How not to be made redundant

So. It finally happened. The ‘R’ word. But just as, it is said, all political careers are doomed to end in failure, sadly it seems quite a lot of other careers end in redundancy. And this is especially true once you’re over 50. As B*witched put it so well, “C’est la vie!”

But what next?  It’s difficult whatever age you are, but for those staring at a sixth decade, it’s a huge life change. Major pulling up of big girl knickers required.

Sadly, I have no tips on how to avoid being made redundant. (If I had, I might have used them myself). But what I do know from being a manager is that when these decisions are made, they are based on Excel sheets and expense, not excellence. Nobody feels good about plunging a colleague into unemployment. But once cuts are on the cards, then if you’re senior (aka better paid), you’re right in the crosshairs. So once you have that “your role may be at risk” letter in your hot/sticky/clammy/terrified mitts, you’d better get used to the idea that you’re pretty much off the books.

Fresh from the fray as I am, I do have some advice on how to survive it. Honestly I didn’t do most of these things, but I really wish I had. Should you be in this position ever, do not, dear reader, make my mistakes.

Don’t be embarrassed

Once you are of a certain age it almost inevitable that a few other people you know will have had that bumpy ride on the redundancy roller coaster. And if they haven’t yet, they’re worried they will. Being “let go” is the middle aged equivalent of being chucked by a boyfriend when you’re at school.

Loads of very talented people aren’t kept on payrolls, which tells us more about the evolving nature of companies than it does about any of those people.

Just because you happened to be on the wrong side of someone’s staffing budget, that’s no reason not to hold your head high. So tell the world you’re on “gardening leave” and think about all that lovely, life-changing opportunity. But this is far easier said, I’m afraid, than done.

Make a break for it

I had always said that if I got made redundant I would hide away somewhere in Yorkshire for a few weeks and just breathe fresh air, walk the dog and let the mists clear. I did not do this.

What I hadn’t factored in was that being made redundant involves a lot of work: pensions, health insurance, life insurance, tax. None of anyone’s favourite things. I was completely disorientated. Everything took time to sort out.

But once it is sorted out, I would strongly advise making a break: book a retreat; go on an archeological dig; or just run to someone who will look after you and keep you fed and loved while you sleep, read and eat cake until you start to feel a bit better.

The fact is being made redundant completely deflates your confidence and that emotional sucker punch lands rather later than the practical one. You will need time to lick your wounds and somewhere nice to do it.

Don’t panic

It is fair to say that when I was notified of my upcoming redundancy I did not take it calmly. I thought I was going to have a stroke.  Having worked from the age of 14 I had a terror, bordering on phobia, of being out of work. (Thank god I didn’t ever want to be an actor. I’d be dead of stress by now.) Panicking, it turns out, helped nothing but my wine consumption. Now six weeks in and after a few dark moments, I’m alive, kicking and still having a laugh. Life goes on.

Set a realistic budget

There is nothing more real than cash. Personally I have a very healthy respect for it, because I bloody love spending it. The idea of no longer having a steady monthly stream of it was frankly something I could barely process.

My reaction was to immediately over-correct. I cancelled every subscription I had. I stopped going to the gym. I swayed, precariously, on my bike instead of taking the tube. I suddenly became Gandhi, if the great man had eaten pilchards every day and shopped in Iceland.

But the necessities of life go beyond food and water.  The things that make us happy are also essential: as long as those things aren’t collecting vintage Chanel handbags. (If they are, maybe find some more accessible treats? May I recommend giant chocolate buttons? If you nibble them in the right way you can make them look like a Chanel logo. Hours of fun!) Perhaps for you pottery classes are a must? Or pilates? Whatever. Build in the things that will give you a little bit of joy every day.

And if, like me, you are an incorrigible profligate, get a Monzo card then you can really keep an eye on where your money’s going.

Try something new

When my confidence is low, I find a perverse value in trying new things that I am almost certainly not going to be very good at. Last time I had a big life blow I took up tap dancing. It quickly gave me up. I was hopeless. This time I’m learning Italian on Duolingo.

Find your new thing. It makes the world seem full of open windows, which is nice when you feel a door has just been slammed in your face.

Don’t stay in the house

I have become somewhat house bound. When your chief recreational activity is shopping, having no money to spend means you suddenly have a lot of empty time on your hands and a strong sense of deprivation. Rather than feeling glum about this, embrace the marvels of non-working life.  You can watch box sets when everyone else is at work. Make phone calls in your pants. Lie with the dog in your lap all afternoon.

True, at the moment I’m at home, sorting out the recycling and working my way through Dan Lepard’s bread book. But soon, very soon, I shall be sashaying through the major London galleries, ahead of the trend on all things cultural, poised, soignee, cultivated. (Hmm, we’ll see!)


If you are in the house, tackle some crunchy project you’ve been putting off. Sell clothes on eBay. Sort out your filing. I have developed a Pooterish delight in labelling, thanks to my new hand held label maker.

My own decluttering has been something of a flop. I seem to have created more clutter by starting projects and then losing heart. Or rescuing clothes I was in the process of discarding in the name of thrift. Don’t be like me.

At a time when your self-esteem has gone through the blender, it’s good to feel you have improved your life, even by if it’s just by an iota. Any step forward feels like progress.

Be kind to yourself

The bad news is that for we Muttons, this time of life has the mathematical notation of change squared. Families, friendships, faces, everything feels fragile, faltering, friable. It’s easy to get bogged down.

I’m afraid to confess that I have been wallowing in my new non-working status like a hippo in a mud spring. I certainly have not spent enough time making myself feel better, or, really, looking after myself. (On which topic: turns out white wine is not as good a friend as I always thought it was.)

So wear your nicest clothes. Put on your finest make up. Run those straighteners though your hair. Buy yourself a beauty advent calendar. I am assured by some of our most illustrious novelists – they know who they are – that it is the most cheering thing you can imagine. A present. For you. Every day. If there was ever a time when you need those little props in life, then this is it.

Give yourself time 

That existential panic,  that “what am I actually for?” misery, that “maybe there’s something else out there?” excitement, all these feelings take time to process. I am not good at this but my advice is don’t rush into anything. Take some time. Live with the possibilities without making any big decisions. At least just for a bit.

Let the mists start to clear and then, with a bit of luck, you will get a glimpse of the path ahead. After all, it’s nearly New Year, when everything starts again, fresh, new and full of possibilities. And that is exactly how we not-so-working Muttons want to feel.

2 Responses to “How not to be made redundant”

  1. Chris Kenber

    Searingly honest and generous-spirited. Thank you for this Deborah – we’ve all been there.

  2. Rashmi Dube

    Beautifully and honestly written. There is so much truth to this article. A must read for all. Thanks Deborah.


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