With one in three companies predicted to make redundancies by the end of September, more of us than ever before are likely to experience redundancy. There’s something quite chilling about the word ‘redundant’. The dictionary definition provides the clue. The redundant person is ‘not or no longer needed or useful’ or ‘superfluous.’
Being stripped of both your job role and salary may trigger feelings of grief. The loss of purpose and status can cut you to the very core of your self-concept. People who lose their job through no fault of their own, nonetheless feel deep shame.
It is likely that those feelings of shame will be reinforced by experience of a welfare benefits’ system that can feel very punitive. “It came as a great shock to be treated like I was a naughty kid. I really believed that losing my job was my fault and that I wasn’t putting in anywhere near enough effort to find a new one,” said James who is coming to terms with joblessness for the first time in his life.
Then, of course, there is the shaming that comes from the media and the wider culture. “Are you,” screech the headlines, “a striver or a skiver?” When asked, a disproportionately high number of the UK public perceive jobless people as feckless.
So along with struggling to put food on the table and keeping a roof over your head, there’s the difficulty of managing feelings of shame and worthlessness just at a time when you need an even more robust self-esteem to ride the storm.
So, what helps?
Maybe it starts with rethinking how you define yourself? It’s all too easy for us to think our job is our purpose in life, our salary an indication of our worth. A job can define what we do – but does it define who we are?
It might also help to treat your redundancy as you would grief and allow yourself to mourn the loss of your role and your status. Expect waves of sadness, of anger, of ‘why me’? They are not signs of weakness, but the painful consequences of you accommodating towards a distressing experience.
What you tell yourself about your predicament is also important. It’s going to be hard to resist the shaming messages, the self-blame, the belief that you’re not good enough. But we need to tell ourselves that losing our job was not our fault. We’re not to blame for the pandemic, the collapse of the economy, the demise of our employer, the competence or otherwise of the Government. The world may tell you otherwise, that there are ‘plenty of jobs’ if only you got off your ‘lardy arse’ to find one.
It also helps to stay connected to the people who know and value you. Redundancy can sometimes be a time to distinguish the meaningful relationships from the superficial ones. Hold the friends who stick by you a little closer. Reach out to others experiencing the economic storms and, if you can, support them with the kindness that is so rarely offered to those who lose their jobs. You may in time that there are other ways to approach joblessness – by completely rethinking your purpose in life, by channelling your anger into campaigning for change, or starting up a new business. Don’t expect any of this to be easy on the pittance you’ll get from Universal Credit.
Finally, in the English language, the word ‘worth’ is cursed by a double meaning. For many of us, it means how much we earn, how big our house or car. Being made redundant, learning to live on £70 a week is going to challenge your ideas of worth like never before.
The greatest lesson you may learn is that human worth is not measurable in size of salary. As the great humanist psychologist Carl Rogers noted, “I’m not perfect… But I’m enough.”
If you’re struggling with the threat or experience of redundancy, email Mel@wsscs.co.uk about discounted rates for counselling.