• The Covid-19 pandemic means many face job-related uncertainty and potential redundancy

  • Therapist Caroline Ingram explores the mental health impact of losing your job, and offers 6 ways to manage

  • We have therapists and counsellors who specialise in working with people after redundancy and at times of change – find yours here 

As the economy continues to be challenged by the consequences of the virus, so the wellbeing of more than half the UK’s workforce has been negatively affected by loss of job or work.

Over the last month many employers are having to make redundancies on an even greater scale. The quarterly Labour Market Outlook predicts that the number of employers intending to make redundancies over the next three months has increased to 33%. Many people have been forced to live with the threat of redundancy for the last six months and as the furlough scheme comes to an end the risk of unemployment becomes more likely.

The mental health implications of redundancy can be profound, with evidence identifying men as particularly susceptible: one in seven men develop depression within six months of losing their job.

What then is the impact of redundancy? How can individuals find support?

For a few redundancy may come as a relief: the opportunity to make a positive change, to reflect or embark on a change in direction. For the majority it brings uncertainty, anxiety, worry and confusion. Futures are threatened and the comfort of a certain path forward is lost. It is a time of stress, and for anyone already experiencing poor mental health, the loss of a job is almost certain to exacerbate symptoms.

“I lost my sense of purpose: everything that I worked towards had been taken away from me. I felt betrayed and hopeless”

Individuals have reported many reactions to redundancy including shame, embarrassment, self-doubt, rejection, guilt and feelings of failure. If the redundancy is sudden then shock and denial are common, often combined with anger and resentment. Redundancy represents a range of losses for people: not just the loss of the job. It can mean the loss of a career, identity, trust and financial security. There may be a feeling of powerlessness and a lack of control over life. A person’s reaction to redundancy is heavily influenced by their past, their upbringing and significant life events or traumas. If they have experienced past rejection, then the loss of a job can be felt more keenly. The event can trigger old memories and distressing emotions may resurface.

These feelings of shock, anger and depression are all normal reactions to situations resulting in a period of grieving, and, in the context of job loss, these can be expected in the aftermath of redundancy. Grief reactions are not necessarily linear, neither are they experienced for set periods of time. The hope in the grief cycle is that the person experiencing the loss will start to accept what has happened and adapt to a new way of living. In the case of redundancy that the person can start to look to the future with positivity and hope.

1. Acknowledge your feelings and give yourself time

If you have been made redundant then it is important to give yourself time to process what has happened. Rather than rush into a new job search, stop and think about what you are feeling. Don’t try and fight your emotions but acknowledge them, name them and talk about them. Understand that you are working through the stages of the grief curve and consider whether your feelings at that moment can be mapped against the five stages of the grief curve which results from loss: shock, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Before moving on, it is important to stop and really think about the emotional impact of your loss.

2. Connect with people

Do your best not to become isolated and instead talk to friends, family or colleagues about what you have experienced. Talking therapy can also help, particularly with professionals who are trained in both counselling and coaching. A counsellor can support you in exploring your feelings before coaching you through the practicalities and options for moving forward. 

Where finances are tight because of the redundancy, consider low cost counselling options. Most towns and cities have charities which are set up to offer means tested counselling support. Alternatively, your organisation may direct you to other external support, such as employee assistance programmes, via any private medical insurance or occupational health providers, or suggest speaking to your GP about talking therapies.

3. Reframe your experience

Try to remember that the decision to make you redundant is unlikely to be personal: it is your job role that is no longer required, not your skills or personal qualities. Factors out of your control, including the pandemic, have played a significant part in employers’ need to reduce the size of their organisation. The pandemic has forced businesses to close or to radically change the way in which they are working.

4. Challenge your critical voice

If the redundancy has led to lower level of self-esteem, then challenge that inner voice, the voice which might be telling you that you are poor at what you do or of less worth. Self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves and if you already have low self-esteem then redundancy can reinforce the belief that you are not good enough. Be kind to yourself. Your job is only part of you, so try to think about what else makes you who you are. What do you like doing? Are you a mother, brother, aunt or uncle? Do you have pets? Your job is not your only identity. You are part of a family, part of a community, part of a friendship group as well as part of an organisation.

5. Look to your future

When you have given yourself time to process what has happened and have grieved the loss of your job, start to think about your future. This is where a coach may be able to support you in thinking about what you really want going forward. Give yourself time and space to think about other areas of life which could be enhanced. If you have time and the financial means, then think about retraining or volunteering. Maybe look for a lower paid, part time job to free up time and learn a new skill.

It is always helpful to consider your future within the context of your personal values. Values determine behaviours that motivate you and guide decisions. When thinking about any life change, it is important to recognise and acknowledge these values and ensure that you are acting towards and within them. Think about your goals for the short, medium and long term and be clear about how you will know when you have achieved them. What will your life look like in 6 months, 1 year and 5 years?

6. Look after yourself

Redundancy will often be difficult and giving yourself time to process the change before thinking about the future is essential. Looking after your wellbeing will help. Self-care techniques such as exercise, sleep, nutrition and mindfulness can manage symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Physical activity and being outdoors can boost your mood and improve mental health. Eating fresh fruit and vegetables, sticking to regular mealtimes, choosing foods that release energy and cutting down caffeine intake, alcohol and sugary foods are all recommended. Sleep is critical. Try to avoid electronic devices before bed and stick to a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same times throughout the week. Mindfulness is the practice of being present and fully engaged with whatever you’re doing in a given moment. It is about being free from distraction and being aware of your thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. There are apps that you can download such as Headspace which guide you through the process of becoming more mindful.

The process of redundancy can be hard so give yourself time to work through the loss of your job before jumping into a new search. Acknowledge how you feel and stay connected to family and friends: you are not alone, there are people who can help and support you.

Caroline Ingram is a verified welldoing.org therapist in Bedford and online

Further reading

Self-care for when you are feeling overwhelmed

Moving from self-criticism to self-compassion

Identity and character work in therapy

Who am I and why does it matter? A therapist's view on identity

What coaching can offer you