Last week was a difficult one for many people I have worked with at Cisco over the years.  It’s no secret that the company is having to restructure as it struggles to reinvent itself and cope with the recession.  Significant cuts to headcount were made, and people with years of experience, many of whom joined when it was an exciting startup company, left the business on Friday.

It was obviously hard on those that were leaving, and just as hard (if not harder) on those that stayed behind.  For them there may be a sense of guilt (why not me?) as well as a period of Mourning to be dealt with.

I can totally empathise, having been made redundant in my mid-30’s after 14 years at Whitbread.  Looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, but at the time it was hard to deal with.

Now that I’m a trainer I know that I experienced, as many of Cisco’s leavers last week will, what is known as the Change Curve, originated by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, enticingly titled “On Death and Dying.”  It’s funny how precisely the model replicates the phases I went through at the time, from the moment they told me (I was all dressed up ready to go to a marketing awards dinner in London), through to applying for and getting another job a few weeks later.

The stages are sometimes known by the acronym “DABDA” :

Denial.  I remember sitting there as my boss read out his pre-prepared script (that part still makes me angry).  I waited for him to finish, took a cursory glance at the contents of the envelope the HR guy handed me with the terms of the package they were offering, and decided this was all some kind of dream and the sooner I left the room the sooner I’d wake up.  “Can I go now?” I remember hearing myself say.

Anger.    I had to drive home about 2 hours that night, and during this I was speaking to a colleague who had been made redundant as well, and it dawned on me that this was real, and my feelings rapidly turned to anger.  How dare he, why me, how unfair etc etc.  I quite surprised myslef with the depth of feeling this aroused.  Good job I was in the car not in the office with him!  The feelings lasted a few days, longer than they would have done normally because various colleagues in the same position were egging each other on and fuelling each others’ anger.

Bargaining.  This is a phase in which the individual does what they can to postpone or mitigate the situation. In my case this involved trying to negotiate better terms from the HR people.  It was hugely stressful to do so, and it wasn’t until a wise outsider pointed out to me that the package was “discretionary”, and could be withdrawn at any time, that I realised the best thing I could do was to accept the offer and move on.  It was a huge relief when I did, and I could then get on with sorting my head out.

Depression.  This phase lasted about 2 days.  The finality of things kicked in, and it dawned on me that unless I could quickly find alternative income, all sorts of unimaginable consequences would kick in.  I had a mortgage, 2 young children, responsibilities.  I was clearly a failure, and no one would want to employ someone as old as 35, surely?

Acceptance.  After 2 days sitting at the kitchen table staring into space and talking myself into depression, the phone rang, and a contact from my previous life asked me what plans I had, and did I fancy doing some consultancy for him?  This got me thinking about whether I could do the same for others, and a day or two later I was away with a portfolio of mini projects to carry out, all of which bought me time to research other jobs, and a few months later I had a new job working for a training company, leading to my evolution into becoming a trainer.  The best job I have ever had, and a role which suited my profile for the first time in my career.  And with all my debts paid off and some money left in reserve from the package I received from my previous employer.

It took me about 3 weeks in total to move through the Curve, and in retrospect I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity.  I might otherwise have remained shackled to an increasingly attractive looking pension, but a career where I doubt I would ever have enjoyed the job satisfaction that I do now.

So to all of you who are now “free agents”, my advice to you is to try and get yourself through the curve as quickly as you can.  Recognise that we all go through it, and try not to let yourself get stuck on the way through!  Keep in close touch with someone outside your workplace, who can help keep you objective.  Don’t try and miss out any of the steps.  And remind yourself of what resources your have to play with.  Apart from your obvious skills and experience, you have two great assets:

  • A network of people who know and trust you.  This is a huge resource, which other people might value having access to.
  • A knowledge of how things work.  Think of the number of people who would like to know more about how things work at Cisco.  Again, they would put a real value on that insight.

Finally, remember that you can choose your attitude.  If you are feeling angry, that is a choice you have made.

Warmest wishes to you all, and do reach out if you fancy a word with someone who has been there himself and has no axes to grind!