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The importance of job security

This is a follow up to a previous piece on job security and redundancy. A lot of content on the subject is quite technical. How do I get my redundancy package? What are my rights? What’s the process I have to follow? As you might expect, we’ve come at it from a wellbeing angle.

We’re speaking to Sanctus Coach Dr. Albert Viljoen about what job security really means, how you might feel when your job is at risk, and some practical things you can do if you ever have to experience it yourself.

The last time we quick-fired a subject like this we talked about motivation: where to find it, how to keep it up, and what to do when it’s running low.

Why are we talking about job security now?

The Bank of England expects a recession to happen if the economy continues shrinking. Redundancies follow recessions. Markets go quiet, prices rise, and businesses either downsize or reorganise in order to survive. You’ll notice the two big peaks in the diagram below: the financial crisis in 2008 and Covid in 2020.

A large chunk of the workforce lived through one or both of these events. Understandably, job security is on people’s minds. They’re worried that while the redundancy rate in the UK right now is lower than it was before the pandemic, we’re at the base of another spike.

What is job security?

Job security might mean one thing to one person and something completely different to someone else. In a general sense, it’s feeling safe and stable in your employment. Although it’s more about your state of mind within employment, rather than whether or not you’re actually employed.

You can be a freelancer working with a couple of clients who change every month alongside the odd weekend at the cafe at the end of your road. While that might seem uncertain or insecure to some, it could be all the security you need at that time in your life and career.

On the other hand, doing the same 9 to 5 for decades on end might seem like the most secure option, but recent world events have shown it’s possible for anyone to be let go at any point. Recessions are indiscriminate like that.

“There’s no such thing as security if anything can happen, right?

“Being self employed in many ways makes you well practised with the reality of uncertainty. If you have an employer, it’s almost like you’re outsourcing that sense of security and stability to them. You tell yourself you’re OK, that you’re safe, but this means you’re not practising that sense of “I might lose my job, my income at any point” and there’s a chance we lose an element of resilience with that.”

What happens when your job is at risk?

Official news of a redundancy will do it, but if you feel insecure in your employment anyway or you suspect your role might be at risk, you’ll start playing the What If? game. This is a game you play by yourself (in your own head) and it can last hours if you let it.

“When there’s news of a possible redundancy, it’s not that anything real has happened right away. But your mind will suddenly go into What If? mode. The temptation for the mind is to try and find mental security by running scenarios.

Playing the What If? game is all well and good – it can help give you a sense of clarity to consider all possible options in front of you – but without intention it can amplify the feeling of doom and add to the overwhelm.

“If you start playing the What If? game, you have to finish.”

“What if I’m made redundant? Well, then I won’t have an income in three months… And then I’ll have to move in with my parents… And you have to keep going until you get to a worst case scenario. Which seems counterintuitive, but by doing that you’re giving your mind clarity about the possibilities open to it, and that helps you settle down.”

“When we catastrophise, our mind goes to imagined places and they tend to be very fantastical, or nightmarish. Usually what I tell people is to write everything down, because writing things down makes them seem a lot clearer and more concrete. Your mind can have a kind of sense of doom but not necessarily a clear picture, and that vagueness is what feeds our anxieties and stress.”

You’re facing redundancy. How should you feel? What should you do?

It shouldn’t affect your self esteem. Or your sense of belief in yourself. But, well. It’s going to make you feel like sh!t. You’ll be up at night asking “why me?”. You feel less than useful. It’s not a pleasant place to be.

Despite the fact we know (and everyone tells us) it’s not a reflection of you and shouldn’t affect your self esteem or confidence in any way, it does.

An important part of the transition, and finding your feet again, is reminding yourself of what you’re good at.

“What have you accomplished? In your life? In your career? Even if you don’t feel that confident about yourself or your skills in the moment, you’ll be able to look back and remind yourself “oh yeah! I’ve done that, I’m good at that as well”. We can lose sight of our strengths when we’re made redundant. We can be very self conscious when we lack something – especially something as important as a job – and that negative narrative kicks in.”

“The first step would just be acknowledging that it will feel a bit of a knock, but don’t allow negative thoughts to run your thinking.”

Is there a silver lining to losing your job?

There definitely can be, although it’s not always immediate or obvious. Speaking from experience, redundancy is mostly an uncomfortable, if not painful experience. But then change and growth always is, we just forget that when we’re in it.

“As much as security, comfort, convenience of any kind – whether it comes from money, your job, or your health – as much as it’s beneficial, it can make us passive. We become stagnant and lose our agility and resilience. Redundancy forces you into a position to lean on your strengths again, to remind yourself what you’re good at, to, to sell yourself – all skills which are great to have.

“So yes, there is a silver lining. Even though you wouldn’t necessarily wish insecure employment on anyone, there is the potential for growth, learning, skills, and new opportunities that comes from it.”

“Sometimes you might be made redundant, which starts a sequence of events that end up with you working your dream job just a few years later. There’s always the opportunity for surprises. Good things are possible too. It’s important to remind ourselves that the chaos of life is exactly what gives us these kind of serendipitous opportunities, rather than the humdrum of a secure safe existence. And this applies to anything in life, relationships, jobs.”

“When we’re too safe. We don’t discover anything.”

How to cope when your job is at risk

Here are three proactive things you could do…

1. Find support

Be that practical or emotional. Reach out to recruiters, old friends, family members, professional networks. We often feel an inflated sense of responsibility for our own employment situation; whereas people outside of it aren’t as panicked as you and can be really helpful in providing a neutral perspective.

2. Break things down

“Successfully land a complete career move with little/no warning” is a much more imposing goal than “apply to one job on LinkedIn” or “update your CV for the first time in 8 years”. Breaking tasks down is a process I’ve heard referred to as ‘chunking’ in the past: you focus on the smaller, practical steps you can take to make your day or circumstances better, rather than being overawed by the scale of the full challenge in front of you – this is very helpful when your job is at risk.

3. Focus on what you can control

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.

It helps to map out the things in your life and what’s on your mind like this:

Mine looks a bit like an avocado inside an avocado. You might just draw up three different lists for yourself. This is a way to compartmentalise different thoughts and areas of your life.

Economic factors and business decisions go in that third layer. It’s out of our control, and more often than not something we 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, that control vanishes. So we have a 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. “Updating your CV” or “speaking to a recruiter” would fall into this area.

If we really zoomed in and filled this out, it might look a bit like this:

When we’re forced into being reactive, or we’re trying to fix an urgent problem, we often don’t think as clearly as we could. What we really need to do, is slow down and follow a course of action that’s as clear headed as possible.

If you come to a Sanctus Coaching session worried about redundancy, probably the first thing you would do would be to carefully weigh up all the options in front of you, and think through all the different points of view associated with your situation. Once you’ve looked at things from every conceivable angle, it’s then about making intelligent decisions and working out the best way for you to move forward.

Redundancy, job loss, insecure employment, it can all be a little flustering.

When it happens, it’s really useful to have an outside person to soundboard off of, and to help make decisions with as much clarity as possible. Whatever the situation, Sanctus Coaches help people reflect on work and life and move forward effectively.