When I heard "This isn’t going to be a good conversation", I hadn’t prepared for the news no-one wants to hear: "Your job is at risk of redundancy."
Redundancy is something I had never really considered; surely I wasn’t senior enough? Did I not have the experience or skillset that was needed? Was I not a vital part of the agency?
When it happened to me, I immediately thought about all the shoes I had under my desk and how I was going to get them out right now. It was all so fast, I hadn’t planned for this – how would I tell my husband? What would my colleagues think? So many questions.
The emotional toll
There are critical stages to most life crises you go through. Redundancy was no different. First and foremost, I panicked. I had no savings behind me, despite always being told to save up three months' salary for this exact reason. I hadn’t. Fuck.
Next was confusion. What exactly is consultation and why has no-one ever mentioned this before?
Then sheer embarrassment. How did I not see it coming? Why me?
Last came the wave of grief. Your day-to-day life changes in a matter of minutes, with little or no prior warning, and everything seems to hang in the balance. You are heartbroken.
Breaking the silence surrounding redundancy
Redundancy, as we heard from Katie Lee, is shocking, but it isn’t just happening to senior management. It’s happening to those of us with fewer miles on the clock and to those of us who are not likely to get the sweetener of the "golden goodbye".
Pay grades are being scrutinised; Brexit is, well, Brexit; and the gender and diversity agenda is driving change within agencies and clients alike. Skillsets are changing from greater specialisation to the need to be an all-rounder; competing trends can make it difficult to keep up. Whatever you believe the "skills of the future" will be, there is no denying the fact that change is afoot.
Redundancy in the agency world seems to be rarely discussed. Hidden – perhaps to save face – by agencies and (former) employees alike. Agency culture is predicated on collectiveness, family and belonging. It makes the long hours, manic schedules, weekend working and family absence seem worth it. The reality is that advertising agencies are just a business like any other. Was I naïve? Probably. Am I the only one to feel hoodwinked and let down? Probably not.
Challenging the stigma
Being in my mid-thirties, a family to support and a career that I still wanted to grow, I was faced with having to actively sell myself again – a push in a direction I hadn’t given much thought to. What was I good at, what was my value, what did I want to do?
Being forced to think about these things is intimidating. There is limited information on what to do or on others who have been through the same thing. There are some incredible support networks, such as Nabs, which is fundamental in supporting and advising, but where were all the women speaking up about redundancy? Had it never happened to anyone at my level before?
With this in mind, here are my tips to get through redundancy at a mid-level point in your career.
1 Give yourself time to grieve
It is a shock. It takes time to heal. Surround yourself with people who matter. It was astonishing how many close friends had been through it and never said. It is one of the most common things to happen in your career. If you reach out, people will help. This took me a while to do, but I am so thankful for all those who listened, advised and generally sorted me out.
2 Practise self-care
Eat when you are hungry. Sounds obvious, but I ended up not eating for days and then waking up in the middle of the night craving cereal. Buy all the foods you like, even if they aren’t nutritious. It doesn’t matter. For now, tomorrow is another day.
Rescue Remedy was my life-saver. That little bottle of power stayed snugly in my bag to be downed at any moment of despair. Kalms also helped, plus lots of hugs.
3 Have a routine
It depends on what type of person you are, but I got up at the same time I would for work every day, kept the same routine and left the house for interviews or the gym. It worked for me. Throw yourself in or don’t. Listen to what you want to do and don’t feel pressured to start interviewing if you aren’t ready.
One mistake I made was drinking a lot of wine the night before an interview, which made me anxious and generally yuck. I wouldn’t recommend it. Don’t interview if you need the wine.
4 Value your time
You may have a lot of spare time in between interviews. I found I explored areas of London I hadn’t been to. I went to art galleries, sat in churchyards, went to museums, took photos. I used the time to relax, read, listen to podcasts and just had a moment to myself. It was good to reflect.
5 Quash imposter syndrome
Feeling intimidated and like an imposter is natural. Every job spec I received, I thought: "I can't do that." But when I started to write down my strengths, I felt some control returning. Know your weaknesses, but try not to stress yourself out attempting to upskill in a day – it doesn’t work.
After each interview, I learned more and more about how to structure what I wanted from my next role. Use each meeting as a time to reflect. An excellent piece of advice from journalist and speaker Harriet Minter was thinking about what you love and what you are good at. It feels boastful, but when you write it down your values come alive and interviewing feels doable.
6 Prioritise your own happiness
Lastly, do something that makes you a little bit happy each day – whatever that is. For me, it was writing my thoughts down every day so I could look back on how I grew and going for long walks to focus my mind on what I wanted to do next.
Now, a few months on, I feel better, happier and less anxious.
There are still moments of sadness; but it’s lessening week by week. It’s a life lesson that I have taken a lot from and talking about it really does help.
Nikki Wilkinson is a freelance strategy director
If you have been affected by redundancy, Nabs provides a range of support and services to help you.
A spokeswoman for Nabs explains: "We're very well-placed to help people who are being made redundant and our goal is to help improve their well-being by offering them the support they need through a difficult time."
Nabs-accredited executive coaches offer confidential one-to-one sessions to help people find new ways of managing situations for positive results. Coaches are particularly skilled in helping those going through redundancy and can work on issues such as motivation, self-belief and managing a career crossroads.
The organisation also provides services for people looking to plug a skills or knowledge gap to help them get back into work. It has a calendar of talks, events and masterclasses to help people progress and build their network. There are sessions on building resilience and gravitas, balancing work and parenting, and building rapport and influence – all held in a supportive and friendly atmosphere.
Nabs' speed-mentoring events connect people with a host of senior leaders in one evening. They boost confidence and opportunity by enabling people to ask career questions, gain different perspectives and network with people across the industry.
The empathetic Advice Line team gives people tailored support, whatever the problem. Nabs offers support grants to help alleviate financial pressures and upskilling grants for those out of work or if their role is potentially at risk unless they upskill.
All of Nabs' services are free to people working in the industry.