I still remember the feeling to this day. The gut wrenching feeling that comes with redundancy is unlike anything I had ever felt before.
It was the winter of 1991. I was doing pretty well at my job. Or so I thought. I was an Account Manager for one of the UK’s leading recruitment marketing agencies and looked after the biggest account in the business at the time (the BBC) and was kept pretty busy, whilst many around me were already experiencing the effects of the recession that had bitten some months earlier. Their clients were quiet. The phones weren’t ringing. The money wasn’t coming in. It was a bleak scenario.
And it was about to get bleaker.
There had already been several rounds of redundancies. Each time my account group had missed out on taking a hit. It seemed inevitable that with departments around us losing people, our turn would come sooner or later. And come it did!
One afternoon, just after I came back from having lunch with a colleague, my phone rang. My boss was on the other end of the line, but he wasn’t in his office some thirty feet behind me, he was calling from a different floor. Boom! That was the only sign I needed. My career to date, along with that of two of my team’s, was to come to a very sudden end there and then
As I shuffled down the corridor on the floor below, I rehearsed in my mind what I might say. How I would fight to protect my position within the company. After all, I was the busiest person in the agency. To get rid of me would be madness. Wouldn’t it?
Like all the best laid plans however, my quickly rehearsed speech went out of the window. Very little was said. We both knew what this meeting was about.
As I was handed a brown envelope containing the terms of my departure, I’ll admit there were tears, there was anger, there was the intense feeling of nausea to the pit of my stomach. All of this was made worse (although looking back I can laugh now, thankfully) by an ex of mine (tip: don;t do office romances) scurrying up to me in tears as I returned to clear my desk to apologise for breaking up with me and having flaunted her new social life in front of me for the last few months. Really you couldn't make this particular afternoon up!
A hastily arranged meet up in a bar with my shocked colleagues and a few industry friends followed, but not before I had been grabbed by security and relieved of my building pass. There was very little dignity attached to redundancy back than. No tact. No sensitivity. No kid gloves. One day you were in, the next, you were out, never to darken their door again. No support, no career counselling, just you, a brown envelope and a desperate looking future.
Indeed, over the next few months, as well as undertaking a fruitless job search (we were in the midst of a recession remember) I went through the whole gamut of emotions. Anger, upset, apprehension, fear – you name it. I often couldn’t sleep at night at the injustice of it all. A mattress I had propped up in the corner of our bedroom used to regularly serve as a punchbag as I knocked seven shades of the brown stuff out of in the middle of the night, imagining it to be the person who had wielded the axe on my career. Life, it seemed, would never be the same again.
Along with the indignity of having to ‘sign on’, all for £41 a week, I was ready to fight anyone who dared to question whether I was ‘actively seeking employment’. Believe me when I say I was a very angry young man! I felt cheated, let down, put onto the scrap heap without having done anything wrong. Perhaps worst of all is the stigma of it all, imaginary or, maybe in some cases true. The notion that "he can't be very good at what he did if they got rid of him". All of that sits on your shoulders 24 hours a day.
Eventually, after several months of frantic job searching, I was fortunate enough to get back into employment. It meant taking a 25% pay cut and doing something I hadn’t considered as my next career move prior to my redundancy, but needs must, beggars can’t be choosers etc. etc. I then had to endure the lectures from my new colleagues who, whilst never having experienced redundancy themselves, were happy to arrogantly announce how they would "take any job, even shelf stacking or working at a petrol station" rather than be out of work. Oh, if only life were that simple! Over qualified, under-qualified, only there until a job you actually want crops up - there are many reasons why you can't just walk into Asda and get a job stacking shelves if you have previously been working in advertising - but don't let the reality get in the way of the warped theory folks!
It took a while, a long while, but I was lucky. I was able to eventually bounce back and get myself to where I wanted to be but I will never, ever forget the despair, the hopelessness, the anger, the upset and the sheer gut wrenching feeling that that that one afternoon in my career brought me. It has stayed with me ever since, and will stay with me forever. To this day, I never forget how lucky I am to even to be able to make a living. When working for other people I never bemoaned my lot or made unreasonable demands. I never considered myself to be superior or more deserving of fast tracking or preferential treatment and I never took anything for granted or got annoyed by the trivial.
In short, redundancy, though I didn't know it at the time, made me stronger, more aware, more tolerant and more appreciative of what I have, not just in the workplace, but in my life in general. Leaky washing machine? Not a problem. Missed a train? So what, there will be another one along soon enough.
I certainly wouldn’t recommend redundancy as a life choice, but I would say to anyone who is going through it or may have to face up to it in the future - there's every chance you will come out the other side a better, stronger, more knowledgeable, appreciative person than the one that went in to pick up that brown envelope (it's probably downloadable these days). You'll have more perspective and more empathy. Ultimately it will probably also make you happier both at work and in your personal life because suddenly the trivial, easily resolved problems of life won't matter to you quite so much.
And to those who simply assume that if you're unemployed and on benefits you are either a scrounger, can't be very good at what you do or should simply go out and find another job doing anything just to fill the gap - dream on. It could happen to you one day, and when it does you'll quickly come to understand that this coloured view you have of people on benefits is far removed from reality. Redundancy invariably isn't a yardstick of talent or lack of it. It's purely a numbers game played at the top echelons of a company during times of corporate adversity - of which there is plenty at the moment. But, one day, like me, you'll be able to look back having learned from it and moved on.