Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

How to cope with suddenly losing your job

Writer and businessman Peter Cooper gives his advice based on personal experience

"It is a big blow to morale and ego to be among the guys carrying a box of possessions out of the building with an envelope containing a redundancy cheque." Getty Images
"It is a big blow to morale and ego to be among the guys carrying a box of possessions out of the building with an envelope containing a redundancy cheque." Getty Images

The chances of being laid off in the summer months are generally higher than at any other time of year: first-half sales data is complete and companies have a pretty good idea what their budgets will be for the rest of the year. If your face does not fit, then it could be your red-letter day. This has happened to me twice in my career, so I write from personal experience.

The good news is that an involuntary career break, or in the case of journalists a sudden shift into freelancing, is almost always a positive thing in the long term. You are forced to make life-changing decisions that have often been avoided while trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Still the short-term shock can be considerable: Why me? What have I done wrong? It is often difficult not to take things personally, even when it has nothing to do with you.

Circumstances often play a bigger part than personal merit. Earlier this month Deutsche Bank announced a programme of 18,000 redundancies, or a cut of 20 per cent of its global staff. Siemens said it will cut 2,700 global employees by 2023, in addition to the 10,400 jobs to go from its core units announced last month.

Nevertheless, it is a big blow to morale and ego to be among the guys carrying a box of possessions out of the building with an envelope containing a redundancy cheque. How you react and deal with this initially unfortunate experience is critical.

The first time it happened to me in 1994, it was because my London-based newspaper was being downsized. After several months of unsatisfactory freelancing, in desperation I took a professional course in how to rewrite your CV and introduction letter. The next job that appeared in The Guardian happened to be an editorship in Dubai and that was how my last 23 years in the Middle East got started.

What a stroke of luck that turned out to be: my skills that were redundant in London proved much better paid in Dubai, and as the dot-com world developed in the city, I even had the chance to launch my own business.

Then again, what it a shock it was to lose my first job in Dubai after just three years. At that time, 20 years ago, it was standard practice for employers to put a six-month ban on your passport when you left, so I did not have a chance to find alternative employment. Today it is easier and only direct competitors are usually off limits.

There was also a relatively short window within which to leave the country. In that time I first had to contact my landlord and negotiate my exit. On top of that, I had just bought a new furniture package for my apartment. Thankfully, at the last moment a Texan oilman rented the apartment and was very happy to acquire the furniture.

Selling my car was easy, the penalties for early release from the loan deal horrible. It must be far more difficult with children in schools, though less so in the summer holiday period. On the other hand, it was rather lonely not having a wife and family.

My other issue was having nowhere to go in the UK, as I had sold my house. Fortunately, a friend asked me to apartment sit as he was working overseas. I suppose a short-term rental would have been another solution, though digging into savings at this time is something you want to avoid if you can, as you just don’t know how long it will last.

In Dubai I closed my bank accounts and paid all bills before leaving. Apart from being dishonest, not to do so is a really bad idea as Dubai is a place that you may well come back to. When I did come back in 2000 as editor-in-chief of online business portal AME Info, Etisalat actually called me with a bill for Dh53 that was only ready after I had left.

It is a good idea to phone around your friends, colleagues and contacts to let them know what has happened. The day after I was fired for the second time I happened to be back in London on holiday. An old friend stopped me on Kings Road and offered me a book contract. There was not even time to dust off my CV.

Something you are generally not short of when you are made redundant is time to reflect on your future and what you would like to do next. I took to reading self-help books and particularly those about positive thinking and tips for success.

If nothing else, this helps to keep your spirits up and remind you how others have triumphed over far worse problems in the past. Networking and a commitment to giving any reasonable opportunity a chance is the best approach.

I remember how on day one of that CV writing course the tutor told us not to look so miserable, because almost all her clients ended up with a better job. This will not be, initially, much consolation if redundancy happens to you. But I can assure you there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Think positively and treat each day as a new beginning. It’s the initial shock that is the hardest part.

Peter Cooper has been writing about Gulf finance for two decades and is the author of three books, including "Opportunity Dubai" and "Dubai Sabbatical"

Updated: July 21, 2019 09:44 AM

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