Coping with retrenchment

In some cases, the retrenched go through a grieving process that lasts many months, or even years, similar to a death of a close friend or family member

Are you dealing with retrenchment? It's a dirty word, but one that an increasing number of Australians have had to come to terms with.

Very few people are equipped to take retrenchment in their stride, no matter their age or how financially secure they are. It's an abrupt and often unexpected change to lifestyle that comes with a period of readjustment.

For those of you who aren't cheering all the way to the bank with a fat termination cheque ready to retire and take it easy, what are the options? Can there be a silver lining under that black cloud? Can retrenchment be a chance to re-group and re-focus and study for a better career?

According to psychologists, retrenchment is a major psychological adjustment for the retrenched as well as for their families. Being retrenched can bring on a variety of negative feelings and, in some cases, leads to depression. Feelings such as low self-esteem, shock, disbelief, loss, anger and confusion are common.

Some people feel incredibly guilty they've disappointed others or let their family down by no longer being the main breadwinner. Other people, for whom their work has been associated with their social life, slip into despair and social isolation not wanting to talk to anyone.

And, as one TAFE psychologist explained, in some cases, the retrenched go through a grieving process that lasts many months, or even years, similar to a death of a close friend or family member. This ‘death' is the loss of a formerly happy working life.

Many retrenched workers are convinced that they're too old to change careers, or start a new job. But these days, age is irrelevant. It's how skilled you are that determines your success in the world of work. The other factor is how well you market your skills to potential employers.

Here are some concrete suggestions for overcoming the retrenchment blues:

  • Have a "gap year" or six months, allowing time to find out what your real passion is and prepare yourself for a new working life. Provided you have savings and/or retrenchment money, spend this time doing what you've always wanted to do but were too busy for. Some options are:
  • Study – something for interest, or something to build your career. TAFEnow has several options for people who have been longing to re-skill for a career change. Have you been retrenched from the manufacturing sector? What about studying AutoCAD or Information Technology? Have you lost your job in the public sector? Perhaps you would like to study Project Management or Animal Studies and spend your day helping animals.
  • Volunteer in your local community and get to know what makes people in your area tick. Who knows, perhaps you'll meet a potential employer while organising an event or helping local charities.
  • Do a job (any old job) until a better job comes along. This may give you insights into new areas that you never thought of.
  • Travel – tick off your bucket list of key destinations, become a freelance travel writer, or work on humanitarian projects where people will be only too glad to have your skills and professional, friendly approach.
  • Spend time with family and friends – you've probably been too busy in recent times, so make the most of it while it lasts.
  • Get your finances in order by visiting a financial planner – this will pay dividends later as you have a serious look at your spending and future income.
  • Write that book, family history or autobiography you always meant to.
  • Above all, avoid drugs, gambling and alcohol. While these vices may mask the problems for a while, in the long-term they won't do you or your family any favours.
  • Start your own business. This will help you become a master of your own destiny. Starting your own business can burn up your retrenchment funds pretty quickly, so be sure to get some free small business advice before taking the plunge. While you're getting ready to launch, study appropriate things, like web page development, bookkeeping or marketing, so that you have the skills to grow a business.
  • Spend at least one day a week (in total hours) actively job seeking. Don't put off the inevitable if you need to get a job to survive. Make a plan, put it on paper, chat to friends about it or get some professional advice and stick to it. (no matter how many knock-backs you get along the way). Things to consider in your getting-back-to-work plan are:
  • What are my key strengths?
  • What am I like as a person?
  • Are my skills up-to-date? If not, how can they be improved? (Talk to your local TAFE campus or TAFEnow about extra training opportunities).
  • Do I need to move to another town or city where job opportunities in my field are better? Perhaps a sea or tree change is what you need.
  • Now, practice selling your skills, on paper and in person with a friend. Get some professional help if you need to, refining what you're good at and learn to present yourself well.
  • At the end of the day, retrenchment has the ability to make or break you. It could be the best thing that ever happened to you, or the worst. Which one will it be for you?

    Beyond Blue, put out an excellent online publication called Taking care of yourself after retrenchment or financial loss. This is an invaluable free resource for anyone who has been retrenched. The Beyond Blue website also has other great information about coping with depression, anxiety and life's changes.