Redundancy is a two-person tango but most of us don’t know the steps. This is how to move from survival to thriving in these times
Losing a job is tough on both partners.
Whether someone is expecting bad news or it arrives as a shock, redundancy often sends people swirling into an unexpected ocean of disappointment, fear and insecurity. There are likely to be immediate financial implications, which often get the majority of our focus, yet more poignant is the potential for loss of identity, esteem and confidence. These emotional facets can go on to require major readjustments for both the person affected, as well as their partner, and managing the consequences can be an uneasy journey to navigate for everyone involved.
This all too common experience in 2020 has proven to be mind-altering for many and can take a lasting toll on self-confidence, with a ripple effect onto our daily behaviour with our loved ones. Whilst the shock clearly impacts more than just the person affected, we very rarely spend time considering what it means for those around the person that lost their job.
Coping with your loved-one’s change in circumstances and how to emotionally support a partner through redundancy
This fundamental shift in income and routine can be deeply destabilising, and emotionally draining, for you as a partner yet you also realise that your ability to support your partner puts you in an incredibly important position. Finding the strength and balance to handle the situation can be the difference between intense frustration and team-work during those critical weeks. The pressure is high to say and do the right thing, at the right time, and this can be a delicate balance to perfect. We are left trying to manage our own fear and insecurity alongside our deep empathy for the reality of the other person. Before we know it, we are equally adrift when it comes to navigating the ocean of insecurity ahead.
According to the latest ILO (International Labour Organisation) data nearly half of the global workforce is at risk of losing livelihoods. We are not alone in this reality, yet the shared weight of this time is of very little comfort. As the numbers of redundancies continue to soar our confidence of the speed to recover to ‘pre Covid’ team structures continue to dwindle. Sadly, the higher our stress levels, the harder it becomes for us to think rationally at all and it is our family unit that often suffers the most. Those around us are close enough to play a critical role in our emotional recovery, yet they remain far removed from actually having been through that fateful meeting a few weeks before.
Being able to empathise with your partner, and see this new world through their eyes, can have a critical impact on how both of you cope with the transition, and on the agility with which you both move forward.
How important is empathy?
Experts explain that the impact of stress narrows the focus of our brain to only the immediate ‘emergency’ response mechanisms which means we don’t often behave rationally! Evolution has tuned our bodies to pump our energy and our blood to the areas of the body we would need to fight off the impending stressor (our arms for fighting, legs for running and vital organs for supporting the plight) and in times of intense stress our brains have no way to distinguish our emotional stress with that of a physical threat requiring a fight.
Before we know it our capacity for awareness, consideration and empathy have shrunk far from their optimal. This means that your partner may be acting with anxiety, irrational fear and a short fuse, but physiologically this is an impact of their stress rather than reflecting their actual outlook. Telling them to ‘look for the positive’ is unlikely to buy you any brownie points! So, how might we empathise during these days?
When posed with the question of ‘how to emotionally support a partner through redundancy’, empathy is the key word time and again. 4 ways to empathise with your partner:
- Create space for your partner to dwell on their reality, alone should they want to, and without pressure to discuss the future plans and solutions all at once. This news is a shock and, whenever there is a shock, people need time to recalibrate their stress system and their immune system before working their way into their present reality. However desperate you are to ask “what now?” try instead to swap out your words for “what can I do to help?”
- Listen, and then, listen again: we are all naturally full of advice in these times, but the act of being listened to might be the greatest gift of them all. Let your partner talk and offer no judgement in those early days. Focus on being a supportive sounding board.
- Share the load: however high your own nerves are, try to consider the fact that this isn’t your career and daily routine that has been directly turned upside down. Whilst the impact may be great on all members of the family the actual news will have immediately impacted the person’s self-esteem and its worth considering how you can build this up during these days. Don’t try to solve their problems, but instead focus on encouraging them. Commiserate with your partner when they feel miserable, stand by them when their self-confidence is waning and remind them why they are excellent at what they do – at home and at work.
- Small gestures matter: be enthusiastic about every step towards a new role or a new decision. Celebrate each small landmark accomplishment and don’t take any progress for granted.
The strain of redundancy can have a deep and painful impact on any relationship. Remaining open and honest as the journey begins to map itself out will be beneficial for both of you. Share your own emotions when you are uncomfortable, or have a suggestion, but be cautious to build up your partners confidence as often as possible. From the minute the news was delivered you can assume the self-doubt has been sneaking in so make it your mission to both empathetically listen and lead when it comes to encouraging a focus on the future. After all, we are always stronger together.
Mimi Nicklin is an experienced Empathetic Leader and Business Coach. For over fourteen years she has been working across the globe with her clients to lead business and culture change. Mimi is driven by the pursuit of bringing conscientiousness to the role and impact of leadership, with a desire to make the world of work a more empathetic, valuable and sustainably healthy place to be. Having lived and worked in London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Dubai, Mimi’s uniquely global perspective changes organisations from the inside out.
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