Advice to partners coping with redundancy
For a partner, coping with your loved-one’s change in circumstances can be stressful in all sorts of ways. Your ability to help them to handle the redundancy period can have a crucial impact on how your partner copes with the transition and moves forward.
Aside from helping your partner through this period, you will have the additional burden of grappling with your own anxieties – and, perhaps, those of your children. Partners will often experience the anguish of redundancy as much as the job seeker.
Much of the following advice may appear to be common sense; some of it may appear difficult to put into practice. But even for the most difficult problems there is comfort to be gained by merely being aware that they may arise; and from being able to reassure yourself that your reactions to the experience are shared by the many other people who have had to face redundancy.
Facing up to loss
While the overall effects of redundancy depend upon individual circumstances, the loss of a job is initially, for most of us, absolutely devastating. When someone loses their job, they lose many other things that are important to them: their confidence, their sense of security, even their dignity. The way they perceive themselves and the way others perceive them can change radically.
As their partner, you also will sense some of these emotions and time is required for an understanding of the impact of this significant change.
For many, the announcement of redundancy comes not so much as a bolt from the blue but as a final nail in the coffin after a long period of uncertainty and instability – and can initially bring great relief. It may mean the end of a boring job, of an over-heavy workload involving long hours, or of a difficult personality clash with a colleague.
Shock, Immobilisation; Loss
A sense of numbness normally follows, where very little is felt emotionally. There may be a feeling of being overwhelmed, being unable to make plans, unable to reason, to understand; and even disbelief – “this can’t be happening to me!”.
A sense of loss may also be felt at this stage – loss of status, loss of structure to the working day, loss of being part of a team, loss of job satisfaction, loss of security and loss of personal identity.
Once the shock is over, it is often followed by some form of searching – an identity search “for the real me”, for example, or a survival search “for a new means of survival”. Searching for a new ideal is, after all, a perfectly natural, and healthy response from someone whose self-image and self-confidence have been severely damaged by redundancy. By considering new ideals and new opportunities, your partner has a chance of regaining much of the lost impetus, as well as repairing their self-esteem.
“He got this crazy idea that if we could sell the house and go abroad everything would work out – but I think he knew deep down that this was not the answer”.
Another common response at this stage is denial. Some people block things out, continuing to work as hard, or even harder at the workplace. This manifests itself in comments such as “I have to leave it in good order” or “I must finish my reports”.
Others may show denial by throwing themselves into a variety of other activities which create the feeling that purposeful work has been found, such as DIY around the house or “doing some work on the side” for friends. Unfortunately it is a superficial way of coping and usually a short-term substitute for paid employment; the positive effects soon wear off.
Often the next stage is anger. The person may blame others for what has happened to them, focusing their anger on their boss, the person who announced the redundancy, senior managers, the government, the EU or the world economy. Alternatively, the anger may be turned towards family members. “She had invested all that hard work into that company, and this was all the thanks they could give her”.
This anger may be intense, all consuming emotion which the person may be unused to feeling and have great difficulty in expressing.
The person will now begin to consider realistic and feasible career options, tentatively trying out routes to a new career, exploring the market, trying out new tactics and targeting new areas where their strengths and experience can be used.
Whom do you tell?
It is usually not a good idea to keep the redundancy a secret. It’s better to let your family and friends know what is happening. They may even be able to help.
Your children: Unless they are very young you will find that openness with your children is essential. Also, because it is such a small world, tell your children as soon as possible before they hear it from someone else. If you try to hide the situation from them they will sense that something is wrong, and it will then be far more difficult to allay the fear, anxiety and insecurity that they may feel. However, talking it through with them, in appropriate depth for their age, will make them feel included and part of a close family.
Your family: It generally helps to confide in your family – unless, of course, it would be inappropriate – for example, if they are particularly frail or unwell. Not only is trying to hide the problem from your family likely to be extremely stressful, you would be cutting off a potentially strong source of emotional and practical support.
Your friends; Redundancy is no longer a dirty word, but you may still find that some people do not understand your situation or concerns, or are too embarrassed to raise the issue with you. You will probably find that far more people are caring and supportive than not.
When socialising you will find it easier if you bring up the subject immediately. Not only will you then not be waiting for the dreaded question – “any luck on the job front” – when the answer may well be no, but you will avoid the problem of friends feeling uncomfortable about your situation.
Unfortunately though, this is a time when you will discover who your real friends are. Some, whom you thought of as close friends will drift away or will be too embarrassed to call you; and others will unexpectedly offer a tidal wave of support that will almost knock you off your feet.
If you do find certain friends let you down, put it down to experience. Remember, it’s difficult for people who haven’t been in the same situation to really understand what you are going through.
Emotional support for your partner
When mountain climbers attempt to climb a mountain they attach themselves to each other by a rope so that if one falls, the other is in a position to help them back onto the mountain. In many ways, close relationships during a time of job search are similar. It’s crucial that you bolster up your partner at this time.
Encourage them to express any feelings of anger, frustration or sadness. By helping them to “let off steam” you are preventing them from bottling up emotions which could emerge later.
Listen carefully to them. Being more demonstrative in your show of love and affection help them to feel loved, needed and important. Remember, you’re both in this together: there’s nothing wrong with having a good moan together every now and again; you might even try having a good laugh about it all – it can do wonders!
When your partner is at a low ebb, always emphasise their strong points. Reassure them of their abilities and experience. Also, re-focus them on the really important things in life, your health, your children and each other.
Be accepting of their state of mind, whether upset, angry or frustrated. Offer a willing ear to listen to complaints and frustrations. Don’t try to solve their problems, simply listen and encourage them. Commiserate with them when they feel miserable, stand by them when their self-confidence is waning. Above all, try not to criticise or condemn.
Supporting your partner at a time like this requires resources you may have thought you never had – but you do have them. It means putting their needs first, even when you don’t feel like it. No matter how frustrating it can be at times, try never to show any unwillingness to do what your partner wants you to do.
All in all, take each day as it comes. Don’t expect too much, too quickly, from either your partner or yourself.
EXTRACTED FROM A BOOKLET BY LHH PENNA: the UK’s leading Human Capital Management Company.
“PARTNERS COPING WITH REDUNDANCY”
PENNA, 5 Fleet Place, London EC4M 7RD
TELEPHONE 0207 663 6633