A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about redundancy in the UK:
A couple of months ago, I got a new job, in a jump-before-being-pushed situation during a redundancy process. I was also one of the Union Reps negotiating the redundancy (this is the UK), which continued briefly while I was in my new job.
There were red flags at the start — I was concerned that the person my new employer saw wasn’t sure who I am (i.e. she kept calling me, ‘creative’ in a way that seemed a euphemism for not being solid or sensible.)
We had a minor disagreement about a working practice. I’m fully aware this was a mistake so early in a new job. Even during the (as I thought) minor disagreement, I made it clear that I was her employee and I would always do as she asked. Fairly soon afterwards, I apologised for the disagreement, and said that I was a little on edge negotiating the redundancy. She reacted a little strangely, saying that she felt I hadn’t seemed on edge. I apologised again, and hoped that was the end of it.
A few days later, I received a text message saying that she felt “things aren’t working out and we have to reconsider” because I was spending too much time negotiating the redundancy process. I apologised, rescheduled my commitments, and took a couple of days holiday so that I could deal with some of the meetings in my own time. Human Resources offered to hire a temp to fill in my work, although I said this was not necessary.
This seemed to make things worse, not better. I arrived at work the following week to have her strip most of my duties, and even though I had cleared all the meetings that my manager found problematic, I spent a week watching a temp do my job while I did what was plainly busywork. My manager claimed that my admission of being slightly on edge was an admission that I couldn’t cope with the job and wasn’t able to work.
I then took some time off to care for my terminally ill mother — which my manager offered incredibly enthusiastically. Now my mother is dead and I’m back at work… and my manager seems not to want me to restart. I have another job within the same company, where I’ve been received with open arms, but I don’t know what I’m going to find when I start back at my new work tomorrow.
It’s all couched in the nicest of terms — everything has been ostensibly done for my health and comfort, but I get a strong sense of being pushed out. I don’t want to jump so soon in a new job, but I have a mandatory meeting with HR on Friday and there are other jobs within the same company that I could try to do. The risk being that they wouldn’t work out, or that I might not get them and be left in an untenable position. Any perspective would be welcome! Signed-Incredibly Unsure
Dear Incredibly Unsure:
Thank you for sharing a short chapter of your life that you have titled Incredibly Unsure. I have read and reread this brief story you are living. My remarks are being sent with head and heart to be with you as you compose the next chapter. With this overarching concern in mind, I pose a number of thoughts, fully realizing that from a distance I can’t know or feel as you do. Therefore, please take them as incomplete impressions meant for consideration and not as god-sent prescriptions.
The very act of you composing and sending us your story has value in itself regardless of if my reply does little more that echo what you have said. Your chapter reflects on what was been going on within your boss-bossed situation and within your keenly felt personal life. In short your incredible unsureness results from confluence from several factors.
If I understand, you have described four topics: redundancy, an unhappy manager with your performance in that new job, the responsibility of caring for your mother and her loss, and feeling pushed out and anxiety about what comes next.
- Redundancy. Upfront you state that you two months have worked in a new job gotten in a jump-before-being-pushed situation during a redundancy process. The very fact that you were part of the redundancy process indicates you were and are considered knowledgeable of the rules and protocols of employment in the UK. In the States we don’t have redundancy, many companies have graduated discipline and termination policies. I am not familiar with the time limits and specifics of this process, but I do value that redundancy law enables employees consultation and alternatives before being terminated. You don’t say how long you have worked with this company. Whatever your tenure you must have learned and earned the job to be part of the redundancy process. Working through the redundancy undoubtedly made you to think about the uncertainty of your current and future employment. Moreover, your manager may have viewed your union representation as an antagonist rather than as valued. I assume you have become well known by your union? Was there not a clear understanding and appreciation for your work with redundancy? I can’t know the strength of your union or of the redundancy law, but nurture the relationship you have built as you look ahead to what you think is an uncertain future.
- Unhappy manager with your performance. You described the red flag you saw of your new employer not seeing you as you are. You felt disrespected from the start. And you spelled out a specific incident of disagreement for which you apologized and again apologized. Your manager’s apparent sensed your redundancy obligation interfered with your performance. That led to your taking off to work on the redundancy matters. Subsequently things got worse–to meaningless assignments, to more time off due to your mum’s terminal illness and to you finding work elsewhere within the company. Time off and temporary replacement often result in being seen as not needed. Ideally your manager and you could have spelled out and negotiated collaboratively a clear and reasonable job description and duties. Ideally you could have been welcomed a member of a team that had weekly skull sessions about what went well and what could be done to make it go better next time. Ideally talk about how you talk to each other would have been talking with rather than talking at each other. Ideally you could have been in a work team that developed do and do rules about what and how that team talks. Ideally you would list the feel good incidents that you have during the day and week. They add up to feeling that work and life has purpose.
- Time off and mother’s death. Fortunately your workplace has shown concern for you health and if I might interpret what is in your head and heart, I sense you have a loss of her and of your own meaningfulness.
- Feeling pushed out and anxiety about what comes next. You have a mandatory meeting with HR on Friday and you say “there are other jobs within the same company that I could try to do.” You worry that entering into another job might not prove successful and/or that it might not even be available. What comes next, by its very nature is unknown and uncertain. But you don’t have a choice, do you? Will not reducing the uncertainty and anxiety of how you now feel hinge upon the attitude and information you are able to bring to the HR meeting? If you bring to that meeting a long bad-mouthing account of disagreement and being unappreciated that manager and of the recent passing of your mother, and the much time you took off to do the work of redundancy and of now the feeling of being pushed out by your work organization, that will confirm a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. I know that is a long long sentence but it is a chapter that you had best put out of your mind. Leave it here with this Workplace Doctor. Rather than tell it to HR, might it not be time for you to assess what you have accomplished so far in your career? Bring that alongside anticipation for what is next in your career adventure.
As the poet Robert Frost has said, you are at a fork in the road and what lies ahead is a road not taken. I am including a critique of that poem for I suggest it presents a bit of levity and good humor, something that is absent in the account you sent us: Robert Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken” as a joke for a friend, the poet Edward Thomas. When they went walking together, Thomas was chronically indecisive about which road they ought to take and—in retrospect—often lamented that they should, in fact, have taken the other one. Soon after writing the poem in 1915, Frost griped to Thomas that he had read the poem to an audience of college students and that it had been “taken pretty seriously … despite doing my best to make it obvious by my manner that I was fooling. … Mea culpa.” However, Frost liked to quip, “I’m never more serious than when joking.”
I’ll not include the whole poem or elaborate on its several interpretations. It’s last stanza suggests the value of adventure, the kind of attitude I predict you will bring to that HR meeting:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I know you know that life and particularly worklife is a story of uncertainty. Reducing its uncertainty is not always a pleasant walk in the woods. We can make it an adventure, one in which we seek to make life exciting and happy for others who walk in the woods.
I submitted your question and my response to Dr. Mark Mindell, PhD in Organizational Communication, who’s now based in California. Dr. Mindell has headed Human Relations in several major companies in this country and advised branches in Europe. I asked Mark to add or modify my advice. His response is: “I think your response is great. Since he is working under British law there are some significant differences in terms of what the Company can and cannot do. The question of how long he has been with the company is key. If it’s only been about two months (i.e. this was his first job) then I would suggest he should consider leaving and putting together a resume that need not mention this very short-term job. But it’s also very difficult to be terminated in Britain and he can probably stick it out. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be happy and he sounds to me like someone who is certain that his manager is out to ‘get him’. Whether he’s right or wrong won’t matter in what happens next because I suspect things will not work out. I’ll be interested to see what happens with his HR meeting.”
If you have time, update us on how your HR meeting goes and what you do next. We welcome that. Our readers could benefit from your opinion of UK redundancy. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden