Retrenchment and the Accompanying Psychological Effects

Retrenchment and the Accompanying Psychological Effects

In current day South Africa the concept of retrenchment is a reality, and we live with some of the highest statistics of unemployment and poverty. Salaries are often a company's highest bill and in an attempt to increase profitability and competitiveness, in an economy under stress, companies often downsize. For the person being retrenched it is a stressful and even traumatic time. One may feel that there is a stigma to retrenchment and feel embarrassment or panicked knowing your job will be lost without the security of the a future income.

Retrenchments results in adverse psychological and physical health outcomes for employees - those who lose their jobs; those that survive the retrenchment process and remain; and even the managers who have to inform subordinates of the retrenchments. In South Africa an employee may be supporting between 7 and 11 dependents. Retrenchment is not only devastating to the individual but to those dependent on the individual, it impacts society and the country as a whole. The focus of this article is on the retrenched person.

There are a number of ways in which the experience of retrenchment can affect one on the psychological dimension. Society, and many of our cultures, place emphasis on a person's job as contributing  to their identity. How often do we find ourselves asking another; what it is they do; what their job is; as a way to find out more of whom we are dealing with. A job seems to imply a person's way of seeing themselves, it is a measure of their self worth. Loss of one's work is more than the loss of income, it deeply affects the concept of self identity. Those that endure this experience often grapple with issues of self esteem.

Losing a job, brings with it the concept of loss, loss naturally connects into the process of grief. Person's who are retrenched are faced with loss on diverse levels. Those who find themselves in this situation find themselves exposed to a lengthy, even debilitating, encounter with grief. Grieving means that one will likely pass though the stages of Kubler Ross's model; meaning an experience of shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance over an extended period of time. The affected individuals will experience all or some of these emotions, and sometimes re-experience them. One would not only grieve loss of income and job, but also loss in terms of  the concept of self. The potential inability to trust an organisation, and loss of  the social support that work colleagues were. Retrenchment can be likened to divorce - it may be unexpected, trust is broken, there is loss and grief, and the organisation does not cease to exist, it continues. As with divorce, closure is difficult to attain because the organisation carries on, even prospering after you have gone, and past colleagues continue in their work roles.

Stress and anxiety are likely to be experienced by those feeling the pressure to find work, pressure to once again support families or dependents. Stress has a definite impact on our physical health. Uncertainty about the future could preoccupy a person to a point where their ability to pursue new work might be impacted. Burnout, disturbed sleep, and depression are possible outcomes for those who are wrestling with financial pressure and the pressing need to find work.

While it may not seem like a wise financial choice due to circumstances, if you are able seek counselling before you reach a point of extreme distress, a point where one is negatively impacted psychologically, some of the above issues can be dealt with. Counselling can assist with acknowledging  and dealing with negative emotions, facilitate and educate one regarding the process of grief, challenge and grow the concepts of self, and encourage constructive ways of dealing with stress.

If you are in the process of being retrenched, or have been retrenched, recommends the following helpful steps to implement (

  1. Be honest with those around you about your retrenchment, it will not be beneficial to try to hide it.

  2. Although questioning why you were retrenched rather than someone else may play out in your head it is important not to blame yourself.

  3. Begin networking as soon as you can, using online social networks, and people in the real world. Make a choice not to withdraw yourself from society or potential opportunities.

  4. If it is possible, try to use the opportunity to further your skills. Should your finances allow, you could  register for a course. Alternatively, you could volunteer in areas where you might be able to learn a new skill.

  5. Seek financial advice and plan the use of your severance package.

  6. Get your CV up to date as soon as possible, register with online job-seeking websites.

  7. Start applying for as many jobs as possible for which you have the required skills. Write your covering letters with careful consideration and thought, rather than simply using a template.

  8. Remember to highlight where you can add value to the position you're applying for. Demonstrate that you are dedicated, skilled and committed.

Keep in mind that being retrenched and having to put this on your CV is not something to feel bad about, it is a sign of economies in trouble. Not stating it on your CV would not be advisable - be honest. Where you are able to, get as many references as possible to provide testimony to you skills. If you can, ask the retrenching company for a reference which clearly describes their reasons for the retrenchment. And it would be beneficial if you could ask them to highlight the value you added to the organisation and include this information with your CV.