The Faces of Redundancy

by 14 Apr 2009

Losing your job is a life-changing experience. Shock, disappointment, rejection and trepidation are just some of the immediate reactions. But how a company actually handles the redundancy procedure can impact hugely on how the employee views it. Sarah O'Carroll details the personal accounts of four professionals whose positions fell victim to the economic crisis

Geoff Lynch, head of corporate affairs, GE Money

The best advice Geoff Lynch ever got was from his manager as he left NAB: "Remember, don't just think of yourself as Geoff Lynch head of media relations for NAB - You are Geoff Lynch."

He was counselled not to associate himself with his title, but unstitch himself from the identity he had built up for more than seven years and focus on his identity, achievements, strengths and skills.

When the media relations function for NAB Australia became part of the corporate centre, Lynch's role was no longer needed.

"Because I was in a senior role I understood the rationale for the change and it made sense," he says. "I didn't feel bitter as they handled it very professionally, they gave me access to an outplacement service with Right Management and I had a very good consultant."

Despite that understanding, leaving NAB still threw him into the world of the unknown, however with change comes opportunity and Lynch saw this as a chance to try his hand at working for himself. He began his own consultancy, but soon discovered it wasn't for him. "I wasn't enjoying the solitude that I thought I'd relish," says Lynch. "I missed the camaraderie of working in a company."

After a short self-employed stint, the position of head of corporate affairs within GE arose. It ticked all the boxes for Lynch and he slipped back into the corporate world. But just as he began to settle in, redundancy struck again.

Fortunately the lessons learnt at NAB proved invaluable, and helped him get through a second lay-off.

GE was going through a restructure which everybody knew about, but this time around Lynch was a little more surprised. Still, he says, how the redundancy meeting is conducted at the initial stage is crucial to how you feel about the situation and can determine whether you leave with your dignity intact.

"The meeting was with my line manager and HR manager and again the rationale of the decision was explained to me, it was handled very sensitively and I felt I was being respected," says Lynch. "The rationale and how it impacted on my role was made very clear and therefore I could leave that office with my dignity in tact."

Another important element for Lynch was the tone in which the conversation was conducted. "It's so important that the people who deliver the news have empathy, and there is some sort of emotion involved in the decision.

"The HR manager should let individuals know that they feel for them - they don't have to apologise for the decision that is being made, but it's important for them to acknowledge that it is a big change. For example they said to me two or three times that they understand it's a lot to take in at one time - which helped."

Reassuring the person that they can come back into the office or give HR a call if they have any more questions is also very reassuring, he says. "When you walk out of that meeting initially you are very flummoxed, but it's good to know that you can talk about it further."

Lynch felt he could go back to his team and explain what had happened and the decisions that had been made, give them a picture of what was happening and paint it in a positive light.

Lynch has just secured himself another role - but the experiences of the last few years have taught him valuable lessons. "Never allow yourself to feel like a victim, deal with the emotion as quickly as you can and not showing any self pity, I found, stands you in much better stead."

Ray Friedrich, national specialist sales manager, GlaxoSmithKline

Ray Friedrich had been with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for 14 years when his position was made redundant last July. Friedrich had been happy within the company, and had no desire to leave when he learned of his redundancy.

"I really liked the organisation and the people I worked with," he says.

However, nine months of lead time prior to his imminent departure this week, however, gave Friedrich a lot of time to think, change his view on things and look at opportunities he never dreamed he would have the confidence to pursue.

"I'm setting up my own sales consulting firm at the moment, so I'm at the early stages of that," says Friedrich.

Back in July Friedrich was involved in the realignment of the sales organisation of GSK so he knew that his position might be made redundant in the recommendations he put forward to the executive team. When it came to pass, though, it came a big surprise."When it actually happened it was a bit surreal. I thought if it did happen I would find an equivalent role, or there wold be another role for me within the company. But there wasn't," says Friedrich. "When the sales director called me in and said that my role was made redundant I, of course, expected him to say [there was] a similar type of role somewhere else that I could move in to - but there wasn't, there was nothing."

GSK offered Friedrich two options: to either go immediately or alternatively work on some projects and still take the package at the end.

"I walked out of that meeting thinking that I was just going to take the package and go immediately, without really thinking about it," says Friedrich. "I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, I must say."

"There was a feeling of insecurity and lack of confidence about my own ability, and whether or not I could get another role similar to what I was doing, and whether I could retain the same kind of package that I was on," he says.

"All these questions were going through my mind and I was thinking 'Oh my god - are there any roles out there? Am I going to get anything?' I didn't want to go backwards in my career."

What was good about the way GSK handled his redundancy was that the company involved people at all levels of the organisation in the planning of the restructure.

"You hear about other companies where the restructure is decided purely at executive level, but, at times, it's not the right structure," he says. "They involved a lot of senior people who know their part of the business and, to tell you the truth, it was the right business decision - it made sense."

Access to counselling is extremely important, says Friedrich, and it is important to assess who is most in need of counselling services. "Ideally you should have as many senior people on board to provide information, help and advice as possible," he says.Friedrich is looking forward to setting up his business which, if not for his redundancy, he doubts he ever would have pursued. Leaving GSK after 14 years, however, is going to be tough.

"Today is my last day and the toughest part is finally realising that my time at GSK has come to an end - the people, friends and the security.

"This is the hardest part," he says. "But it's also a brand new opportunity which I'm looking forward to."

Mike Cutter, CEO, GE Money

In July 2008, General Electric (GE) decided to reduce the size of its financial services business. Part of that was to merge the consumer finance business (GE Money) and commercial finance business into one entity.

At the end of November it decided that the merging of the two business sectors meant there would be only one CEO for each country and one functional leader for each group. That meant that either the CEO for GE Money or the CEO for commercial finance had to go. Unfortunately for Mike Cutter - CEO of GE Money - it was him.

Cutter had been with GE for 19 years, and losing his position was tough "When I heard about the company merging I certainly thought my position was in danger," says Cutter. "The other guy is a company officer, a level higher within the hierarchy of the organisation, so unless there was an opportunity that was identified for him I had the expectation that I was going to be the person to lose out," Cutter says.

"I felt disappointed as I had been CEO for two and a half years and it was still very much a work in progress. I had fine-tuned the team I inherited and thought we got to a really good point with some great people in a lot of good roles. We worked through some of the toughest challenges and had great opportunities in front of us, so the initial reaction was disappointment not to be given the opportunity to finish what I started. This was combined with trepidation about what the marketplace was like at this point in time."

The other issue for Cutter was whether he was interested in relocating internationally, either with GE or a third party, because at CEO level there are fewer roles around status is not a big issue for Cutter and his main concern is finding another role that provides a great opportunity to achieve. "It's more important for me to have targets and objectives and have the opportunity to get after it and get something done," he says.

"I certainly don't have to have the status of a CEO. What's more important for me is having the challenge and having quite a degree of complexity in a business that I'm looking after."

He says that it will be tough leaving GE, detaching himself from that identity and moving on to a different role.

"[All up] I've been with GE for 19 years and even for the three years in between that I wasn't in GE people still identified me as working with GE and drew on my experience from when I was there."

Cutter believes that the outplacement service is worth calling on. "I would recommend to anyone that the first thing to do is go to the outplacement. I didn't get them to help me through the evaluation process of myself and I only went to them when I decided I was leaving.

"But, in hindsight, I should have gone to them earlier because some of the techniques and tools they brought to bear - as to what my motivations and skills were in evaluating the next roles - would have been a lot of use in helping me decide whether I actually wanted the role that was offered to me."

Cutter is in the final stages of negotiating a new position and is looking forward to what lies ahead.

"The wind-down and handover has been quite lengthy, and it was effected a number of weeks ago really, so I'm looking forward to the next challenge," he says.

Phil Jenkins, trade representative, CommSec (Commonwealth Securities Ltd)

Phil Jenkins wasn't enjoying his role as trading representative within CommSec (Commonwealth Securities). He was frustrated with the rigid corporate structure and no longer felt stimulated by the job. He felt he had learned all he could, had received the relevant training and developed the new skills he needed to progress in his career. He was ready for a change.

However when Jenkins got the tap on the shoulder to attend a meeting with the head of broking and HR, the news that his position was made redundant still came as a shock.

"I was looking at other positions, such as moving into an advisory role or [becoming] a full service stockbroker in one of the investment banks or stockbroking houses," he says. "However, my position was made redundant before I made the decision to leave."

Jenkins was one of the lucky people whose redundancy came at the right time and the package they offered was a bonus. "Although I was shocked when they were telling me and very taken aback, I struggled to hold back a smile when they told me of my severance package. It was good timing," he says.

Unlike other positions, Jenkins had no lead time to prepare - he had to leave on the spot. This element of the redundancy he found difficult and potentially humiliating.

"It certainly wasn't a good feeling," he says. "There were a couple of other people at the same time, it wasn't good. You have to pack up your stuff there and then with HR standing beside you. Other people don't know what's happening and you're being marched out. You don't get a chance to say bye to everyone."

However, according to Jenkins, this probably is necessary in certain cases because if somebody took redundancy news the wrong way, the sensitive information they had access to could be potentially damaging to the company if tampered with.

"You could cause a lot of mischief - which the bank would be liable for," says Jenkins. "So, to be honest, I don't know what other way they could have done it. Perhaps a good idea would be to do it at the close of business, not in the middle of the day."

The support and service the company offered him, however, made up for the initial departure.

"The way you are fired - being marched out of the office, was countered by the service that was offered to me afterwards," says Jenkins.

For Jenkins the availability of the outplacement service was invaluable.

"I was assigned one guy who helped me in all aspects of my career transition," he says. "It was great, and I still have access to him if I want it six months later. It really helped me get my ideas out and assess what it was I wanted to do, and what I would be happiest doing."

And from this Jenkins was another person who used the opportunity to set up his own business, deciding to pursue his dream of owning his own photography company - which he says is coming along nicely.

"If I wasn't made redundant, I would probably still be in the banking and finance world," he says. "But the redundancy package allowed me to do something I perhaps thought would never happen."

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