Transitions are part of life. The Cambridge dictionary defines transitions as “a change from one form or type to another, or the process by which this happens”. We are in transition, or going from one form to another throughout our lives. Our many milestones include starting kindy, primary or secondary school, going to university, leaving home, moving cities, starting a new job, traveling overseas, getting married, having a family, etc. The list goes on! And then we have those sudden and unpredictable transitions that we didn’t see coming such as having a medical incident, losing someone close, losing our job, having an accident.

Whatever the transition we face, positive or negative, there is a period of adjustment to allow movement from the old to the new, to learn new skills, new ways of being, and letting go of what no longer works, to adapt to the new reality.

How quickly and effectively someone moves from the old to the new depends on many things. These include the current mindset of the individual, their existing skills, knowledge and experience, their resilience to embrace change and adapt to the new, and the amount of support they are given to do this.

Let’s add the word ‘career’ to ‘transitions’. The contemporary definition of career encompasses an individual’s whole of life with the many roles, paid and unpaid, that are part of this. With this in mind, we can say that all transitions are then part of an individual’s career, across their lifetime.

The topic of career transition is close to my heart, having faced a number of significant transitions in my lifetime, each requiring huge adjustments, learning and resilience. My experience of redundancy is what I would like to share my learnings about here.

Back in the nineties when I was working for an insurance company, I was part of the HR team managing the restructure of the organisation. Subsequently I became one of the many facing redundancy, and it certainly was unexpected. This experience has been invaluable in giving me first-hand experience of the emotional journey, the ups and downs in this process, and learning how to best navigate these. I have since had the privilege of working with many individuals and organisations going through a restructure, and have supported those affected individuals to move through the process and positively transition into the next part of their journey. So, what have I learned?

Career transitions relating to restructure and redundancy are emotional experiences for all involved –  the individuals affected, the remaining employees as well as the employer. How the transition process is handled can have an enormous impact on how quickly and effectively the individual moves positively through the transition and into the next phase of their career. The adjustment by those who are left, and their resultant engagement, motivation and productivity, will also be affected. And of course the organisation’s reputation could be impacted by the perceptions of how they have handled this restructure, how it was communicated and what support was given to all concerned.

Therefore having the support needed to be able to successfully manage and transition into the next part of the journey, is imperative, with the impact of not having support being potentially harmful. 

When an individual is faced with redundancy and consequent career transition, often the first reaction will be emotional shock. This can take time to work through and there are a number of emotional, psychological and physical responses that may occur, such as anxiety, guilt, anger, apathy, sleeplessness, panic attacks, lack of energy, depression, and loss of self- confidence. Support at this stage helps the individual to work through these responses in a healthy way, put strategies in place, and enables an increase in confidence and the skills and knowledge to transition smoothly to the next stage.

For those who remain, the distress they may be feeling for their transitioning colleagues, the guilt of being the ones who remain, and the uncertainty of their workplace, will certainly have an impact on engagement and productivity.  Support to debrief about the loss of what was, allowing them the space to work through what will now be, and reassurance that they will receive ongoing support, will certainly assist in establishing a committed and positive workforce.

Restructure is challenging and can cause significant disruption to the workplace. However it can be done in ways that ensure that all who are affected are treated with respect and integrity. An organisation that recognises this, and ensures communication is as open, clear, and as inclusive as practical, and provides the appropriate support to staff as needed, will likely minimise the disruption as well as positively reinforce the reputation of the organisation to the current staff, those who transition, and to the marketplace.

In my experience, ensuring there is support for all those who are affected by change and transition has certainly been a wise investment and allowed the affected, the remaining and the organisation to move through the restructure as positively as possible.

If you are going through a restructure or facing a career transition and would like to find out about the support that we offer, please enquire here.

Caroline Sandford is an Executive Director of The Career Development Company

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