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Build for success > Tough Tales of Transition > Redundancy Can Be A Great Opportunity

Redundancy Can Be A Great Opportunity

By Galia Barhava-Monteith

As many of our readers will know, at Professionelle we very much advocate looking at life from a Positive Psychology perspective, looking at what can be done and what is working. Notwithstanding all that, we absolutely realise that redundancy feels very tough.

In thinking about how we could write something which would be relevant and helpful, it occurred to me that I could share my story of being made redundant and the lessons that I learned from the process which eventually led to the creation of Professionelle.

My Story

I was made redundant in 2004. I was pregnant with my second child at the time, and the role was one I felt very passionately about. If you’ve ever been through the process of redundancy with the consultation period and all that entails, you’ll know that this can be extremely stressful. One of the major issues around being made redundant was that my sense of self was severely undermined. I felt very much like I had no power or control over the situation and that things were being done to me, not with me.

So what helped? What were the key lessons I took from my redundancy experience? And most importantly, how did I move forward?

Things That Helped

With the benefit of time, I can look back and see what things really helped me get through what was a very tough time indeed. My husband was very supportive, and so were some of my friends who understood what it was like to go through this process. But what made the most difference was the support and sage advice of a very close colleague, namely Alison Andrew. Alison was at the time the most senior woman manager at Fonterra. Alison and I met at the time of the merger and we became both friends and professional colleagues. She worked in a different part of the business and in a separate physical location, so we really had to make an effort to see one another.

Throughout the process, Alison would regularly call me to see how I was doing, and she gave me the best advice that has stayed with me ever since. Once, when I told her how terrible I was feeling, Alison said: “Girl, the reason why you’re feeling so lousy is because you’re not in control. You and I are used to being in control and having that taken away from us makes things really tough. So what you need to do is to find a way to take control of the situation!”

And that’s exactly what I did.

Specifically, I got some great legal advice about how to take control of the consultation process. I scheduled the meetings and provided the information in a manner I was proud of. The outcome at the end was that I declined the reduced fixed term role they offered me. But, most importantly, I felt that I had handled myself and others in a respectful manner. I left with my professional and personal respect and integrity intact.

My Key Lessons

If you were to ask me what are the key things to help you get through redundancy, my advice would be:

  1. Find a key confidante at work who you trust. This person might not work with you directly and might not be able to help you put your case forward. But to me, the most important things about confidantes is that they understand the reality of your workplace. You need someone you can be absolutely honest with about how you feel – and someone you can absolutely trust.
  2. Get legal advice! I think it is crucial to that feeling of control that you know what your rights are and how to best conduct yourself in the process. Know what your rights are and how to best handle yourself.
  3. Treat the process seriously and with integrity. We all know how cynical you can get when going through the compulsory consultation process of redundancy. I was very tempted and became quite cynical myself. The problem is that being cynical makes you feel worse. Once I took control of the process, I did everything to the best of my abilities and treated it very seriously. Sometimes, my professionalism seemed to exceed that of the people who were running the process … at the end I felt I could hold my head high because I behaved in a way that I could be proud of.

Now what?

After the redundancy process was completed, I had my baby, took a year off and started getting back into things after my daughter’s first birthday. Like many other women in my position, I started to contract. I undertook a few really good consulting assignments and I did a bit of executive coaching but after about 18 months I felt like I needed something else…

So I soul searched and realised that I needed to build something that I could get my teeth stuck into. I guess you could call it a need to leave a legacy behind. I also realised that I had really let my professional contacts disappear. Shortly after I left to have my baby, the company moved premises and so overnight, all my contacts disappeared, as I no longer had their correct numbers etc. One of the first things I did was to painstakingly trace back my contacts and re-connect – mainly through LinkedIn.

To find out what I truly wanted to do, I outsourced perspective; I talked to lots of people, from all parts of my life. I also did a lot of reading of professional publications. In one of those publications, the Harvard Business Review, I came across an article about playing to your strengths, which described a fabulous exercise called ‘The Reflected Best Self’ (RBS).

In short, the Reflected Best Self requires you to ask colleagues, friends and family to tell you in writing (usually via e-mail) when they have seen you at your best, and to provide actual examples of these instances. By analysing the feedback and completing your Best Self portrait you get some amazing insights about the unique contributions you have to offer.

The other crucial thing I did was to re-read ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. That’s where I was reminded how companies who make the move from good to great find something they are absolutely passionate about, and excellent at, and uncover ways to make money out of it. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend this business book.

One of my key insights from ‘Good to Great’ was that, sometimes, to move on and find the right direction for you, you might need to let go of what you perceive as your expertise. It dawned on me that I didn’t have to restrict my thinking to the field of business ethics, where my skill base was.

That’s when I had an intense phone call with a formidable business woman who is a great friend . She basically kicked me up the bum with the advice to fully apply myself to the what-next question and to find a solution that would work for me.

I spent a sleepless night thinking, thinking, thinking. I wanted it to be web-based because it afforded me the flexibility I wanted and I have always been fascinated with the Internet. I had been thinking for a little while before that sleepless night that many professional women share the same challenges – just not with one another – and I had been wondering how I could do something about it. So as I lay there awake, thinking this is it, I have to find something to make things work for me, I was also trying to marry those two concepts and the seeds for Professionelle were sown.

All the work I did, the soul searching, the RBS, the reading all began to make sense and came together in the end. And from there, the work on Professionelle started – and that was a whole new beginning.

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