Redundancy and it's Emotional Impact

In today’s economic climate redundancy is an all too familiar word that we constantly read or hear about. Daily we hear of job losses, downsizing or closures and more often than not we know someone who has been directly affected. 

Redundancy is one of the most stressful events that a person can experience in their life. It’s there next to death, divorce, moving house, illness etc. One survey of British workers even rated redundancy as a more stressful life event than divorce or moving house.

Being made redundant is a very stressful event for the majority of people. It impacts both on the person’s life as they know it as well as on a psychological level. Redundancy is known to have an effect on a person’s confidence and self-esteem. They may experience difficulty adjusting to a situation that they did not ask for and it can have a more severe effect on a person’s mental health such as depression.

The impact that redundancy has on a person has been compared to the emotions experienced during bereavement. If you have been made redundant or know someone who has, it is important to be aware of the emotional impact that it can have and to know that some of the emotions experienced are normal and part of the process. By having this awareness it will help you to manage your feelings better. How a person deals with and manages feelings differ from person to person.

Some of the more common feelings experienced resulting from redundancy are as follows and these can occur at any stage of the process;  

Shock - This is an acute stress reaction which is experienced when extraordinary events shatter our sense of security. It is the mind's and body's response to feelings (both perceived and real) of intense helplessness. How a person deals with shock is very subjective. One can feel numb / dead inside, become very rational etc. All one can do at this stage is to go with it. The feeling will subside when one is ready to deal with the news.

Disbelief - a person can’t quite believe that this is really happening to them. They may find it difficult to process the information that they are being given. They may question “why has this happened to me”, or they may try bargaining, “if I do this…..” It has been shown that it is easier to deal with redundancy if there is mass redundancy rather than it just being one person.

Anger - This is a common reaction. The person may blame their boss and the anger may be directed at management or in some cases can be directed at themselves. People who are high achievers are known to blame themselves and to direct their anger at themselves for not working hard enough or for not seeing it coming. It can be any number of reasons but they will always find a reason to blame themselves and in return be angry with themselves. It is important to be able to express this anger in a constructive and rational way and to feel understood or to have someone there to listen and be supportive in order to help the process that one is going through.

Loss - This is a major factor with redundancy. For people whose job is very important to them they may experience a loss of identity, who are they now when they don’t have a job to go to? This can be very difficult for a person to come to terms with.  This tends to be the case for men more so than women, especially if they are the breadwinners and high achievers. There is also the loss of routine, the routines and rituals associated with work are no longer there and as this is a transitional space it can take some time to adapt to the lack of routine. There is the loss of camaraderie, loss of income and of status. This can trigger a loss of control which can feed into a person’s self-esteem.

The length of time it takes to go through these emotions varies from person to person but for most people having gone through these emotions they are ready to move on and accept the situation. For others they find it difficult to recover and maybe struggle with the feeling of rejection, self–esteem issues, confidence and self-worth and as a result may experience depression which, in turn, may lead to suicidal thoughts. The knock-on effect or secondary stressors of redundancy can also impact on a person’s mental health. Some of the factors include fear for the future, financial insecurity or a strain on relationships. These can also be triggers for depression.  It is really important to be aware if negative thoughts and emotions are taking hold or if a person is blaming themselves and see this as personal failure. This can manifest itself in not wanting to go out because the feeling is that there is a stigma attached to being unemployed or there may be a feeling of embarrassment or shame. A person may also withdraw from their partner and family. They may find themselves drinking /gambling/using drugs more than usual. This is where a person needs to seek professional help.

No matter how bad a person feels at the time they will get over it. It is also about being patient because it takes time to ‘work through this loss’.  Some people feel that it was the best thing that ever happened to them as it gives them the opportunity to perhaps take a different career path, travel, go back to education, become a stay-at-home parent or simply connect more with their family.  Perhaps it was an opportunity to leave a stressful job, a job that the person felt obliged to stay in because it paid the bills and get a certain standard of living. A less stressful job may open up new possibilities of more free time, spending more time with family, or just being able to be more present.  After working through the whole process a host of opportunities can open up and there may be the realisation that you are more than your job. There is life after redundancy.