Dealing with Retrenchment

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Becoming retrenched is typically one of the most stressful experiences that someone might face in their working life. It is therefore normal for people to experience a range of stress-related reactions around such times. The amount of stress that one feels will be affected by such aspects as how unexpected the retrenchment was, the terms of the retrenchment, perceived likelihood of finding suitable alternative work, current financial circumstances, anticipated family reactions and what other stresses are being faced at the time. Whatever the circumstances, it is normal to feel significant stress, especially early on, given that retrenchment typically leads to some uncertainty about the future and questioning about the perceived value of one’s contribution.

This blog aims to provide tips that will hopefully bolster one’s capacity to deal with retrenchment or redundancy and assist people to make a positive adjustment, especially in the medium and longer term. It helps to keep some perspective of how things might change over time. Initially one might well experience some sense of shock, loss and emotions related to grief. After the immediate impact, it may become clear that some new opportunities may arise. In the long term, many people experience positive things coming out of even unwanted changes. It also helps to have in mind that work roles are just one, albeit important, part of our lives. If we recognise how other areas of our lives might be going well, that can help to buffer the stress that comes from unwanted changes at work.

Some initial stress is normal

After stressful life events, it helps to accept a significant increase in stress reactions as being both common and normal, especially over the first few days and even the first few weeks. Such reactions may include disrupted sleep, variable concentration, reduced motivation, feeling tired, increased irritability, aches and pains, feeling agitated or restless, feeling overwhelmed, increased worry and fears for the future, reduced interest in socializing, and reduced interest in usual activities. Our reactions to stress are nonetheless quite individual. Stress reactions are mainly a problem if they last too long, interfere with our capacity to manage with everyday tasks, or prevent us from taking steps to help our future adjustment.

Draw on social supports

It helps to draw on the support of family and friends. This may include talking about one’s worries or concerns with a partner, other family member and/or trusted friend. This gives others a chance to show their support, encouragement and goodwill. Being able to express one’s views and concerns can help take a more objective view of one’s situation, perhaps with additional encouragement to remain hopeful over the longer term.

Look for opportunities

After the immediate impact of retrenchment, it helps to look for opportunities for something positive to come from the experience. In the first instance, it is important to seek work opportunities that are right for you. This means seeking work that might best draw not only on your abilities, but also your particular interests and strengths. Maintaining a positive outlook whilst seeking work might be assisted by discussing your strengths with supportive others, documenting your particular skills and interests and updating your resume to highlight your attributes. Keeping in mind the best things you have to offer can help maintain a positive momentum whilst looking for new work that suits you.

Photograph: Steve Johnson

Manage financial concerns

When finances are stretched or there is uncertainty about your financial future, it can help to take some partial control using a range of financial management strategies. It can first help to adjust one’s own as well as family financial expectations by agreeing to contain spending as a family unit. It may be important to objectively review one’s financial situation and prepare a budget in a manner to allow a little more predictability for your immediate financial outlook. Contacting one’s bank about outstanding loans can help plan strategies to deal with difficulties servicing loans.  It generally helps to be proactive rather than allowing worries to mount without taking practical action. Free financial counselling is commonly available.

Stress management strategies

We all vary in our ways of responding to stress, so it helps to be aware of our typical ways of reacting and our usual coping strategies. Healthier ways of adapting to stress include allowing ourselves to acknowledge stress but responding by drawing on our social supports, engaging in regular exercise, adopting good sleeping habits, regularly engaging in favourite leisure activities, spending quality time with friends and family, using humour and maintaining an optimistic outlook. Less healthy reactions to stress include avoiding usual social contacts, excessive use of alcohol or other drugs, other addictive behaviours including gambling, or escalating patterns of negative thoughts or worry. When it becomes clear that such negative reactions are persisting or are significantly interfering with one’s wellbeing, it can be worth seeking assistance to address these difficulties and to bolster more healthy coping strategies.

Using your character strengths

After the initial adjustment to retrenchment when hopefully any immediate negative impact has settled, it may help to use one of the most powerful psychological strategies to bolster a positive outlook and focus one’s energies for the future. This strategy involves assessing and drawing on one’s “signature character strengths”, which relate to a person’s strongest and most enduring positive personality attributes. Detailed instructions on how to identify and use this technique can be found at the blog page of our website (https://www.chrismackey.com.au/blog/): see the handout, “Identifying Signature Character Strengths”. This strategy also provides a guide as to what types of future work roles might be the most satisfying.

When further help might be required

It may be especially important to seek further mental health assistance if one’s initial reactions cause marked distress or if they persist at a disruptive level for more than a few weeks. In the first instance it can help to be proactive by meeting with your GP at the first indication that distress is persisting beyond the initial days and weeks, that stress reactions are interfering with your capacity or interest to perform everyday activities, if you have limited social supports, if you have pre-existing health problems that are worsened by stress or if you have some more severe symptoms such as markedly disrupted sleep or suicidal thoughts. Most of these difficulties can be addressed readily with psychological counselling and/or other medical and health-related strategies. Additional practical assistance may be offered by various agencies in such areas as financial counselling and job-seeking support. In the long run, the goal is to not just manage with an extremely challenging time but to emerge from the experience with your wellbeing intact and heading in a direction consistent with your life goals.

Beyond Blue provides additional detailed information expanding on themes in this blog: (see http://www.beyondblue.org.au, click on “Get information”, Click on “Downloadable beyondblue information resources, scroll down to “Taking care of yourself after retrenchment or financial loss”).

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