CO - HR Innovation

The trauma of being “made redundant”

The trauma of being “made redundant”

At work, there’s nothing quite as horrifying as the experience of being “made redundant”. Retiring can be painful or bitter-sweet, quitting can be joyous, but being made redundant (or laid off, or retrenched, or whatever) is universally traumatic. Even the very word “redundant” makes you feel worthless, like you’ve been thrown away.

I still remember vividly how it happened to me in my last job. My last role was Global Head of Digital for an international bank, working in Singapore. It was late 2016. The previous month my boss suddenly retired (somewhat mysteriously), and a new department head was quickly and unexpectedly ushered in. Why this happened, how it happened and the speed of it took me (and from the gossip, I assume the whole team) by surprise.

I remember I was supposed to have my first official one-on-one meeting with this new manager. I walked into the meeting room to see her, along with a grim-faced HR person in the room too. It was an “oh shit” moment. I knew with dread exactly what was about to happen.

Time slows down. A million thoughts race through your head:

“What did I do wrong?”

“How will I survive – how will I pay the bills?”

“What will I tell my loved ones?”

“Why?”

The discussion itself is uneventful but my emotions swirled. Shock. Anger. Fear. Sadness.

Paperwork needs to be signed but hanging overhead is an axe waiting to drop - both written and implied threats. Don’t tell anyone about this. Don’t make the company look bad. This shame is your secret. We promise not to tell anyone about it if you keep your mouth shut. A deep shame settles on top of the shock, anger and sadness.

I went through a period of bargaining. “But I just had a great year – we brought in revenue, cut costs, etc., etc.”. There’s talk of downsizing, financial targets, and other things that seem so distant to what I do for this company. In the end, it’s pointless. You’re redundant. Clean out your desk.

It’s been my deep shame that I’ve been forced into making other people redundant (on two occasions, despite being made redundant myself at both companies, due to the senior manager making the decision not being strong or brave enough to do it themselves, forcing their poor choices down to team leaders like me) for which I will always be ashamed and sorry for.

If I had a choice, I’d eliminate this practice altogether. If someone is not performing, help them improve and if continues coach them on taking a different role either inside the company or at another firm. If profits are taking a dip, manage shareholder expectations better or cut those million-dollar pay packets of the most senior leaders. It’s funny how it’s never the most senior execs, the real decision-makers, that get made redundant, isn’t it? I believe companies should act like families. If your sister is not doing well, you don’t make her “redundant” and ask her to leave – you regroup, help her and make things work. You act human and humane. You must treat people with respect, which is sadly lacking when you are “made redundant”.

Being laid off impacts people in different ways. Some people are determined to move onto something bigger and better (and I applaud you!), some beg to stay at the company, taking whatever role they can find, others, including me, started soul-searching.

In the moment I was handed my redundancy papers, something became very clear to me. Work isn’t fair. HR was not transparent, and I wanted to change this. To disrupt and reinvent how HR and people management is done, making it more transparent, data-driven and fairer to both the company and employee. It was a powerful revelation and a strong catalyst. It is now my passion and purpose.

 

  • Damien Cummings
    Damien Cummings
    CEO, Peoplewave

    Damien is one of Asia Pacific's most recognised digital transformation leaders. He is highly awarded, being honoured with a Doctor of Philosophy in Management (honoris causa) from KEISIE University, Korea in October 2017. He's also been awarded “Global Top 50 Digital Marketing Leaders 2016”, “Financial Services Marketer of the Year 2016”, “Digital Marketer of the Year 2016”, "Most Influential CMO 2015", "Marketing Professional of The Year 2012" and the "Brand Leadership Award 2011". Damien has been the co-founder of HYVHR and is the former CEO of Peoplewave. Before entrepreneurship, he was Global Head of Digital Marketing at Standard Chartered Bank and Chief Marketing Officer at Philips APAC. Damien has also worked at major global brands such as Samsung, Dell, Ogilvy & Mather, Citibank, Coca-Cola, NRMA and McKinsey & Company.  

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