Retrenchment is a strange devil – it’s something so scathingly passive-aggressive, we don’t know how to respond to it.
In a sense, as the Section 189 documents relevant to the South African retrenchment process will tell you – you have lost your position through “no fault of your own”. But any person who has gone through it will know that “no fault of your own” is as vague an HR term as are innovation, agile and core competency in the pretentious sport of jargon-slinging.
No, the fact remains that those of us who are being “let loose” on the world are the ones who, for whatever reason, could not qualify to remain relevant in the businesses we’ve served; we are redundant.
We are what we do
The thing is, once you’ve guzzled past the early twenty party phase, you are no longer just your friends and your family and your culture. We are what we do – our value in this world is determined by what we put into it. Our professions, therefore, determine such a great part of how we value ourselves, how good we feel and our purpose in life in general.
If our contributions are therefore ignored, discarded or labelled redundant, there is no way that this would not affect us personally. Which is why retrenchment is laden with a heavy dose of shame and anger. It’s not merely the loss of a position, but the preceding determination that we no longer serve a purpose – or that the purpose which we do serve is irrelevant or unnecessary.
And even if, like myself, there were undeniable underlying reasons to chuck me from the bandwagon, we still feel like the ladies who doth protest too much if we mention these questionable business antics. We feel offended, act offended, and cower in shame. It’s not something we WANT to discuss, because we know our friends, family and prospective employers are undoubtedly mulling over our work ethic and efficiency in their minds as well.
To be fair, being told one week that you need to work full time from the office as there’s too much work (after working remotely for more than a year), and being told the next week that your position is suddenly redundant does leave one scratching heads (let’s not go into the whole non-compliance red flag debacle, bygones are gone now).
See, it doesn’t matter how righteous you feel – it’s how you are treated, and what the world believes you are. At least to a certain extent. At least until all that self-pity has finally buggered off.
Finding the balance
I find retrenchment rather similar to the loss of a romantic relationship. One the one hand, we tend to seek affirmations that those who have abandoned us aren’t coping without us. On the other, we truly and honestly would just like to forget them and find something better.
I suppose years in the corporate industry have made me more thick-skinned than others. I saw the signs months before the shit hit the fan, and my reaction was therefore more one of lingering righteous indignation than pure shock. In anaylising the situations and weighing my value against that of the people who’d remained, I’d focused on the unfairness of the situation instead of letting go early on.
For as with romantic relationships, it’s often clear that a business relationship has run its course long before the official admin has been handled. We should learn to value ourselves enough to walk away, and not just to stay.
Grieving for grievances
Of course, what remains when you sit at your home “office” in the aftermath is all those things you wish you could tell them. The elucidations you wish you could drizzle over their desks in an ooze of self-pity and rage. You wonder, for instance, how it could be appropriate for managers to discard employees without a single word. You wonder how other employees lack so much back-bone that they swallow their own tongues and values. You wonder if you should have fought. And after a while, when you’ve let all these nonsensical thoughts – you conclude that it was, quite philosophically and soppily, meant to be.
Losing our purpose sends us through a grieving process similar to any other loss. It’s important to let it run its course and then look up, pull up your bloomers and move on.
Learning through it all
I’ve had several gut-wrenching career experiences. I’ve been in environments I’d never want to find myself in again. And yet I’ve learned such valuable lessons throughout my entire career, I’d not want to give up those lessons for anything. Work is not always easy. It is not always rewarding. But as long as we know that there is value to be gauged beyond monetary wealth, these experiences can be written into our biographies and reflected upon with meaning.
It becomes easier to cast off the shame associated with retrenchment and to re-establish ourselves in the industry with new knowledge gained, and old faults discarded.
As with any relationship in your life, it is absolutely crucial to know that if someone doesn’t want you, you should let them go. Similarly, in business – if you are met with disrespect, dishonesty, ignorance, arrogance, intimidation, condescension or apathy, pack your bags love, because that ship is sailing. Best you jump on it first and set your sights on foreign shores before you’re left stranded on a desert island.
Good luck from a deserted island!