When you’re on top form, work can feel like a walk in the park — but when things go wrong, knowing how to bounce back from a calamity can be the difference between drinking champagne in the corner office or cider from the corner shop. ShortList throws some light on the potential perils of working life and explains how to overcome the setbacks, so that you can emerge from any crisis smelling of roses, not fermented apples.
You’ve been made redundant
Being handed a violet-hued P45 against your wishes is a common fear, but it doesn’t mean that you should start emptying your filing cabinet and heading for the door.
“The first thing to do is to make sure that you secure an exit interview with your line manager,” says business mentor and personal coach Clare Lindstrand (Dept707.co.uk). “This will help you get a better understanding of the reasons for the decision — they may not be related to your personal performance.”
As well as providing any relevant feedback to focus on, the exit interview should also serve as a reminder of your positive contributions to the company. “It’s easy at this stage to forget about the good things that you’ve done, so it helps to be reminded of your successes,” she says. Remember your positive attributes, because you’ll need to draw upon them further down the line.
In the emotional aftermath of redundancy, losing motivation is a natural reaction, but remaining active is critical. “Keep the momentum up,” says Lindstrand. “You should set yourself manageable, achievable goals. It may be sending out five CVs a day or simply taking the time to reassess what it is that you want from your career and your life. Maybe your redundancy is a sign that you weren’t on the right path. This may be the opportunity that you’ve been waiting for.”
While you’ll have to carefully consider any financial commitments, such as planned holidays, don’t be too quick to cancel them — a bit of R&R will boost morale, draw a line under the previous chapter in your life and refuel your energy levels in preparation for the interviews ahead.
You’ve lost half of your staff
Cuts are constantly debated in parliament and in the news — but how should you react when they knock on your office door and remove half of your workforce?
First of all, remember that it’s your team, so make sure that you are included in making the decisions. “You need to be involved with the process,” says Rob Brown, business expert and motivational speaker (Rob-brown.com). “If you are going to lose half of your team, you are the best person to say who should stay and who should go. This may offer you a greater sense of ownership and allow you to shape the team for the future.”
Turn the cuts into a catalyst for positive change. Nobody is denying that this will be a grim process, but it could be a great opportunity to ‘manage out’ people who haven’t been performing.
“This is your opportunity to make your team stronger by taking the initiative,” advises Brown. If your staff numbers have been slashed, you may be able to negotiate better pay or resources for those who remain. Staff training, for example, will help to motivate the team andbuild a strong, efficient work ethic. “You will need to keep motivation levels high in those who are left,” adds Brown. “Some may have lost friends and morale can drop; you’ll need to shape the environment so that those who remain feel happy and stable in their jobs.”
You’ve been demoted
The career ice beneath your feet may have just become a little thinner, but you’re not yet sunk and this may just be the motivation that you need to turn things round.
“You may even consider yourself lucky,” says HR guru and employee management expert Michael Millward (Abeceder.co.uk). “More often than not, the outcome for an employee who isn’t deemed up to scratch is to be shown the door. You should see this as a positive: while you may not be progressing in your current role, the company clearly values you enough for you to remain within its organisation.”
So you’re still in the game, and you’ve effectively been offered the chance to take a step back and improve your position. “Consider what factors influenced your poor performance,” advises Millward. “These may not be work-related — health or personal problems could be the issue.” Now is the time to resolve any issues so that you’re ready for a renewed assault on your career target.
Arrange to speak with your HR manager to define your new role and direction so that you’re ready to prove your worth. Recognising your strengths and targeting your weaknesses will make you a more effective employee. “And be up-front with your colleagues,” suggests Millward. “If you’ve not been performing, everyone will know, so they’ll be impressed that you’re big enough to accept things and fight back.” Then set about demonstrating to everyone that you can improve and get your career back on track.
You’ve been falsely accused of discrimination
It’s dangerously easy to slip up. A throwaway comment can go from misunderstanding to meltdown in the flap of acolleague’s ear. If you suspect that you may have offended someone, try to sort things out before an official complaint is made by opening the lines of communication, recommends Millward. “It’s always best to try to resolve the issue early before it escalates,” he says. “Placate the situation by speaking to the person and explain the misunderstanding calmly and diplomatically.”
If a formal complaint follows, working under a cloud of accusation can be tough, and the temptation to protest your innocence to colleagues will be great, but electing not to confide in anyone is crucial to a successful resolution. “It is far better to keep your own counsel, or you run the risk of potentially adding slander to the original complaint,” he adds. “Seek advice from the head of HR, and ensure that you have organised anything that may be important to your defence.”
As an employee, the responsibility for understanding discrimination does not rest solely with you, and you could use the situation to improve relationships and create a better working environment for everyone. “Your employer should provide education as to what are the right things to say and do,” says Millward. “This may be an opportunity for you to spearhead an initiative that teaches better understanding among workers.”
You’re carrying your boss
If your boss’s lunches have become more liquid than working or he or she is constantly leaving you to carry the can when things go wrong, you’ll need to tread lightly.
Remaining professional and following the right protocol is vital if you’re to ensure that the matter is properly addressed. “If you need to go over their head in order to resolve the matter, then remain neutral,” says Rob Brown. “Present your documented grievances but don’t make it personal — judge the actions of your boss and not the person.”
Keeping records of any deviancy on their part may seem underhand, but these will protect you should the matter escalate. “Document everything,” insists Brown.
“If your boss gets into trouble, you don’t know how they will react, so keeping an official record to back up your claims will prove invaluable.”
While it may seem unfair that you are picking up after your boss, take advantage of the situation to improve your own circumstance and those of your team by setting a strong example. “If your boss has taken their eye off the ball, and you’re picking up the slack, use the opportunity to make your mark,” he says. “You may find yourself in a strong position to affect your team and your environment.”
Your online reputation is in tatters
In today’s digital age, your every indiscretion carries a risk of being disseminated around the globe. But how can you counter these potential online career-bombs?
Sam Allcock, director of online marketing expert Custard Media (Custardmedia.co.uk), explains that being aware of your online reputation is the first step to fighting cyber-fire. “Go to 123people.com or Kgbpeople.com and type in your name. These are highly intelligent, free sites that will trawl social-media accounts, web pages, photo sites — everything — and find all of your tags, pictures, postings and references.”
Without recourse to legal channels, there is not much that you can do once incriminating photo evidence hits the web, but you can detag photos on Facebook to prevent them being picked up by nosy search engines. However, once you’ve assessed your online image, you can counterattack by increasing the number of positive references about you online and forcing negative comments further down the Google rankings.
“If you’ve not already done so, create LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts,” says Allcock. “You can control these accounts, so get to grips with the privacy settings and start posting professional, positive stories. Better still, create a short, factual pressrelease about any notable work achievement — such as a promotion — and upload it for free at Prfire.co.uk, then sit back and watch it get picked up by 10 or 20 sites.” Alternatively, start a free blog (Blogger.com) with your name in the title and any tags, and start posting intelligent, work-related articles. “Because Blogger is so highly ranked, your entries will be picked up by Google in no time at all,” says Allcock. Any cyber indiscretions will be consigned to the lesser-viewed ranks of Google, with your online profile dominated by positive reports.