How to help people going through the pain of redundancy

CARE: To help someone who has lost their job, show empathy and provide a safe space for them to express their emotions.
CARE: To help someone who has lost their job, show empathy and provide a safe space for them to express their emotions.

The news of Norske Skog closing down its paper mill in Albury, New South Wales has hit the local area hard. Manufacturing is the major revenue earner in the area, bringing in $3.26 million a year across Albury and Wodonga - more than $1 million ahead of the next big earner in the area (construction).

It's no secret that the manufacturing industry has experienced decline in Australia over the last 10 years. We've seen major automotive companies shut down, processing factories close, large scale restructures and job losses.

Albury-Wodonga has not been immune. Automation and continuous innovation that reduces the number of employees on the ground has impacted the industry and the people who drive operations. While the news out of Norske Skog is not all bad - the Albury plant has been sold rather than closed, and there are plans to reopen it next year - the people who make the cogs whir will be out of work in December, without any guarantee of being rehired by the purchaser.

Norske Skog has looked after its workers through redundancies and entitlements, and supporting their career transition (which is a fantastic testament to how it values staff). But the feeling of joblessness can be profound and confronting, and the fear is only superficially comforted by a finite payout.

I've worked with a number of organisations which have gone through similar processes.

The staff involved often face common challenges relating to the experience. There is often a cycle to the process people go through, and it is akin to grief.

The first reaction is usually one of shock, even if the writing was on the wall.

The sense of overwhelm, of high emotion or even emotional numbness are not uncommon and people who live with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression or PTSD can find themselves significantly vulnerable at this time.

There is often a cycle to the process people go through, and it is akin to grief.

This often leads to anger. Feeling angry at the world, at the organisation, at the people involved is understandable as people seek to find someone to blame (whether consciously or subconsciously) for the disruption and loss of control that they are feeling.

The best way for others to help people going through this stage is to show empathy, to understand, to provide a safe space for them to express their emotions. If the person isn't able to express their anger productively or safely, they may skip the next stage altogether and head straight to step four.

The third step is bargaining. People at this stage of the cycle are likely to want to throw themselves into the job search 120 per cent and go at it like a bat out of hell, craving the return to control that employment will bring. When this doesn't yield quick results, individuals can find themselves spiralling into step four.

This fourth step is characterised by emotional turmoil, depression and detachment.

Feeling despair at the situation, out of control, isolated without agency and the loss of a personal identity is a challenging place to be. But with support, guidance and some courage, this can be overcome and the final step reached.

This last stage is one of acceptance, without extreme emotional connection or detachment. Once this step is reached, genuine job search activity can be undertaken.

People facing employment redundancy can skip a step in the cycle or find themselves trapped in a loop between two or more of them, but the important thing is an awareness of self with regards to how you are feeling and coping with the situation.

This self-awareness can mean the difference between recognising the need for help and spiralling into darkness, being able to rethink your career plan and finding yourself stuck in a rut without any forward motion.

Since the Industrial Revolution, our labour market has been almost organic - growing and changing with each decade through which it passes.

Dealing with change and facing the impact of innovation, technology and automation has ironically been the one constant in our employment history since the 19th century.

Does this help put food on the table for Christmas this year? No. But surely there is some comfort in the knowledge that we've been living through these cycles for more than 100 years and we've learned a thing or two about how to cope along the way. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au