When redundancy knocks

Just as the job market had started to look a little more stable, along came Qantas, Westpac and BlueScope Steel with the news of job cuts.

With the global financial outlook looking decidedly unsteady, could these be the dawn of a new era of layoffs, with all the trappings of insecurity they bring to the workplace?

Even in these uncertain times, there are some signs that may help to predict if your job is likely to disappear, according to Claire Bradley at Forbes magazine. Of course the most obvious of these are that your company is sold, or a redundancy program is announced. But other more subtle signs include cuts to your pay or benefits, not being invited to meetings, and projects that keep stalling.

Once it happens, there is no doubt that job loss is a traumatic experience, and for some, it might even be as painful as the loss of a loved one. There is also a growing body of research telling us it can harm your health, affect your life expectancy, and even trigger psychiatric issues.

So what do you do if it happens to you?

Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter talks about seven things to avoid. She says you shouldn’t panic, isolate yourself or become consumed in anger, bitterness or sadness.

“Dwelling on these negative feelings can use up valuable energy that could be better served in the direction of finding other opportunities,” she writes.

She says you have to stay focused on the here and now and learn to move on. She also recommends staying as flexible as possible so you are exposed to more opportunities, even if those are just a string of temporary part time jobs.

The point, she says, is to stay positive and upbeat because negativity will have an effect on the outcome.

And obviously burning bridges is never a good idea because it’s a small world and you may end up working with these people again.

Steve Tobak at BNet says that for some, losing a job might even be the kick in the pants that they needed to get going and do important stuff. 

Often the reasons behind the job loss had nothing to do with you. Market changes, executive turnover, reorganisation, restructuring can result in good people losing their jobs.

". . . you’ll be better off somewhere else, in the long run . . . And you know what? The same thing goes for rejection, failure, losing business, anything that feels gut-wrenchingly bad at the time is an opportunity to learn, gain wisdom, and ultimately improve your position. That is, as long as you’ve got the guts to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and work on it, instead of throwing in the towel and feeling sorry for yourself.”

In a speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005, former Apple chief Steve Jobs said getting fired from Apple earlier in his career turned out to be “the best thing that could have ever happened to me". He said it freed him up to be creative and to focus on doing stuff he loved to do. He started up Pixar, fell in love with a woman who became his wife and then eventually returned to Apple to turn it around and create one of the world's most powerful and creative companies."

It is easy to look back and see the benefits once you have re-established your life, but in my experience, when people lose their jobs, they often panic. Their head is spinning and they feel disoriented. They’ve been told not to take it personally but don’t know what to think, or where to turn. So what is the best way to cope with this sudden change?

Recruiters and search consultants say people in this situation often try to hit the market quickly so that they can fill the gap. But that often backfiles because they end up in jobs they don't really want.

What you need to do instead, they say, is to take stock and go out in a strategic way. That means making long term plans looking at the new experiences, unfulfilled creative needs and challenges you'd like to incorporate in the next phase of your career and personal life (taking into account the resources you will need to make those changes).

A UK study shows that the people who were most successful at coping with their job loss were those who were able to view the event as a new era in their lives. They were able to redefine themselves from their former career status, accept that things might never be the same again, and separate themselves from the inevitable trauma that comes when you suddenly find yourself unemployed.

Have you ever suddenly lost your job? What coping strategies would you suggest?