was happy.

Around 18 months later, at 5:30 in the afternoon just before I left, my line manager called me into the office and shared the news, “your role is at risk….”.  As before, the shock was noticeable and at least I had the feeling that he deeply regretted the task as we had become good colleagues and perhaps friends as well over the past 18 months. The dreaded march to my desk and the computer confiscation and then the march downstairs was almost too much to bear.

However, somehow I felt more resilient then. I started considering what had happened previously and decided that I would not do the same things as I did the first time because I sank down very deeply at the time, took things personally and allowed stress to govern a lot of what I did the months following that redundancy.

Once again it took much longer than anticipated to get back into work but  in the meantime I did some training, added to my skills and engaged with training and skills development to have more transportable skills for the future.

– I decided that I would leave the industry I spent most my life in. Technology and Broadcasting and seek out a career in the Third Sector. (not for profit organisations such as charities).

Progress was slow and very trying andthe money was not as great as in my industry, I always knew that I have great people skills and that I would do well in the Third Sector. After a few years I set up with some friends a Social Enterprise working in BESD(SEN) schools, working with young people and using my film and media making skills.

I am currently working with another Social Enterprise working with friends and am very happy where I am.

Practical Approaches to Redundancies

Redundancy can be one of the most distressing events one can experience in one’s working life but it happens to many,many people. It requires sensitive handling by your employer to ensure fair treatment as well as the impact and morale it may have on the remaining workforce. Redundancy legislation is complex, employees need to understand their rights and the correct procedures to follow.

Here is an overview of the process:-

Redundancy arises in only three, very narrowly defined, circumstances – when there has already been, or is going to be, either:

  1. a business closure, or
  2. a workplace closure, or
  3. the employer’s circumstances have changed and there is a reduction or proposed reduction in the need for employees.

If, and only if, one of these situations has arisen will the redundancy be a legal one. Confusion often arises because ‘making someone redundant’ is not the same as “dismissing someone”. They are two very different things.

The definition of redundancy for redundancy payment purposes is that ‘an employee is dismissed by reason of redundancy if the dismissal is attributable to the fact that:

  1. the employer has ceased, or intends to cease, to carry on the business, the sole purposes for which the employee was employed, or
  2. the employer has ceased, or intends to cease, to carry on that business in the place where the employee was employed, or
  3. the requirements of that business for employees to carry out work of a particular kind, where the employee was employed, have ceased or diminished or are expected to cease or diminish.’

The definition used for the purposes of consultation with employees is wider and would include, for example, a reorganisation where there is no reduction in the overall numbers.

Here are a few tools and points to look at if you want to know more about the process, your rights and other tools for your benefit.

For the employers out there:-

Employment and Immigration:-

Redundancy Criteria & Rights:-

Here are some positive approaches to help with the task of finding a new position:

  1. Establish a routine, similar to when you were working, get up early, have a healthy breakfast and have a positive attitude for the day ahead

  2. Set yourself a goal, or a few goals to complete for the day. Like identifying 5 companies that you want to work for and want to approach. Don’t succumb to the scatter-gun approach.

  3. Adjust your CV to each job individually and NEVER use cut and paste as this leads to poor writing and mistakes being made.

  4. Break your day up into areas of productivity. Mornings: Writing letters/applications to targeted companies. Afternoons: Research for tomorrow mornings applications and so on. Make sure you take a good thirty minute break every 2-3 hours as this re-energises your energy levels – exercise lightly if you can. So, write applications, take/make a few phone calls, research for the next day and take a break and excersize

  5. Attend networking meetings for the industry you work in or the one you want to move into. Look for training opportunities and build your skills
  6. Find some activities you enjoy, your new friends may help you find your new post.

I hope this is helpful and dong this got me through the dark days. Most importantly, don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed by finding yourself in this position. This is not your fault. Don’t ever take this personally. It is not personal and just a way for your ex-employer to manage their challenges in running and keeping their business afloat.

Be positive and talk to your family and friends if you feel a bit down, They are your best support.

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