Coming to terms with redundancy


Belfast Briefing:When John (42) lost his job just a month before Christmas last year, his first reaction was one of panic. He had worked for the same company, which provided construction-related services, since he was 16 and fresh out of school.

John was his family’s main breadwinner although his wife worked part-time. They had two children under six and the usual mortgage and bills to pay every month, so money was always accounted for.

In the 26 years that he had worked for the family-owned firm, he had gradually been given more and more responsibility until eventually he was promoted to manager of one its subsidiaries. Then one day, out of the blue, the man who had founded the business called his employees together and told them that the division for which John worked had been placed in administration.

He said there was nothing he could do because it was losing money but the main business would continue as usual. There was no opportunity for John or his colleagues to transfer.

They lost their livelihoods on the spot.

For his former employer , his original business is still trading but creditors are struggling to get what they are owed out of the division that was placed in administration.

John did not get a redundancy payment and he struggled to qualify for unemployment- related benefits. It was, he says, a “nothing but a nightmare” for him and his family.

According to the latest statistics from one of Northern Ireland’s leading charitable groups, John’s experiences are far from unique.

They are becoming part of the fabric of the local economy as businesses struggle to cope with the downturn – as illustrated by the recent collapse of Patton, the Ballymena-based 100-year-old construction group. Already administrators have laid off 190 people while they attempt to find a buyer for the business. The outlook for hundreds of remaining employees and sub-contractors looks decidedly uncertain.

According to Carecall, a Belfast-based charity which specialises in mental wellbeing at work, the recession is having a devastating effect on the workplace. Not only are some people working under the constant threat of redundancy, others have been forced to take pay cuts and agree to changes in working conditions just to remain in a job.

Carecall is the largest provider of employee assistance programmes in Northern Ireland. It provides specialised support services to both employees (on a confidential basis) and employers.

It currently works with more than 150 organisations in the public and private sectors throughout Ireland to champion “positive wellbeing at work”. This can involve helping them to deal with anything from personal challenges, to work place disputes and stress in the workplace.

But lately Carecall has seen a massive increase – 225 per cent – in the last 12 months in the number of people contacting it for help with “financial issues”.

It is also experiencing an increase in demand from firms “downsizing, closing, merging or being acquired”.

The charity has a lot of experience in this field having worked in the past with companies such as the BBC, British Airways, Nortel and Wrightbus in helping their employees cope with what it describes as “changes in their career life cycle”.

Dr David Cameron, Carecall’s clinical leader, says that given the economic challenges that Northern Ireland is facing, it is likely that more businesses will have difficult decisions to make when it comes to their employees’ futures.

Carecall has three key pieces of advice which it believes represent the first steps in coming to terms with being made redundant.

The first is to talk about it – the charity advises people not to bottle up their emotions, to share how they are feeling and stand back a little from what has happened to them.

The second is to get some practical advice on what help is available in terms of benefits and support. Speak to a specialised financial adviser.

The third is to consider all options – whether it is to retrain or set up a new enterprise by using transferable skills.

Most importantly, Cameron adds, it is important that those who have lost their jobs realise that first and foremost – it is not their fault, rather it is the new economics of everyday life.

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