We need to talk about redundancy

We need to talk about redundancy. I’ve experienced it three times. 

Redundancy hurts. It’s a rejection, however you wrap it up. All that tosh about “It’s the position that’s being made redundant, not you, so don’t take it personally” doesn’t wash. It’s bloody feels personal.

Part of the pain is realising you were not as vital to the organisation as you thought, the things you were working on were not that important after all. You feel duped, naive and exploited. How could you have been so foolish to take it so seriously when it clearly didn’t really matter?

You also feel guilty about the sacrifices you made. The times you worked late and didn’t get to read the bedtime stories to your kids. The nights you spent away on business, pursuing objectives that have now been jettisoned in an instant. The time and energy you devoted to work that you could have been spent on your loved ones. These precious gifts that you gave unquestioningly now discarded like a cheap bauble.

Redundancy damages trust. The trust that the world is a largely benign place, that people are mostly good, that things will work out alright in the end. The loss of trust is worst initially but persists for many years afterwards. A little bit of gloss has been knocked off your view of the world, permanently.

I call redundancy ‘an everyday brutality of organisational life’. It’s been normalised as a business practice, an acceptable way to massage the numbers. We’ve sanitised the process, so that HR can routinely make people redundant without too much psychological damage.

We’re told it’s just a regular experience, a little bump in the road. We’re fed redundancy PR, the“It turned out to be the best thing that happened to me” and “It was a blessing in disguise” stories. ‘Good’ employers put you through ‘outplacement services’ (another of the euphemisms that pepper this space). They salve their corporate conscious and burnish their caring credentials by shoving you into another cog-shaped space in another corporate machine.

I went along with all this. I down-played the pain and the hurt, I ignored the psychological impact, I tried to bury the experience. It didn’t work and it did much more damage in the long run. There are many more stories out there like mine than the shiny, happy faces of those who found it ‘the best thing that happened to me’.

I did that because there wasn’t any space to explore, acknowledge and accept my feelings. There wasn’t a narrative about how to navigate the pain and regret. We need that space if we are serious about making the workplace a more human place. Does it exist today? 

I’d like to see fewer redundancies, to see be a last resort not the first. More than that, though, I’d like to see them dealt with honestly and sensitively. I want to see the pain and hurt and the brutality reduced. I want people to be heard and helped to heal.

It’s the least we can do. Really.

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