Workplace Doctor: Job loss can be confidence-shattering, even for the toughest

The senior leadership team is about to undergo a restructure. A couple of people have already been let go and there is no clear timeline on when all the decisions will be made. I am happy to take redundancy if it comes, but this uncertainty is making the team very jumpy. What’s the best way to handle this? MN, Abu Dhabi

Losing a job can have the same emotional and psychological impact as losing someone significant other in life, so it’s natural that redundancy can feel like losing a part of yourself as, for many people, they are what they do. The central role of work is hardly a modern phenomenon, with surnames across the globe inherited from the occupations of forefathers or associated in some way with a particular trade or industry.

Unfortunately, in today’s unstable economy the fear of redundancy and restructuring looms like a dark cloud for many. This is especially true for teams in this region responsible for their organisation’s performance during this challenging time, and accountable to a head office located miles away that is often far removed from the business realities of the GCC.

If you look at the data from a range of statistics, usually one in three people report being worried about holding on to their job. The uncertainty can lead to serious anxiety, which can be really difficult to live with, keeping many awake at night. Therefore it is important to come up with a solution on how to best manage this, as the experience of waiting creates unnecessary stress and tension in the team.

To best handle this situation, first find out what factors are within your control. The uncertainty of the final decision is definitely out of your manageable boundaries, but how you think, feel and react is entirely down to you. You can also help the team by gathering as much information as possible and sharing it with them. Do be open and honest about what you don’t know, as people’s mind can wander in all sorts of negative thoughts when faced with change and ambiguity. Try your best to maintain a positive outlook and be proactive, focused and optimistic for the rest of the team, even though you may face negativity, moaning and some anger. Don’t take things personally even if people transfer their frustration with the organisation on to you.

Another outlook to this is that being made redundant allows some individuals to create new opportunities for themselves by starting their own business, taking a career break or shifting into a completely new field. Oprah Winfrey was actually fired from her job as a television reporter as she was told she was unfit for TV. Can you imagine that? She’s proof that people can recover from setbacks if we are determined enough. Your role as a leader is to make sure that people who may leave do so full of confidence and optimism about their future.

Yet for others, their financial or life situations may mean this job holds great importance for them and if this financial security is taken away, they may experience a real sense of loss and dejection and not know what to do next. Make sure you take a personal approach to managing the team, as one size will not fit all, and some will need more attention than others.

As a leader supporting your team through this difficult time, you are also not in the wrong by helping them prepare for the worst. This may be through one-on-one conversations, encouraging them to explore other opportunities within the organisation or mentally preparing them to step back into the job marketplace. Equally, you should let them know what you appreciate and value about each of them, as an experience like this can be confidenc-shattering even for the brightest and toughest of people.

Doctor’s prescription:

Supporting your team through this tough time is your priority, as you seem comfortable with your own situation. Like any loss, people can’t begin recovering until they receive certainty of the outcome. Until then your role is to support, share what you know and keep spirits up. Eventually, for those who are being shown the way out, prepare them on how to deal with life after this, which could include looking for a new opportunity, a career break or even realising their dream of setting up shop and being their own boss.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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