Just over a year ago, I got the call. You know, "the call", the one that summons you from your desk to an unexpected meeting in a rarely visited room. And in that room I was told that the company had "reluctantly" selected me for redundancy. It was a piece of news that came completely out of the blue.
This week, I’m doing a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe subtly entitled How I Said "F*** You" to the Company When They Tried to Make Me Redundant. So, clearly, I didn’t take the news of my impending redundancy lying down.
Given that latest government statistics indicate that 30,000 people lose their jobs every month, it’s a show that could resonate with way too many people.
My natural instinct when writing the story was to play it for laughs. But I soon realised that just making it funny, while a great way of processing the experience, was also avoiding the issue. The reality is that most of the time redundancy isn’t funny.
For instance, walking back to your desk when you’ve been in that unexpected meeting is hard. Nothing has changed but everything has changed. You used to belong but now, for whatever reason, you don’t. Going home halfway through the morning is hard too. And trying to make sense of it all, trying to figure out what to do next, I found hardest of all because I guess I was in a state of shock.
However, the shock shifted to anger when the "reasons" for the decision were explained. But, as the blessed John Lydon so succinctly put it, anger is an energy.
So I guess it was at that point I decided to take the company on. I’ve been made redundant twice before – both times it was near the start of my career when I was much younger. And both times I put up a token resistance, argued my case a bit, but essentially shrugged my shoulders and walked away. Part of the reason (and this doesn’t show me in a particularly good light) is that I thought advertising is a small industry and I was concerned it would damage my prospects for future work if I fought my corner.
This time around, I was so pissed off with what was going on that I didn’t really care what happened next. I was clearly out the door so (and this may well be the south London boy in me) I thought: if I’m going down, I’m going down fighting.
Obviously, on my part, this was a stupid idea – especially as I wanted to do it on my own without legal advice. Given that I wasn’t going to "lawyer up", the only way I could take on the company was with words. But I’m quite good with words. I know how to arrange them so that they achieve a certain effect. I know how to structure an argument so that it builds to an inevitable conclusion. And I know that if you can engage a person’s attention, you have the chance of selling them a product.
I guess that’s what a long career as a copywriter gives you. It’s just that, this time around, the particular product I was selling was the idea that the company was a bunch of idiots that had just made a stupid decision.
The way I did this was to dismantle their argument. And, in the process, maybe dismantle the people who were making it. The decision to select me for redundancy was the result of a corporate process. In the process, I had literally been reduced to a number. My number was lower than other people’s so I was out. What I argued was that while "data" was important in making these decisions, anyone with any sense realises that the most important thing about data is how you interpret it – how seemingly objective, impartial figures interact with the real world. I also pointed out that if you accept a system that reduces people to numbers, then what sort of person have you become? I then hit them with the fact that the account I was working on was doing well and, indeed, the very week before the threat of redundancy I had been in an offsite meeting where the whole team had been congratulated on exceeding the challenging targets it had been set the previous year. And I chucked in that I had it in writing that no-one was unhappy with me or my work.
I think the case I made was unanswerable. So I fought my corner as best I could.
An account of all this, and how it all turned out, is what I’m going to be performing in Edinburgh. It’s a piece of storytelling. And it’s all true. A lot of it is funny. But a lot of it isn’t. That’s because I wanted to write something that was honest, something that explained how it feels to be caught up in this thing called "redundancy". I wanted to write about how small you feel, how isolated, and how shame, inexplicably, is a big part of it too.
And I wanted to write about how once, one person, on their own, took on the machine and won. Because I did win.
The company reversed its decision.
Walking back into an office that I had left three weeks earlier with the stain of redundancy all over me was a joy. Telling my colleagues that the company had changed its mind was a joy too. And going out for a long lunch with my workmates, then coming back mid-afternoon and resigning was bliss. Utter bliss because I had taken on the company and won, then decided that a company that professed to care about its staff but treated them in such a bullshit way wasn’t the place for me.
You. Can. Stick. Your. Job.
Admittedly, as I am a half-decent writer, my resignation letter was phrased a bit more elegantly. But I think they knew that’s what I was getting at.
Rohan Candappa is the head of story at Azimo