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How to survive retrenchment: Life after work

The current global financial crisis and the local economic environment is forcing most Zimbabwean companies to retrench staff. The repercussions in the workplace and to the community are far reaching. Surviving retrenchment is not an event, but a process.

How can management, the staff left behind and the retrenched employees survive the retrenchment process?

Retrenchment is a reality in the workplace and managers and employees have to prepare themselves for retrenchment and “life after retrenchment”. Emotions that are evoked are:

  • Manager guilt
  • Employee “Survivor guilt”
  • Employee fear of “Am I next?”
  • Loss of trust
  • Loss and grief.

Retrenchment involves a bereavement process. Do management and employees honour or even notice their “departed” colleagues? Are there any corporate mourning rituals?

For the retrenched employee, all psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s “five stages of grief” are present:

  1. Denial – “This can’t be happening to me”
  2. Anger – “Why is this happening?”, “Who is to blame?”, “After all I have done for this company!!!”
  3. Bargaining – “Make this not happen, and in return I will…“, “Perhaps I could work part time?”
  4. Depression – “I’m too sad to do anything”, “There’s no point.”; and
  5. Acceptance – “I’m at peace with what happened and I am moving on”.

The retrenched employee’s reality changes dramatically and he/she faces many challenges: how to deal with the mourning, how to keep energies up, how to keep motivated and positive; how to begin the job-seeking process, and how to present when going on job interviews.

For the survivors – management and staff left behind – there are feelings of guilt. Workplace survival is a double-edged sword: trust in the company has been shaken and yet business continues. Survivors are not allowed to dwell on their “departed” colleagues and have to move on with respect. Retrenchment elicits a range of reactions; it motivates some to work harder, while others could not care or give-up. The solution to the retrenchment process is to acknowledge – but not over-react.

Dealing with retrenchment – feelings and reactions

Being retrenched (or fired) is an enormous upheaval and a significant source of stress. Change in itself, whether for better or worse, is stressful, according to psychological literature. It is important to understand that the majority of the feelings and emotions experienced after a retrenchment are completely normal.

The following feelings and reactions are likely during the periods of retrenchment:

Anger/hostility

– Many individuals react to bad news with anger. In a retrenchment situation, the underlying feelings may be hurt, disappointment and rejection, which find their outlet in loss of control or an angry outburst.

Denial/bargaining

– The underlying feelings could be shock, disbelief or fear. Employees may panic about what is going to happen to them.

Grief/sadness

– The underlying feeling is most likely worry, fear or vulnerability.

Formal/procedural

– The underlying feelings are controlled, suppressed, unacknowledged or vengeful.

Quiet

– The underlying feelings or motivations of this type of reaction could be controlled, passive or numb.

Relieved

– The underlying feelings of this reaction may be optimistic, fearless or certain.

Those who have not been retrenched may feel a sense of guilt as well as relief that they have been spared, while managers may mourn the loss of employees and the company as it was.

Those who have recently been retrenched can expect to feel sad, angry and depressed, as well as worried about their financial or job prospects. Some may view retrenchment as the best thing that has ever happened to them and go on to open their own business.

However, if individuals find themselves struggling to cope or if emotions are viewed as being out of proportion to the situation and are interfering in usual day-to-day functioning, it is imperative that support and help are sought. This will most probably be in the form of counselling. It is important to remember that there is absolutely no shame in asking for help.

Retrenchment is not an easy process. Knowledge about what the process entails is a useful tool for dealing with a situation that has become increasingly common.
Retrenchment can strike when you least expect it and the first thing you’ll have to do is acknowledge it. There is no point in living in denial until the day you walk out of the office doors for the last time. Know that you probably have a few rough months ahead of you but keep your chin up and your eye on the prize. After acknowledging your retrenchment, the next step is to adjust financially.

If you don’t have an emergency fund in place, consider setting up short-term financial goals as well as long-term financial goals. You will need to adjust your finances, as well as your spending habits if you want to survive retrenchment and get out alive on the other side.

Avoid making impulsive decisions like selling your car or cashing out your provident fund. Just because you no longer have a job to drive to on a daily basis it doesn’t mean you no longer need a method of transport. Your provident fund is your key to a comfortable retirement and should be preserved as far as possible.

Cutting costs can be hard but your unemployment will most probably be a temporary hurdle in your life. If you have any standing contracts or financial agreements, you have to communicate your retrenchment to your service providers.

As hard as it might be to swallow your pride and ask for help, this is exactly what you must do. I am not suggesting that you borrow money from friends. In fact, this should be avoided as far as possible. Instead, inform family and friends of your predicament and ask them to keep their eyes and ears open for possible new job positions. Update your CV and include information about the job you were retrenched from. When asked about your retrenchment in a job interview it is good to remember that honesty is the best policy. Retrenchment isn’t necessarily frowned upon and is nothing you should be ashamed of.

Though retrenchment can waltz into your life unannounced, it might just arrive exactly when it means to. Before you start the job hunting journey, which can sometimes feel like a journey of rejection complete with standard response emails informing you that your application was unsuccessful, you can always consider starting your own thing. Apps like the Business builder- Small Business Management Suite will help you easily get started. Self-employment can be quite rewarding, especially during that awkward job application period. Instead of worrying where the money for your next meal will come from, be proactive and earn some extra money from the comfort of your home.

Written by Nocebo Sibanda

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