April 9, 2015

“Can I have a word with you for 10 minutes?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 12:28 am

So I’m sat at my station in the office when my line manager pops his head over my shoulder, and asks if he can have a word for 10 minutes. Well, he’s the boss, so of course he can have a word. I stand up and follow him away from my desk. For someone who wants a word, he’s not saying a lot… So, we walk off our floor, down onto a different level in the building, and into a little meeting room. I notice the head of HR is waiting for us, and also that a colleague has been brought down for what I assume is a somehow connected discussion. What the hell is going on?

“I’m going to read from this pre-prepared script…” Really, at this point I don’t really know what is happening, but I’m thinking either some form of disciplinary meeting, or I’m being made redundant. I think of my colleague in the adjoining room – is there something we have both been involved with recently? Something we might have done that someone could have mis-interpretted? No – can’t think of anything…

Well, as the script comes out, the mystery is resolved – redundancy it is. We discuss how, now that the project I have been working on is nearing fruition, the company wishes to return to it’s more “traditional” staffing levels. I’m asked what I think, but the truth is that neither my line manager of the head of HR really needs to be troubled by that. What I’m thinking is “I have two kids and a fiancee to provide for – what the hell am I going to do?”…

Eventually I am asked what personal effects I have brought with me, as my manager is now going to return to my desk and gather my belongings together before I am shown off the premises. Excuse me what? “Shown off the premises…”. 15 minutes ago I was trusted with the source code from the entire enterprise, and now I can’t be allowed to visit my desk. Heavens knows what the powers that be are afraid I might do…

Whilst my manager heads up to gather my belongings, I find myself left sat with the head of HR. To give her credit, she tries to make conversation, sympathetic noises etc – but there is nothing of comfort or practical benefit she can say, and we both know it. We’re left exchanging pleasantries until my manager returns…

We shake hands, and he then escorts me downstairs. I look at his eyes and I can see he is having a crap afternoon. I’ve been told that seven people are caught in this redundancy, and I suspect that I am not the only person my manager has had to go through this with today. The guy looks gaunt, and I’m torn between fury at how the company is now treating me, and sympathy for the guy. At the end of the day he is simply following defined procedure, and probably doesn’t want to be here any more than I do. I break the awkward silence to tell him that I know this isn’t personal, and that he’s just following procedure. We arrive in reception, where despite the pleasantries they are careful to see that I step out of the door…

Walking across the car park I encounter a group of individuals who have clearly been through the same experience I just have. They look a little angry, just like me – a little bewildered, just like me…. We can’t believe what has happened, noone can make any sense of it. We talk for five minutes or so, and then part ways.

If I ever find myself working in a position where I have influence over redundancy procedures, I will do a better job of it than my previous employer. I was left feeling guilty, like a criminal. The reality of the process of course is that you ARE being cast aside, but there has to be a better way to do it than this. Not having the chance to say goodbye to colleagues properly, as opposed to over social media, really stings. The truth of the matter is that most people when made redundant are not hell bent on revenge – they’re in shock – and it wouldn’t hurt to treat them as as human beings…

Having gotten to my car, I started to drive toward the school where my fiancée works – this isn’t the kind of news I want to pass on over the phone. I called a good friend to let him know what had happened, and then started out into traffic… As I head out onto the motorway I’m still quite shocked, and to be honest a little angry as well – but then it occurred to me that this attitude isn’t going to fix anything. I needed to be more constructive about things, so whilst I am driving back to Doncaster I place a call to my preferred recruitment agent – Gravitas Recruitment in Leeds. Over the course of the next few miles I explain what has happened, that I am looking to find a new role quickly, and my minimum requirements in terms of a salary. After listening to me for a few minutes, James (my recruiter) says “Right. I’ve got this. Go pick up Rachel, go home, sleep and we’ll talk in the morning…”. Still somewhat shell shocked, I decided that is exactly what I would do.

Rachel, bless her, was a star. It would be wrong to say she wasn’t worried, because she was – but there was no blame. All I received from her was support, and a determination that whatever was coming, we would face it together. I tried not to get too preoccupied with thoughts of “how do I feed these kids?” – but truthfully that was bouncing around in my head and wouldn’t go away… The first night of redundancy is probably the worst, because you have a million things running through your mind, and no idea what you are going to do about any of them because you haven’t really had a chance to start planning how you are going to address the situation. I didn’t get much sleep, and although she claimed to be fine, I doubt Rachel did either.

Come the following morning, and I get a telephone call from James asking if he can come out and meet me. I invite him to my home, but probably for safety reasons Gravitas prefer to do their business in coffee bars and other public places. We have a nice coffee bar in the village, so I arrange to meet James there later in the morning. Unfortunately a few minutes later he called back to say he couldn’t make it, and asked if I might meet him in Leeds City Centre instead. Well, having nothing better to do, I agreed – finished my coffee and caught a train.

Meeting James was a big relief. Tall, perhaps a little younger than I had expected, the guy exuded confidence. He told me to stop worrying – that the market was in my favour, and that recently he had turned around people in my situation in three days. He’d already sent me details of some suitable positions to examine on the way over, and it was clear to me I was dealing with someone who had an active interest in making things happen. In other words, he was precisely the kind of guy I needed in my corner. He asked for a period of exclusivity, which I reduced somewhat before I agreed to it – if I didn’t have decent leads in the next week or two then I would have to open my search to other agents. I was also keenly aware that a number of former colleagues were passing my details to their own recruiters, and I didn’t want anyone to feel slighted by not taking up their offers. Strange of course, but that is how I felt at the time…

Over coffee we discussed my requirements, expectations, and availability for interviews. Availability was an easy one – I kept my suit ironed and ready, and would be out the door on a moments notice… I left the meeting with James confident that if nothing else I had made a decent attempt at starting to get a job search on track. Over the course of the next week, I had interviews almost every day – often two the same day. Things went well, and I interviewed like crazy until things came to a pause of the Easter holidays.

At home though, things were far from ideal. Rachel and the kids were great, but something was wrong because I was having serious trouble sleeping. It would be wrong to say that I was constantly worrying about the situation we were in, but it must have been kicking around my subconscious because I simply could not get to sleep. Most nights I would try to lie in bed with Rachel, but would end up sneaking downstairs to watch TV, grab a warm milk etc, return to Rachel and stare at the ceiling some more…

I developed a chest infection, and at that point decided that I needed some help, so I went to see the local 8 while 8 doctor. He prescribed me some antibiotics to deal with the infection, some other pills to help with the acid he thought was causing my sleeping difficulties, and gave me some general advice about getting a good night’s sleep. I came away thinking all was fixed, but of course that night still couldn’t sleep…

In the end, I decided that if my body was determined to crash down like this, then I would let it – so I just waited it out until I was unbelievably tired, and went to bed early in the evening by myself. Sleep at last! I don’t pretend to understand what was going on with my body or mind through this period, but from that night forward, I was able to sleep. This episode was one of the strangest experiences in my life though, because I knew there was no reason why I should not be able to sleep, and yet simply couldn’t do it. It was the first time I have every really felt “out of control”, and was a very unpleasant time.

Once Easter passed, it came time to review where we were in terms of the results of the interview process. I started with an interview on the Tuesday morning, and as usual made a point of getting into the city a good hour before I had to, just to make sure I was there on time. I like to arrive at interviews relaxed and 20 minutes before they are scheduled, and I find being in the area an hour before to be the only way to achieve this.

As luck would have it, my walk to the interview would take me past Gravitas’ front door, so I put in a call to see Usman, James’ manager who was handling my case while James took some well deserved annual leave. In that meeting, Usman informed me that one of the companies I had previously interviewed with was prepared to make an offer, which would at least match the package I had received from my previous employer. This came of course as a massive relief, and as soon as I left Gravitas I called Rachel to tell her the good news – that we were now secure, but it was just a matter of seeing what other companies might be prepared to offer as well…

I attended my arranged interview, together with another one arranged at the last minute later in day… Whilst travelling home, I was informed that another two companies, including the one I had interviewed with that morning, were also making offers. Without revealing too much, I should be starting work again next week, and will be making an extra couple of thousand pounds per year than I did in my former role. I’m looking forward to the challenges to come, and this is very much the happy ending…

Sort of.

What I would like to do is to share some advice, so that hopefully someone else finding themselves having this nightmare experience might benefit from my own experience and approach.

First of all, don’t get mad at your previous employer. It’s not easy, but at the end of the day no good will come of it, and it only serves as a distraction. You don’t need the distraction, you have a job to find – so draw a line under things and move on. Besides, it only makes things tricky for your friends who remain with the employer…

Next, be constructive, positive, and act. Brooding isn’t going to help, so by far the best option you have is to take the situation by the horns and address it head on. Your new job is finding your new job – so get on with it.

Social Media is a tricky one… As I was introduced to the door the head of HR made clear her view that I ought not to criticise the firm on social media… One subconscious effect of this is that I didn’t really mention my redundancy on social media for some time – which of course I was able to do without attacking the company, and so could have done on day one. I’ve helped a lot of people in my career, and once I made public the fact that I had been made redundant (by which time I already had the offers in place…) I was amazed by the number of friends and colleagues whose immediate reaction was to try to help me. People were prepared to talk to their managers about upcoming vacancies… One former colleague asked me outright if I wanted an interview with the company he worked for… It rapidly became clear to me that I should have engaged my social network on day one.

At home, keep in mind what’s important. My situation was initially dire, but guess what? My girls were healthy, my partner loved me and we have supportive families. My initial fears about how do I feed these kids? The simple truth is that if I couldn’t, then our parents, together with an uncle to whom I am already deeply indebted in my life, would have come to the rescue. I wouldn’t have liked it, but the fact is that the kids were never going to starve… I have an acquaintance who is married with three daughters and is in a fight with cancer he is far from certain to win. Having lost a job, whilst a serious problem, pales into insignificance compared with that…

In terms of interviews, don’t be afraid to be yourself. People often seem to take on a special persona at interviews which is both fake and easily spotted by a good interviewer. Be yourself, be positive, and be honest. When I have conducted interviews myself, an answer I really respected is “I don’t know”. It takes a certain strength of character to recognise that, and can usually be easily addressed.

Be early for interviews – personally I always like to be sat in reception at least twenty minutes before the interview is scheduled to begin. You might be seen early, you might have to wait, but at the end of the day the interviewer sees that you have taken steps to ensure you attend on time. This speaks of preparation and planning – neither of which are negative impressions!

Finally, keep this in mind… I have personally been made redundant three times in my career. On each occasion, initially things seemed bleak, but looking back all three occasions saw me progress into better positions with better pay… Redundancy is a problem, but if properly addressed hopefully a temporary one, and the grass is usually greener on the other side.


1 Comment »

  1. That post contains a lot of very sound advice, and I am really pleased things worked out for you Martin. Quite a few years ago I had to make a group of people redundant because of technology changes. I could see the problem looming and tried to get the people involved to retrain to perform slightly more demanding roles. A couple tried, but pulled out. The others weren’t interested. Eventually crunch time came, and we had to follow a very convoluted procedure, sending them home for a few weeks on full pay while we were supposed to see if there were any alternative jobs for them. At the end of the farce they were called back, and I had to break the news one by one. Everybody reacted differently. Some were very angry, one or two burst into tears, some took it quietly and one or two were actually pleased: “The money will come in handy for the new extension”.
    Through the grapevine I learned that all of them except one found new jobs quickly. The one who didn’t was very bitter and came to see me once or twice. She carried on a campaign for several months, and I could see it was making her ill and preventing her from doing what she should have done and concentrate on the future.
    Years later I landed a new boss who I knew I could not work with, so I applied for voluntary redundancy and eventually got it. After nearly 25 years with the same company it took time to adjust, but from Day One I was determined to close that chapter and move on. I was badly treated but was glad to be out of what had become a snake pit.
    Easier said than done, but the big lesson I learned was that loyalty is a one-way street in large organisations, public or private sector. Do your job and do it well, but don’t make an emotional investment in your paymasters.

    Comment by Y Cneifiwr — June 26, 2015 @ 7:47 pm | Reply

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