We often ask our Coaches which topics come up most in coaching sessions. Recently, cost of living has been a big one. Staying motivated is another. Happiness at work (and in general). Uncertainty always comes up. Did I already say motivation?
Somebody said “retrenchment” which took me by surprise, because that’s a word I didn’t know and I was fairly sure I knew all of them. To Google:
Apparently it’s used in South Africa and Australia to describe “the action of making an employee redundant”. Elsewhere it means “the reduction of costs or spending in response to economic difficulty”.
Difficulty, economic uncertainty, job insecurity and redundancy are all things people have had to grow uncomfortably close to in recent years. And if you haven’t, you probably know someone who has.
Things have been… precarious, in economic terms over recent years. There was the global health crisis, the gradually escalating cost of everything, not to mention that boat that went up a canal wrong and froze world trade for a week.
Companies downsizing and reducing costs happens during a recession. Most weeks you’ll be scrolling through LinkedIn and see a post starting “Never thought I’d have to write this, but I’m one of the ones affected…”
I won’t name companies. Except Twitter. But only because they’re one of the most recent, high profile examples I can think of. Almost half their workforce. Yeesh.
This is, sadly, just not that uncommon.
I’ve gone through redundancy three times in my life and survived once.
The first time I was working in a charity call centre. I remember watching as the work started drying up, clients evaporated, and it got quieter and quieter round the office each day.
You could overhear Account Managers saying “that’s so and so gone” at the end of particularly tense phone calls. The Director of the company got us all in a room and asked if we’d consider taking a temporary pay cut to cope with the losses. It was bad. A dreadful feeling. Makes you feel sick.
Eventually the company went down. It happened very quickly. One day we were in work, the next, the pub. I told people (and myself) I was happy living off my redundancy package for a bit and taking it easy. But the truth was I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself.
I felt unemployable. My skillset was so niche the only thing I could really do was what I had been doing the last five years. I’d planned to be in the sector long term, but was finding it very difficult working out how to get back in.
Interviewing was a galling experience. I never really felt inadequate, or that my confidence had been affected by redundancy. I think what I struggled with is moving on – leaving routines, people, places, and things in the past.
You have to ask yourself major questions about the direction your life is going, and potentially adjust course accordingly. It is hugely exhausting doing that, starting from scratch, especially when it feels like the rug has been yanked out from underneath you.
The reason I describe these feelings is because the second time redundancy and I brushed shoulders, it brought everything back. Although seemingly much more amplified. The experience felt worse the second time round. It felt like not only negotiating those feelings all over again, but doing so with the expectation that it probably wouldn’t end well. That sense of dread was back and took a while to dissipate.
Control, influence, concern
Coaching won’t change a great deal for you. If your job is unstable or you’ve lost it or you’re going through a redundancy period right now, there’s only so much coaching can do to improve that situation in a material way.
The thing with coaching is, even if the problem’s mind bogglingly complex or super simple, unique or run of the mill, the answer may be the same. In this case, it almost doesn’t matter the source of the anxiety, or fear. We’re talking about job security now, but you might feel the same way if a relationship was under threat or you’re coming to terms with a health condition.
The situation itself tends to be so overwhelming, it distracts you from what you can actually do. And if you are looking at making a material difference to your circumstances, that’s what you need to be focused on.
Here’s a Sanctufied version of something Stephen Covey wrote about in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Things we can control, things we may only be able to influence, and things we feel concern for but may have to accept are out of our control.
You map out things in your life and what’s on your mind like this:
Mine looks a bit like an avocado inside an avocado. You might draw yours as a giant wheel or it might help to just make three lists. This is a thought exercise in compartmentalising the different areas of your life.
The economy definitely goes in that third layer. It’s out of our control, and something we may have to simply accept. Spending and personal finances is more likely to go in that middle layer. Things we can influence.
You might think, I’m in control of my spending, my finances. And 99% of the time you probably are. But when the boiler breaks or the washing machine floods or you need to rush Mittens to the vet, that control vanishes. So we have an awful lot of influence over these things, it just isn’t total.
The things we’re in control of are often much smaller, simpler. How we speak to ourselves and others. The way we think and feel about a particular situation. What we then do with that information, the direction that we take throughout the day.
If we really zoomed in and fill this out, it might look a bit like this:
Rebounding from a career setback might feel overwhelming, even impossible, or at least beyond your control; but if you’ve identified something like updating your CV, or topping up a spreadsheet of job opportunities, or reaching out to an old contact is something you can control, it can make it a little easier.
It doesn’t have to always be something practical either. Sometimes we do too much practical stuff, especially when we’re worried about important things. What you might need, more than anything, is just to shut the laptop and get out of the house for a bit. Go and see Black Panther 2, treat yourself to a chippy tea, spend some time with people you love, maybe even get an early night for a change.
It’s as much about working out what you need, as it is working out what you need to do. In fact, you might find the situation you’re investing 80% of your working day worrying about is going to barrel on regardless – with or without your constant attention – and it might simply boil down to being a more intelligent use of your time to do something else.
This is only really a nudge in a different direction, but it can help. It also gives you something more concrete to come back to and say: “Okay, I’m spinning out again. What can I control right now? Where can I put my attention, rather than letting myself be pulled into these extremes?”