Some years back, I had the unfortunate responsibility of calculating the redundancy dues of several of my colleagues. The company had decided to rationalize our extension services while at the same time bring in younger, more technology-savvy staff. This task, coming only three years into my employed life, was most traumatizing. My concern for what would happen to my former colleagues was not made any better by the tension that surrounded me in the lead up to the announcement.
On the one hand, I was sworn to secrecy by my business leaders with dire consequences spelt out for any non-compliance. On the other hand, one of my colleagues found it fit to whisper to me, “Hey, I understand that you may be involved in this restructuring plan. Just in case you are, always remember that no one does this and escapes the fate of the others who are leaving”.
As a result of the latter advise, I separately calculated my dues just in case I ended up on the dreaded list. I passed on the news to a few members of my family and tried to make peace with the impending action, assuming that that telling them would make me feel better. The very opposite came true, I left some of my relatives anxious and, maybe, worried.
For sure, I did not have any post-redundancy plans whatsoever. I felt so ill-prepared and confused. Fortunately for me, the dire prophecy from my colleague did not come to pass.
If the trends we have seen over the last few months sustain, there may be many employees grappling with similar emotions. Several organizations, including Telkom, Stanbic, East Africa Portland Cement, and Diageo, have announced or are planning re-organizations. The list of companies considering similar action is bound to increase given the current business, technological and economic trends.
It is true that on average, people costs take up more than 50% of the overheads of profit and not-for-profit organizations. As a result, efficiency and productivity initiatives signed-off in many board rooms will inevitably affect what many organizations deem the most critical resource – the people.
As companies take these actions, the resultant effect is an increase in cases of mental illness, depression, bankruptcy, divorce, familial tension or even death in the immediate years following termination from employment. Employees are not prepared to reckon with the post-redundancy world.
While compliance with legal requirements is essential for organisations as they execute their changes, any responsible company should go beyond basics in ensuring that their former employees do not collapse upon being declared redundant. Support should go beyond the narrow financial perspective; instead, it needs to take a holistic approach encompassing employee psychological and sociological well-being.
For the employee who has been declared redundant what next for them?
Many current or former employees will reckon with this question. At least it did occupy my mind for a better part of my employment. A big trigger for me was the death of a former colleague two years after the arduous task I mentioned earlier.
Being relatively senior in the organization, and a close acquaintance too, he approached me and asked if I could do him a favour. He requested that I disclose to him whether his name was on the list of those affected. Bound by the non-disclosure pact, or was it fear of the repercussions, I could not fulfil his request. I lost a friend in the process as I adhered to corporate rules.
I asked myself, not once, “could he have prepared himself better if I had disclosed that he was on the list?”; “Maybe even planned better?”, or “Stayed alive for longer than he did?”.
Those questions I will never answer. I can do something different, though, in honour of my late friend. For those of us contemplating life after redundancy, it is good to prepare for tomorrow. I have a few ideas gained from working on similar redundancy assignments over the years. I hope they will be helpful to you or somebody staring at an uncertain future upon leaving his employment:
- From the day you start a job save more than you spend. You will thank yourself for putting away some money and investing it, especially if you are blessed with many years after you leave employment.
- Be aware of your organization. Find out whether it is meeting the goals it was set up to undertake. Is it performing well enough to sustain its existence – whether it is for profit or not? If it is not, is it giving signals of the viability of maintaining its employees?
- Plan your expenditure and live within your means. Cut off any extravagance and focus on the basics; as a reminder, these basics are food, shelter and clothing. Ensure at any one time you have the basics covered. Pay off that mortgage as soon as you can. Think through your purchases of clothes – expensive is not necessarily apt.
- For those with two houses (rural and urban) determine which will be your home. Consider making some money from the one that is not your primary residence by letting or sub-letting it.
- Ensure that you are performing well in the business and adding value to the achievement of the goals.
- Read your HR policies document and understand what the redundancy process is and the related entitlement.
- Engage a career coach to guide you on career growth and opportunities within or outside your organisation.
- Let people know that you have been declared redundant or are facing the prospect. Be true to yourself. Do not pretend to be who you are not, even if it will mean a loss of the prestige that comes with the office. It saves you a lot when people know you, especially those who would come for financial support.
- Ensure that you have a medical policy for yourself and your family.
- Stay alive. Take on those things that you have always pushed aside over the years. Play the guitar, sing, learn a new skill, travel, listen more and so on.
- Get somebody or a group of people to walk with you – one who has walked the same road on which you are embarking. It is to this group that you can pour your heart – those who you can be naked with and not feel ashamed; those who you can discuss the intimate things you have on your heart.
- Eat those things that your mother cooked for you even if the vegetables tasted bitter, beans made you exhale, or the ugali tasted flat. Avoid the food that makes you gain weight – sugar and fried food, are distinct culprits.
- Avoid the tipple or, if you have to, moderate it to suit your health and your pocket.
- Exercise– jog, walk, play a game, jump, do anything that keeps your body moving. Again, I say exercise
Family and Friends
- Re-engage with your family and friends whom you may have lost contact with over the years as you pushed to complete organization tasks. It is hard to make friends as you get older. Let me assure you that you will need them as you navigate the straits that life lays out for you. Remember: Bad company ruins good morals.
- Engage in activities to build your local community. Contributing to your community is investing in yourself and your future. Unlock the grassroot contacts you had and find out how you can make a difference in each other’s lives. For some, inspiration could be as simple as telling your story. For others, it would be mentoring children or training adults. Empty your brain as you fill up others – by the way, the mind never quite gets empty.
- Ask yourself if it is a suitable time to change the schools for your children to more affordable options. Talk to them as you do so.
- Above all, be present in the lives of your loved ones. It means a lot to them. Call them, listen to them, laugh with them, walk with them – be there.
The list can go on, and I am sure you will have your ideas too. Remember, not every person will have a similar path to scale. Choose the route that suits you best and know that life does not end with one particular employer.
That said, ensure that you PREPARE FOR TOMORROW.