life's work : dear diary, today i was fired

These days, no one's job is safe. So how does it feel when the axe falls? Emma Cook leafs through the pages of three redundancy journals
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Being made redundant is like a bereavement. "First there's initial denial where people refuse to believe it's happened," says Sue Cartwright, senior organisational psychologist at Manchester School of Management. "Then comes the anger phase where you hate the people responsible and feel jealous of those with jobs. After that, it's depression, followed by acceptance."

As with bereavement, the danger is that sufferers can get fixed at a certain stage - often the anger phase. "That's when they can find it very difficult to get another job. They project badly in interviews and it becomes a vicious circle," Cartwright says. The three redundancy diaries on this page illustrate these stages - and bear out the theory that how you handle redundancy depends on your personality. "Those who feel they have some personal influence over their outcome, rather than believe that what happened to them is a matter of luck or destiny, are going to find it a lot easier to make a fresh start." They're the ones who will be more likely to cope with today's precarious work patterns. "The general trend is for people to move into self-employment or consultancy work. It's an insecure job market but one we'll have to get used to for the future."

mandy davis, 31

Until last May, Mandy was manager of the mortgage unit at Nationwide Building Society in Kingston. She started there 12 years ago, her first job after college. She shared it with her colleague Lisa, and the two women later set up a sandwich business, delivering to local businesses in the area.

3 March 1995: Morale among staff is low - everyone knows that something is going on but we're not being told exactly what. At the moment I feel insecure about the future. I also feel that I'm letting my staff down because I can't tell them anything - really it's the people above me who are letting me down. I'm quickly losing respect for my managers because I don't feel they're handling this as well as they could. It's terrible to keep us hanging on like this. We're beginning to feel angry and resentful. I keep thinking, "Why me?" and "What did I do to deserve this treatment?".

We've had estate agents in our building measuring the office up to sell it and still nobody has communicated with us. If we do lose our jobs, my job-share partner Lisa and I have been talking about the possibility of setting up a small business.

REDUNDANCY DAY 30 April 1995: We've been told as a group that they're moving our department to Guildford. I had a talk with my managers and they offered me a post three grades lower than my current one and a salary that will be reduced over the next couple of years. I'm not prepared to accept their offer and have taken redundancy. When they told me, it didn't come as a surprise. I feel the worst part is over - the months of waiting and not knowing. I don't regret my decision although I do feel angry with my managers. I did my best for them but still they could not offer me anything at all worthwhile.

27 May 1995: It still feels odd being at home all day. I miss the security of my office and adult company. But now Lisa and I are starting our business, making sandwiches and delivering them to businesses and industrial parks. It's exciting to get my teeth into a new venture: organising the books, dealing with environmental health officers, promoting our service. I'm really enjoying the challenge.

March 1996: I don't regret leaving Nationwide but I would never have left voluntarily. I do miss the idea of working my way up a company - if I went in again I'd have to start from the bottom. At the moment, I haven't really got anything to aim for. When you work for yourself, everything is on a much smaller scale. I also wish I still had the responsibility - I really enjoyed managing people.

Funnily enough, I feel more angry now than I did when I was first made redundant. It didn't really hit me back then. Day to day I think I've tried to deny the effects. It was my one and only job since college and it all started and finished in one place. In some ways it was like ending a relationship. If they had valued me they could have offered me something better.

niki pountney, 32

Niki worked as a training officer for a bank in Warwick until she was made redundant two and a half years ago. Now she is a self-employed training consultant working for half a dozen or so different companies.

REDUNDANCY DAY 2 August 1993: Today my manager told me there would be about 200 redundancies in my department and I was one of them. I went into silent mode. I didn't know what to do, whether to ask questions or cry. I am in complete shock. The past two days have been a fog. If someone asks me a simple question, even what sort of sandwich I want, I just can't make up my mind. I feel numb.

9 August 1993: I feel so upset and I can't stop crying. All I can do is sit on the sofa and think: "What the hell is going to happen to me? I'm never going to get another job. If the bank doesn't want me, who else will?" Finance is my biggest fear - I've got a mortgage and no one to depend on. I'm worried I'll lose my house. I'm at rock bottom. I've lost any focus in my life.

12 September 1993: I've been sent on an out-placement course and my consultant is being really encouraging. I'm being helped with my CV and advised on different options. I admitted that I'd actually wanted to be self-employed but never had the bottle to go through with it. They've started me on an action plan outlining how I can develop goals. I've left the bank and now I'm officially self-employed.

Today was my first day at home and it was horrendous. I still get dressed every day as if I'm going to work. I go shopping just to fill my days. I also seem to get up later each day and stay up longer each night. I'm still trying to work at getting new clients in.

14 December 1993: I've got my first big contract with a company, organising training courses. I haven't worked for quite a while now and need to build my confidence up again. I keep thinking: "Can I do this? Am I doing the right thing?"

2 May 1995: I'm definitely doing the right thing - the clients came back and I'm turning work away. I've learned a range of new skills: managing a business, accounting, commercial awareness and selling myself. Even now I feel angry when I think of my employer. I want to spit when I say their name. But I wouldn't swap jobs for anything.

29 March 1996: My life couldn't be better. I earn three times the amount I did in the bank and I've got a brand new Audi. This year is going exceptionally well. Now I'm thinking: "Can I do it again next year?" I feel as though I'm stretching myself more each day. I genuinely don't believe people do that in a permanent job. It's too easy to sit back and feel complacent. I have far more freedom - it's up to me when I take a day off and if I don't think an organisation is professional enough, I won't work for it.

michael stow, 59

Michael, an industrial chemist, worked at Fisons in Suffolk for 30 years. He was made redundant two and a half years ago and is now director of the Ipswich and East Suffolk branch of The Samaritans.

REDUNDANCY DAY 3 September 1993: Got into work and we were all told that the director of our research and development department wanted to talk to us as a group. We all knew what was going to happen. The meeting was in another unit which I had to drive to. In the car I kept thinking: "My fate is sealed, whatever it is. Now it's out of my control."

Our director told us that the department was being significantly reduced and there would be a certain amount of job losses. Then he read out a list of names, and I was one of them. It was an unpleasant experience.

We've all known for months that the company was restructuring and pruning down its staff. Now that the news has finally come, there is a certain amount of relief in just knowing where I stand. At least the uncertainty is over.

It feels a bit like a bereavement. There's anger, frustration and sadness. I could never prepare myself for what I'm going through. I think: "Why me? How can they do this to me after 30-odd years? What was the point of putting in so much hard work for them?"

27 November 1993: I am working out my three months' notice, which gives me time to decide what to do next. It's a changeover period - handing tasks over to new staff. I don't know where I belong any more. They're going to meetings and getting involved in the job while I feel very excluded from everything around me.

14 December 1993: Am taking a two-week holiday having left my job. The oddest sensation is waking up on Monday morning and knowing you're not going in to work. I feel so lost. I walked into town and just thought: "What am I going to do with myself?" Everything's changed overnight - my routine, my work connections and my way of life.

1 January 1994: The first few days have been awful but now I feel better about things. I know I've got valuable skills to offer - I'm still me and I'm prepared to try something different. While I was at Fisons I trained as a counsellor and I've worked as a Samaritan for 20 years. I knew there might be a chance of being made redundant and I thought it was good to have something to fall back on, so I've decided to do some full-time counselling.

20 March 1996: I have been made director of the Ipswich and East Suffolk branch of the Samaritans, which is a privilege. My change in career couldn't be more extreme - from chemist to Samaritan. Some of the skills from my old job came in useful - contact with people and administration. I've enjoyed moving from a materialistic job into a more nurturing environment. I feel emotionally involved in a way I never could before. And I feel I'm fulfilling a different part of myself - it's been a positive change and I could never go back to what I did before.

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