In our bonus April 2023 meetup, we were excited to get the opportunity to hear from: Seep Gulati, software engineer at EstimateOne; Shannon Rowe, delivery leader; and Chris Regan, Chief People Officer currently at MatchBox Exchange.
Seep shared her insights on how to stay resilient in the face of your role being made redundant. Then we heard from Shannon and Chris in a panel-style Q&A session facilitated by Michelle Gleeson, founder and CEO of Tech Diversity Lab.
How to stay resilient in the face of your role being made redundant — Seep Gulati
The tech industry has been thrown into a spin over the last year, with our once-secure jobs and career dissolved by the very companies we gave our loyalty to. When your role is made redundant, it can be a difficult situation to navigate, but it’s important to remember that resilience is key. Seep, a software engineer and communication professional passionate about supporting other women in tech, who has experienced layoffs herself, shares her experiences and knowledge about resilience.
What is resilience?
Resilience can be compared to a rubber band, the ability to bounce back from changes and crises that life throws at you. It’s not always the loudest voice in the room, but it can be a small voice pushing you in the right direction. Seep shared that every crisis can be seen as an opportunity, and it’s important to take stock of your previous achievements and life journey. It’s also okay to take a break and find what’s making you uncomfortable. Remember, “this too shall pass.”
What can you do?
When experiencing a layoff, it’s important to remember the things that are under your control. What can you do to make things better? One way to find meaning is to help someone else in need or spend time with loved ones. Seep also encouraged us to channel our energy into things we enjoy such as reading, exercising, or pursuing hobbies. It’s essential to evaluate your next options and take stock of the feedback you received from past roles.
Resilience is the first step, but the next stage is to become antifragile, where you benefit from disorder. This is the mindset that each challenge and obstacle helps you become stronger, better, and faster. Seep shared the book “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who uses the example of a Greek mythological serpent, Hydra – when one head is cut off, a new, stronger one grows in its place. This concept of antifragility is an evolution of resilience.
As Maya Angelou said, “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.” Your identity is not linked with any organization, and your skills don’t disappear with a layoff. It’s important to think about the different roles you play in your life and how you add value.
Panel with Shannon and Chris
Michelle opens up the panel asking Shannon and Chris to give us an overview of how redundancy has had an impact on their lives.
Shannon has experienced redundancy six times and considers herself an “accidental expert” on the matter. She reflects that most of her experiences have been okay in retrospect. The first time, her role was made redundant after her company had undergone two acquisitions that resulted in the entire consulting arm being cut. She also experienced redundancy at a small company where the number of employees had gone from 20 to 40 and back to 20 before her role was made redundant again. During that redundancy, Shannon had to put together her own redundancy package and negotiated a contract to work three days a week to finish a customer project. She loved the job during her third redundancy but felt it was not done well. By her fourth redundancy, she aimed to always “exit with grace.” Now, Shannon prefers to share the news of redundancy herself and has almost reached the point of laughing about experiencing redundancy six times over her six roles.
Chris has been in HR in the tech industry for a long time and has experienced redundancy from both sides. She reminds us that “the role is redundant, you aren’t.” During her second redundancy from a large corporation, she came back from parental leave and was holding onto a part-time position when she discovered that her role was one of three being made redundant. However, her boss refused to discuss the matter with her. If she had been brought into the loop earlier, Chris would have been happy to help with organizing the redundancy process. Chris highlights that even as the head of HR, she may not be informed or may not have a stake in the redundancy process and may only be told that it’s happening and then have to deal with the aftermath.
How do organizations decide who is made redundant?
Chris emphasized that the best processes for layoffs involve collaboration with HR. Ideally, all paths should be crossed before any redundancies take place. In her recent experience, the business forecast didn’t match the market’s perception of the product, which led to the company resorting to redundancies. Senior leadership should also be involved in making the decision on what should be cut next. During the pandemic, measures like reducing salaries, cutting hours in sales roles, and temporary stand-downs were implemented to minimize redundancies. In some cases, there was no other option but to let employees go after all other cost-cutting measures had been exhausted.
Can you do anything to not be made redundant?
According to Chris, there is very little an individual can do to avoid being made redundant, as it primarily depends on the roles that the company needs. Heads of departments assess the roles they have and decide which functions are essential and which are not. Chris shared an example from a fintech role during the pandemic where the company shifted from issuing 100 loans a day to handling 100 hardship calls a day. The company was transparent about the situation, and it was a much more positive experience for the employees who thanked leadership for the transparency they were given. The level of transparency and respect that employees are giving during redundancies has a huge impact on how the process is experienced for everyone involved.
Michelle: Tell us about the worst experience you’ve had with redundancy.
Shannon shared her worst experience of being made redundant, which was completely unexpected and done extremely quickly without any opportunity to talk to anyone about it. The reason given for the redundancy was performance-related, but there was loads of miscommunication which made it a negative experience. However, someone later told her that while the name on the business card changes, the relationships don’t. Shannon realized that even though the company is not a family, she could still keep the relationships with the people she had made along the way if she wanted to.
Chris and Shannon shared their positive outlook on redundancy, stating that it can lead to opportunities that they would not have pursued otherwise and can force them out of their comfort zones. Shannon emphasized that most companies do the right thing regarding payouts and advised calling Fair Work or an employment lawyer for advice. She also shared that companies smaller than 15 do not have to offer a redundancy package, and if an employee earns more than a certain amount of money, they can be dismissed with no reason and no recourse, which is unrelated to redundancy. Chris recommended checking the Fair Work website for free legal advice and added that it is worth calling them to get reassurance, especially if the company has not dealt with redundancies before.
What can leaders do if they need to make people redundant?
Chris recommends leaders who need to make people redundant should consider partnering with HR to support the manager in having the conversations. If they don’t feel comfortable doing that, they should treat the affected employees as humans and give them the news quickly at the start of the meeting. Ideally, they should have information about the timing, package, and redeployment options, and be prepared to answer questions to give the employees more comfort. Shannon suggested that it’s worth asking if the employee can have a support person during the meeting. It is not a legal right, but some companies offer 24 hours for the employee to find someone. Chris shares that a company cannot legally refuse the request to have a support person assist the affected employee. The support person can take notes and help facilitate what the employee wants to achieve. As a leader, it’s important to approach the situation with empathy and transparency to minimize any negative impact on the employee’s well-being.
What are your tips for finding the next job?
Chris offers some valuable tips for finding the next job. Firstly, ensure that your CV is up to date and high quality, e.g. free of any spelling errors. Try not to get fixated on the number of people looking for jobs and ignore the noise. Focus on what you want to do next and get creative by networking and thinking deeply about your career path. Spend time with people who uplift you and things that nurture you, that fill your heart back up. Chris suggests attending every networking event, any free coaching opportunities, mentoring, and giving advice. She also recommends thinking outside the box and being open to different options. When Chris found a a role she wanted but wasn’t at her desired salary, she asked for a 3 day week at the offered salary. She also took the time to reflect on her strengths and passions and was able to confidently share her experiences in interviews, being more bold than she had been before. Chris encourages job seekers to put themselves out there for the role even if they’re not sure about meeting the requested experience.
Michelle: Everything is cyclical. What’s your experience finding the next gig?
Shannon shares that the first time was the hardest. She had gone from a big company to a bigger one but then wanted to work for a small consulting company in project management. However, she had no network and no experience. It took her five months to get a job in the middle of the dot com crash. Shannon advises joining the alumni slack of the company you have worked for and taking any opportunities that come within your network. LinkedIn can also be useful in finding job opportunities. She suggests thinking about the companies you want to work for and finding someone you know who works there to see if you can get an introduction. Shannon also recommends offering to make introductions to anyone in your network, as you never know when a hiring freeze might end.
Michelle opens up to questions from the attendees.
What advice would you give people who are struggling with survivors’ guilt and uncertainty about upcoming redundancies?
Shannon shares that knowing about an upcoming redundancy round is hard, especially when it’s drawn out. In her personal experience, the best is to do it in a day. There’s no great way to make redundancies, but there are less bad ways. She has seen communication err more on the side of people leaving rather than people staying, making it unclear who was leaving and who was staying and what the teams will look like after the redundancies. The sooner the information is shared the better. Shannon suggests providing as much support as possible to all people affected. It takes time for people who stay to adjust
Chris suggests that for people struggling with redundancy uncertainty, it’s important to consider the human aspect and understand that uncertainty can lead to anxiety. To handle this, leadership teams can provide swift support to their teams and ensure that communication is handled properly to avoid survivor’s guilt. It’s crucial to ask for information from your leader or department head, find out what they know, and offer support to your team. This will help you gain a better understanding of the situation and help your team cope with the changes.
It’s natural that the current market conditions might make people nervous. What can we do for line reports who are nervous, even if nothing has been mentioned about redundancy?
Chris suggests that it is completely understandable for people to be nervous in this type of situation. She advises to ask your manager to ask for some consistent messaging to share. She emphasizes that a clear roadmap should be shared and not to go back on it. A can make people really nervous. It is essential to be transparent about what is known and what is not known. For instance, if the strategy is for three months because the market is uncertain, then that should be communicated. He shares an experience where they made only three roles redundant, and the team was grateful for the transparency.
How quickly does the redundancy process move (e.g. from board to SLT to implementation)?
Chris explains that the speed of the redundancy process varies based on factors such as the number and breadth of roles impacted. An ideal goal is to complete the process in one day, with preparation work happening beforehand. This includes researching programs like JobKeeper and putting together a frequently asked questions document. Shannon suggests asking leadership questions about strategies to address market conditions, especially in the context of mass layoffs in Australia. She notes that the EU is moving in a different direction by implementing a 4-day work week with reduced salaries, which can be less disruptive to a company and has been shown to increase productivity. Shannon encourages companies to crunch the numbers on alternative solutions instead of defaulting to mass layoffs. Michelle adds that anything can be solved with good communication and good people practices.
What is it like after being made redundant?
Shannon and Chris both discussed the importance of allowing oneself to grieve after being made redundant. Shannon spoke about the similarities between the grieving process and the process of adjusting to job loss. She emphasized that it is important to give oneself the space to grieve and to be kind to oneself. Chris emphasized the importance of being supported by others. Shannon shared how others could support her such as through coffee meetings or joining her on walks. She even created a “funemployment” standup with others affected by redundancies to keep each other accountable. Both Shannon and Chris recognized that it is important to ask for help and support from others during this challenging time. Shannon shares it has gotten infinitely easier each time and is happy to share her experiences to help others.
What is the “Next gig program”?
Shannon has graciously offered to help run a Next gig program for Tech Leading Ladies members! It is a regular weekly “standup” where a group of job seekers support each other and share updates, including a private channel discussion on the Tech Lead Ladies Slack. Keep in mind while you look for your next gig, as Michelle reminds us – If you have 3 years of experience, you are no longer a junior engineer. After about 9-12 months of experience, you should be on the lookout for mid-level engineer roles.