Written by Katherine Nicholls

Katherine Nicholls

Counselling Directory Content Team

Last updated December 2013 | Next review due July 2015

The dictionary defines redundancy as the state of being no longer needed or useful, and whether that description applies to machinery or human beings - the implications can be gloomy. Looking at this definition and the negative connotations with which it often comes can help us to understand and explore why it can have such devastating effects for some. On the flip side however, redundancy does not have to be limiting. It can be a positive, life-changing event for those who are able to work through the set-backs and find a new way forward.

What is redundancy?

In today’s roller coaster economy, redundancy is an increasingly common experience - and looks set to remain so. Being made redundant at work means your position is no longer required by the company that employs you. The reasons for being made redundant vary but may include:

  • a lack of funds to support your position
  • new management structure
  • staffing restructure
  • business going into administration. 

This phenomena of modern life is now considered by a growing body of researchers to be a “psychological crisis” for many of the people caught up in the process. This is mainly because redundancy can bring a sudden sense of loss in two areas; the practical loss of income and the psychological impact of loss of status, companionship and the mental well-being associated with being fully employed. It can also undermine our sense of self-esteem and bring about a fear of what’s to come in the future. 

Reports suggest that the current recession may now be over, but the boom-and-bust pattern of recent years suggests that redundancy will remain a feature of modern society and may become even more familiar as industries change and adapt more rapidly. Recent figures show that the number of unemployed in Britain is now 2.4 million, the highest level since 1995. Many more people are experiencing what it is like to be out of work - and for the majority of those, this decision has been made against their will.

The effects of redundancy

Being made redundant is often a life-changing experience. You face having to reorganise your life and may encounter immediate problems. How will you pay your bills? What chance is there of finding another job? Often a person’s employment defines them and their sense of purpose, so the shock of its loss and resulting powerlessness can be devastating.

For those who feel trapped in an unfulfilling job (and are lucky enough to have financial security), having a sudden release can offer a new lease of life. For the majority however, it can be a daunting and demoralising journey. Overwhelming feelings of loss can promote a crash of confidence and in certain cases may lead to the development of depressive symptoms. The sudden disruption of a daily routine can also feel disorientating, resulting in a sense of isolation.  

Richard Lucas, a psychologist at Michigan State University analysed data from two large studies that looked into mankind’s ability to adapt emotionally. It was found that on average, humans adapt best to marriage and death, with well-being levels returning back to normal after a certain amount of time.

When it came to adapting to things such as serious illness and the loss of a job however, it was discovered that well-being levels did not return to the level they experienced previously. Some schools of thought say money (or the lack thereof) is the main reason behind this, while others argue that the loss of status and sense of self were more integral.

The changing face of redundancy

Age, sex, peer group, financial position and even work skills all make the impact of redundancy different for everyone. The face of redundancy has changed in the last 30 years, when industries like manufacturing and coal-mining simply disappeared. Back then, redundancy meant it was unlikely any other employment would come along and skills would be lost forever. Large groups were often made redundant together, so the feeling of isolation might have been lessened - but there was perhaps more despair and anger.

These days, modern skills such as computing and electronics are more portable and therefore adaptable to other industries and workplaces. There is also more acceptance of the peaks and troughs of the economy, so we can hold out hope that employment will return in the medium term. Maintaining focus and self-belief is crucial to allow those made redundant to return to the jobs market at the first opportunity. Retraining, managing finances and keeping morale are a priority. People who have suffered a crash of confidence may need individual support through counselling.

In the past many working women who were made redundant would simply go back to being a housewife, while men facing a similar situation found it much tougher. In this recession however, it has become far more difficult to generalise. In recent times the traditional family dynamic has changed, with more men staying home to help out with childcare and more women taking on full-time work.

These sudden unplanned changes can bring a whole new set of pressures, which may need to be explored by a couple; even the most practical of solutions can bring about resentment and conflict. The shift in power dynamics, the economic pressure of one wage rather than two and less treats and holidays can all add pressure to any relationship. In these cases, such issues could benefit from being explored in couples counselling.

Coping with redundancy

Studies show a great amount of variation in the way individuals adapt to what life throws at them. Generally people who have been able to face up to adversity feel they have changed, grown, or even benefitted as a result of their experience.

If you have been made redundant, don't keep your thoughts to yourself; seek out friends and family you can trust, keep in contact with others in a similar situation and talk about your anxieties. It is important to begin to think about a more positive future and plan what you should do next with your life. The following tips are a great starting point:

1. Reframe your position. Move from "I was made redundant", to "My position was made redundant". It is an important step away from the victim position and closer towards a survivor standpoint. You can view your predicament as the result of a business decision rather than a criticism of you or your skills. Maintain your self-esteem.

2. Talk openly to trusted people. Your family and friends are likely to be affected by your redundancy and may be able to help. If you were made redundant as part of a group, it might help to contact your ex-colleagues for moral support and to discuss your back-to-work strategy.

3. Maintain structure in your day. Stick to a timetable or schedule that resembles work and get out of the house. Keep a balance in your life. Maintain normality and allow yourself to think about the future. Keep a sense of purpose to keep positive.

4. Start thinking about the future. Even if it is just a weekend away or a trip to see a friend, making plans can help you get a new perspective. Beware of extended travel or holidays which may deplete funds and not allow you to move forward. Think about using stepping stones towards a path for the future, whether that might involve moving, doing voluntary work or retraining. Keep your options open and try to be realistic.

5. Learn something new. Whether it involves retraining, having contact with other people or just keeping your mind active and focused - it is important to be open to learning.

6. Improve your CV through voluntary work. Getting involved with a project you are passionate about will help you build up the necessary skills for re-entering the job market and will show potential employers that you are resilient and resourceful. Many charities have become more professional and are in a position to recruit staff as they grow and develop.

7. Resist the pressure to find work straight away. In some cases, sticking your redundancy payout into a savings account can be counter-productive to what you should be using it for: taking the time to make the right next step.

Finding a counsellor who can help with redundancy

There are essentially two types of redundancy counselling or advice; the practical type which offers support and signposts a route back to employment, and the traditional type of confidential counselling which can help address any problems which might stand in the way of you getting onto the path. The latter is the counselling work that deals with low self-esteem, depression, sudden loss or anxiety; this can be useful to help increase your understanding of the situation and allow a way forward.

What can you expect from a redundancy counselling service?

Styles differ according to your needs and whether you are ready to embark on a plan to find new employment, or are facing a setback which stops you. Good employers often make the practical type of redundancy counselling services available to their outgoing staff, or you can contact one privately.

For the most part, a redundancy counsellor/advisor will offer very practical job-hunting advice, for example putting together a CV, preparing for interviews and networking tips. The information should be presented in an up-to-date manner geared to current requirements of the industry. Redundancy support services can also prepare specific programmes for those who face more challenging redundancy situations. For example, if an entire sector of the economy, such as finance for example, is contracting. For those affected, moving into new roles may become essential.

Similar challenges may be faced by those who have spent their careers working in the public sector. Redundancy may push them to compete in the private sector for the very first time, where the tempo of work and the pressure of expectations can be wholly different from what they are used to. Experienced advisors can help ease the burden.

You can also expect redundancy advisors to go over the psychological aspects of redundancy. Advice on remaining positive during your job search, maintaining your sense of self-esteem and discussing some of the psychological effects of redundancy should all form part of this. It should be noted that most redundancy counsellors will not be general counsellors, so if you’re experiencing any concerning symptoms such as depression, they should be able to refer you to a specialist person-centred or individuals counsellor.

Therapy specifically for redundancy is often based on the bereavement model devised in 1969 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss doctor. Her five stages of emotional response to loss – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – are still commonly used to help people cope with redundancy. Many counsellors are trained to work with loss and some specialise in work-related stress such as redundancy.

The toughest thing for some people is feeling as if they have no purpose, and staying positive within a routine. Staying in the office mentality by ensuring you are at your computer looking for work at 9am every morning can prove helpful. Set yourself tasks for later in the day and do keep in contact with friends and ex-colleagues, it is important to keep a balance.

Finally, while you are out of work it is important to remain in touch with the sector you want to work in. Keep up via relevant trade publications and network when you can.

What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?

Currently there are no official rules or regulations stipulating what level of training a counsellor dealing with redundancy needs. There are however several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors to improve their knowledge of a particular area, so for peace of mind you may wish to check to see if they have had further training in issues regarding work and redundancy.

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