The stages of redundancy
Recently, after eight years with the same company, I was called to an awkward meeting with management and HR, where they showed me the comfortable slipper of the current structure and the sleek new stiletto flow chart demonstrating how my department would be run in the new year. “So as you can see… your role … no longer… exists”. Those can’t be easy words to say. When I heard them it was like I was back in my high school French class. It took more than a few seconds to comprehend what I was being told. There was potential to apply for another position, which was kind of my job plus more work. That seemed as daunting as single-handedly trying to relaunch bike shorts back into fashion. So that was it – my job had been euthanised. It had been taken out the back and shot. It was an ex-job. Previously I’d jokingly threatened that if redundancy came up I’d calmly take off all my clothes and lie on the floor, declaring that if they wanted me gone they’d have to grab a limb each and carry me out. The real situation saw me well up slightly and stutter out some mild words of encouragement (yes, encouragement) for the new structure and declare I’d have to “think about my options”. But they showed me the payout offer and once I’d stumbled from the meeting my first action was to call my husband and tell him he’d just got himself a stay-at-home-wife.
Stage One – Defiance
In all honesty things had stagnated and I’d been thinking of leaving, so in a way it had been like a game of chicken – my company swerved their car first and paid me to go before I found another job and quit. I was given the option to stay till the end of the year. I proudly announced I’d be leaving at the end of the month. In hindsight I should have simply packed up my desk and walked out, but I wanted to stick around to be extra helpful, productive and most importantly lovable during the time I had left in order to really get the vibe across of what a massive loss to the business I was going to be. Plus, in hanging around I was able to talk up my future career and make everybody jealous. I had an idea that I’d get stuck into freelance writing, finish my poor neglected novel and launch a career in comedy, somehow. That would substitute my corporate salary in no time at all – right? Everybody knows freelance is a synonym for both happy and rich. Just like the early settlers of Pompeii, I was convinced it was all going to be fine.
Two – Total and Utter Panic
At first the whole “It’s not personal” adage rang true to my ears. Redundancy happens, it happens even to good people who don’t facebook during office hours or steal forks from the kitchen. It wasn’t until about a week later that the spidery voice woke me up at 3am and whispered in my ear “This whole thing has happened because they don’t actually want you.” My old friend anxiety climbed down my throat while I was sleeping, tied my stomach in a big knot and continued with fun thoughts like “You’ll never find work again” and “They know about the forks”**. Holy crap. For the past eight years I’d been confidently faking the whole ‘capable professional’ thing and the ruse was up. While my colleagues were at corporate conferences and studying after hours I’d been at home eating Twisties and live tweeting The Biggest Loser. My hilarious mantra ‘Minimal Effort for Maximum Achievement’ suddenly seemed like nothing but a conveyor belt to the terrifying world of unemployment. The only online work I’d be undertaking any time soon would be trying to fill out forms on the Centrelink website. In the darkness of early morning, the knowledge hit with a dull thud, that the only things I’m truly any good at are being generally likeable and talking about myself. I also have a nice walk, but that thought wasn’t enough ammunition to shoot down the horrible self-doubt. For numerous nights I lay awake while my brain played the ‘You’re Not Good Enough’ song on repeat, with the only respite coming from 4am Twistie binges and old series-linked eps of TBL.
Stage Three – Grief
Honestly, being a busy couple with six chickens, a dog (make that five chickens – thanks dog) and an active toddler, it would have been slightly less of a surprise for my husband to dump the prospect of divorce on me than for my job to show me the door. Getting the corporate version of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ was shock. I felt like 90210’s Brenda when Dylan dumped her for Kelly – empty, alone and compelled to play REM songs on repeat. Plus as part of the break up, the company was going to get to keep all my friends. Work had been so frantic lately and the friendships had reached an equally intense level. How was I going to live without my besties Greg and Regina (aka Greg-gina) as part of my daily life? They were the kids from the Pied Piper fairy tale who followed him into the mountain and I was the crippled boy at the end of the story – free but alone. It hurt. I grieved the same way you would for a relationship. My job had been something I’d been committed to and had given so much of myself for so long and now it was over. Thinking about it that way made me cry on the bus.
Stage Four – Peace
I love attention, so my leaving party was pretty much the best thing ever. There’s not really many other occasions where people fall all over themselves to tell you how much they love you. I even got a big card with way more personal missives than generic “all the best for the future” messages. After a lot of prolonged hugs and more tears I bid my most beloved colleagues goodbye and tottered down the steps of the pub into the rest of my life. It didn’t feel quite as bad as I thought it was going to. Thank God for social media, I don’t feel completely disconnected from my crew and now I can bash away at my freelancing gigs without having to feel guilty about doing it on company time***. You will hear it from everyone, redundancy is a massive emotional rollercoaster which forces you to take stock of the path you’ve been blithely strolling down. Fortunately this is the lucky country, I just have to polish up my skills, keep working at being a nice person, turn out some goods and hopefully the offers will start rolling my way.
Stay tuned for the sequel to this article – The Stages of Freelancing – it includes watching original 90210 re-runs (God damn you Dylan and Kelly!) **I’m joking. I never stole forks. I swear! ***This is also probably not true.
Photo by Landahlauts Clea Sherman is a Sydney based writer