Beating redundancy

Kitty Donaldson takes you through your emergency kit for job survival in an economic downturn

Work hard, play hard. Right?
One by one your colleagues start arriving earlier than usual. They don’t take so long for lunch and they’re still toiling when you’re battling through the rush hour traffic. Are they extra keen, in line for promotion, or do they know something you don’t?

Gloom and bust
A recent announcement by the ITEM Club, an economic forecasting group run by accountants Ernst and Young has indicated the country is heading into recession. ‘The unbalanced UK economy and the strength of the pound mean the UK is in a particularly precarious state at the moment. The pound could fall quickly, posing a risk to inflation and interest rates, or (as seems more likely) it could stay high, risking jobs.’ Market growth will continue albeit at a reduced rate. However, the strength of the pound against the euro and the weakness of the US market will affect British manufacturing at the first stage and service sector in the second wave.

Departments under particular threat
If you are worried about your position in your company, it is worth remembering that certain departments suffer first. At a simple level, they are the ones that don’t actually make the money. Goldman Sachs recently laid of 300 staff from their enormous pool of Human Resources employees, and Marjorie Scardino of Pearson is facing a tough future meeting advertising targets for the year, due to the downturn in the industry. Advertising, marketing and transport divisions are particularly under threat. One financial report has already noted a decline in the purchase of vehicles for business in this country, one of the first cost cutting measures a company takes.

Julie McKeen, a marketing director at one of the UK’s largest advertising firms, agrees: ‘Advertising’s already suffering the effects of the economic slowdown; unfortunately the first budgets to be cut are the marketing budgets which of course means the advertising goes. We have already had redundancies in all the major ad agencies, and some smaller ones have closed.’ McKeen believes the quality of advertising will be affected. ‘I think we’ll see a similar trend to the last recession; what will emerge will be a leaner but possibly smarter type of approach to advertising. We’ll need to justify the spend to clients more than before but the flipside of that is that more impulsive, creative advertising could suffer as a result.’

Karma Chameleon
You want to keep your job, right? So remember what Darwin said about the survival of the fittest and adapt to stay put. You need to show you can be flexible in your work. Make your boss look at you in a new light. Astrid Johnson knows what it’s like to make people redundant. A senior partner in a solicitors’ firm employing 80 people, she managed a team of thirty through the last recession and had to learn to let people go. She explains what employers look for in their staff. ‘Attitude is the one thing that sets people apart,’ she says. ‘Anyone who has a “that’s not my job” attitude is normally first to go.’

Johnson continues: ‘When people go around you, don’t say “Oh no, that means more work for me to take on”, but look at it positively even if it means some restructuring in your working arrangement and involves taking on work you’re not used to. Perhaps tell your employer “I need more training in this area”.’

Top tips to survival
Don’t give them an opportunity to criticise you – be on time and don’t let anyone perceive you wasting company time or money.Don’t gripe or gossip. Nobody likes a whinger.

Be a team player – troublemakers are shown the door first.

Take on more responsibility; that way you’re making yourself even more indispensable.

Try to learn new skills and keep up-to-date in your sector by reading trades journals or attending seminars.

Follow the business fortunes of your company. If you see fortunes changing, try to make a pre-emptive move.

Develop a friend in Marketing or Sales; they’ll be able to keep you up-to-date on industry and company shifts.

I’m a survivor
Channel 4’s Big Brother holds obvious parallels in these tremulous times for office politics. Out of the four finalists, two were staid – you might say boring – characters, but simply fitting in to your environment can pay long-term dividends. Dean and Elizabeth survived to the finals because they were inoffensive and showed they were useful, Elizabeth with her household tasks and Dean with his excellent harmonising influence, using his guitar to bring the group together. They also demonstrated maturity, one of the top characteristics looked for by employers, although Dean’s whining undermined his positive influence proved his downfall.

However, the innovative individual may well win through. Brian’s particular brand of humour won him many admirers, and made him the ultimate surivivor. He was also the most honest about his strengths and weaknesses, which provides a valuable lesson in business communications: never oversell yourself, but don’t undersell yourself either.

Network, get work
Oliver Stanley, senior partner at a leading headhunting firm, has tips for those facing an uncertain future. ‘When there’s a downturn in business there are a number of things you should not do. The first is to whinge; everybody will be whingeing. Instead of being a drain on the office, you should spend as much time as possible with clients, creating an external network of contacts to generate new business or a business reservoir for when the market takes an upward turn and if necessary, a new job.’

‘Work extra hard and avoid the inevitable rise in office in fighting. Creating an external office network is a priority, but take care to nurture internal networks. But be subtle! Don’t look as if you’re angling to hold onto your job. Subtlety is as necessary in business as in relationships. Most importantly, be pro-active. Generating business will show your employer that you are indispensable.’

The positive side to redundancy
If you are made redundant there may yet be hidden advantages. Rob Creber, 27, claims redundancy is the best thing that ever happened to him. As an event manager Rob worked for the Institute for International Research. Out of the blue, six of his 35-strong division were made redundant. He says it was ‘a shock move’ from the company, which was apparently undergoing a period of global cost-cutting. ‘You never expect it to be you,’ adds Rob, who had considered himself in a strong position.

Rob was lucky. Having worked for the company only 18 months, under the law Rob’s employers were under no obligation to offer him any more than the rest of his month’s wages. However, his philanthropic boss gave Rob the equivalent of three months’ salary. This unexpected windfall gave Rob the opportunity to examine his job opportunities in a pared-down sector and decide what sort of job would really suit him. ‘It gave me the impetus to have a look,’ he says. Rob spent his enforced redundancy speaking to friends in the industry and when an opportunity arose at launch company Excel he was able to find out about the individual style of the company’s management structure before he went for an interview.

Now Rob handles up to £10m of business for his new company organising events and conferences in the rapidly developing docklands area of London. Looking back on his redundancy he admits, ‘It was a shock at the time but it was a push in the right direction’. Rob was glad not to stay in an environment where, after redundancies, morale inevitable drops. He concludes: ‘It was the biggest favour any employer has ever done me.’

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