OPINIONPoliticsApril 9, 2024

Step up to the redundancy rollercoaster


If you’re one of the thousands being sacked across the public service and the media, here’s some helpful tips from Asher Wilson-Goldman, who’s just been through it.

Every day seems to bring another announcement. 300 jobs at Newshub. 134 at the Ministry of Health. 68 at TVNZ. A mammoth 384 at the Ministry for Primary Industries. Even the consultancies are taking a hit, with 50 roles cut at PWC.

Recently, my colleagues and I were among those numbers, a few months ahead of most. Here’s some tips for you to make it all a bit smoother.

Surprise or not, it’s never easy when you’re thrown out

My public service job ended and my colleagues and I were made redundant at the end of March. Now, this didn’t come as a huge surprise – we’d been attacked during the election campaign, ending our work was in the coalition agreements and then the 100-day plan included a commitment to kill us off.

We found that there’s a big difference between knowing it’s coming and actually having the formal letters drop into your inbox. All of the emotional prep-work you do goes out the window when it becomes real.

Throughout the formal process, the best support we got was from each other. After every formal meeting or update from the bosses, my team pulled together ASAP to check in on how we were feeling, and to have a safe space to vent. I can’t encourage this enough – stick with the others who are going through the same process, and create room to let it all out with the colleagues who know exactly how you feel.

You’ll be told you have access to EAP (AKA counselling) and this can be super helpful. In my experience, it’s a bit hit and miss depending on how you bond with the person you’re seeing, but it can definitely be worth it just to have someone with whom you can confidentially talk through things. What you should do, however, is make use of something else EAP offers – career advice and CV reviews. Especially if you’ve been in the job for a while, having an external expert look at your CV and make sure it’s selling you the best way possible is definitely a good move.

As part of your exit package, you should also ask for access to additional EAP sessions at your employer’s cost, for 3-6 months after you’ve finished.

Build a 3D picture of what’s going on and what you need

If you’re like me, your first thought upon hearing a redundancy proposal will probably be “screw you, cut your own job, not mine”. Sometimes, saving your job might be possible, but other times, it isn’t, and focussing on trying to do that might mean you miss out on something else you can actually achieve.

The first step you should take is to gain a full understanding of what’s happening and why. Read the proposal for change. Talk to your colleagues – especially those who tend to be more “in the know”. Is the reason for the change to save money? Because the project isn’t working? To get rid of a manager nobody likes but bosses are too lazy to properly sack? Once you understand why this is happening, you can decide what’s achievable.

You also need to understand your own finances. How long can you survive if your income stops? Do you have a partner whose earnings can pay the bills for a short period, or access to rainy day savings? What are your employment prospects if you need to find a new job? Can you afford to take a pay cut for a new job, and if so, how much? Are your skills in high demand, or is your sector experiencing wide-ranging cuts and hiring freezes?

When you’ve got the answers to those questions, you can determine your ask. As part of your contract, there will be some sort of formal consultation with you. Even where the outcome (your job being disestablished) is a foregone conclusion, there will be things you can realistically get from your bosses to make it go smoother, or even just to delay it a bit. More time = more money in your pocket.

Unions: for everyone, not just revolutionaries

If you haven’t already, join your union today. Public servants should join the PSA, media workers E tū, and other sectors have unions too. Unions are groups of workers in the same industry who want to work together to get everyone better terms and conditions, to ensure fair treatment in the workplace and to support campaigns for improvements in wider society.

When you’re going through change, unions bring legal and organising knowledge and can share with you what’s worked elsewhere for people in similar circumstances.

Job cuts are happening throughout the public sector after government action plans called for cost-cutting measures

As well as providing advice and expertise, and allowing you to multiply your voice with that of your colleagues, your union staff can ask the questions of your bosses that you feel too awkward to ask, and can help to prepare a group submission on any formal change proposal that gives strength and legal backing to what you’re all asking for.

Without the PSA, my colleagues and I would be in a far worse position. Yes, we still lost our jobs, but we have financial breathing room thanks to the work we did together as PSA members. I could (and will!) be a PSA member for the rest of my career, and even if I never see another direct benefit from it, it still will have been worth it for this time.

Go all in, no regrets

Formal consultation is your one shot, don’t hold back. Both individually and through your union, make submissions, ask for what you need and provide a strong argument for it.

As you work through the process, it’s important to celebrate the wins when they happen, no matter how small. It is emotionally draining and all round pretty shit, so when good stuff happens, be happy! If someone finds another job elsewhere, go out for coffee or a beer together and congratulate them. If your bosses agree to provide something you’ve asked for, celebrate it together with your colleagues. These small wins will help keep you going through the dark times.

Everyone, especially your more experienced colleagues, will have contacts in other similar workplaces. If you see a job you want, ask if anyone knows someone there and can put in a good word for you. Do the same with your contacts – in tough times, informal good words can be the difference between being another CV on the pile and getting an interview.

My final thought is that even knowing that you will come out the other side and be alright eventually, in the meantime, it’s shit, and that’s OK. Don’t feel the need to brush it off when people ask how you are, don’t try to minimise it in your own head. Just try to remember – this isn’t because of you or your mahi, it’s because of the dysfunction of the system we all live in. It shits on people all the time, and today it’s your turn. That doesn’t make it your fault, just like it wasn’t mine these last few months. Best of luck.

Keep going!