Careers

When multiple job losses strike

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Companies will terminate an individual based on their current capacity rather than employment background. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

As a mid-level manager at a beverage company, the thought of job loss had never occurred to Charles Otieno. Having lost his first job for underperformance, he had vowed to prove himself in his new role.

Soon he was one of his employer’s high performers. As such, his job was secure.

But then the worst happened and he suddenly found himself without work. Through his networks, he however landed a role at an audit multinational.

Again, he was laid off just when he had started to establish himself at the company. He got another job that he soon lost.

After going through the ordeal four times, his self-esteem skidded as his confidence in employers hit a new low. ‘‘There is no way these employers could all be wrong about me,’’ Mr Otieno recalls telling himself.

Frustrated, he went into HR consultancy.

Losing a job once is devastating to most professionals. But losing one a second and a third time can be a crushing blow.

As the unpredictability of the job market grows by the day, job security is not guaranteed.

In most companies today, the declaration of redundancy has become an annual exercise where employees are terminated for different reasons.

But what would make an employee a target for a lay-off on more than one occasion?

Mary Njaga describes it as misfortune, saying that employers retrench for justifiable reasons. These range from a change in the required skill set to a business strategy review. 

A company’s prevailing financial position may also compel it to shed some talent.

‘‘Companies will terminate an individual based on their current capacity rather than employment background. Whether the person has been terminated within the organisation or elsewhere before does not count,’’ says Njaga, whose organisation has recently undergone layoffs.

Also read: Should my wife loan me money after job loss? 

She argues that the exercise is never personal. ‘‘When it is time for a change, it must happen. The change will always claim some roles. Even when we know it is the reality of work, no one prepares for a job loss. Obviously, no one prepares to lose theirs twice,’’ she adds.

Sometimes, a manager’s mischief, preference for certain candidates for some positions and ‘‘personalised relationships’’ could also sink some jobs, says Terry Micheni, the head of human capital at Sumac Microfinance Bank.

While these may expose the employer to the risk of litigation, reputational harm and even lost productivity, the damage will already have been done.

Either way, she says it is advisable to reflect on oneself. ‘‘You are able to see if you had a hand in the push. Then you learn from the experience,’’ she adds.

Most companies, Ms Njaga observes, lack structures that guide the process of retrenching people who have suffered similar fate before, noting: ‘‘Employers have an opportunity to check the background of their employees even as they focus on current reasons and justifications for termination.’’

This, she argues, would ease the blow for such individuals. Aftershock, damaged self-esteem and depression that come with job loss, one can also begin to question merit, says Mr Otieno.

He notes that the reaction to losing a job the third job time is different from the first instance.

The reaction is also dependent on one’s age and where they are in their career. In their 30s, professionals are more likely ‘‘to work harder’’ to stabilise themselves, or to shift career gears entirely, he says.

The approach is different for professionals in their 40s.

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Sometimes, a manager’s mischief, preference for certain candidates for some positions and ‘‘personalised relationships’’ could also sink some jobs. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

‘‘Then you are older and with more financial and social obligations. When you have a family that you must fend for, you become a survivor to keep the money coming,’’ Mr Otieno explains.

Professionals who have been laid off before tend to be more cautious and frown upon long-term commitments, both in their careers and in personal development.

‘‘Understandably, some people become more protective. For others, the experience makes them survivors because they imagine they will be targeted again,’’ he observes.

He adds that the experience could make one a ‘‘bootlicker’’ at work as they seek to align themselves for protection. When one’s career has been in the guillotine twice, trust in employers is also affected.

‘‘There is a fear in your subconscious that you will lose your next job. Unless you are strong enough, you even lose confidence in the things you enjoyed doing before.’’

For some people, having lost a job before pushes them to work harder ‘‘to prove themselves’’ in an attempt to escape the retrenchment sledgehammer.

Mr Otieno says what one does in the aftermath of a job loss determines how they come out of the turbulence.

‘‘The next opportunity could repair and build your confidence or make it dip further. When the experience is good, your past disappears quickly,’’ he says.

Job loss can have positive outcomes too. For some employers, a talent that is more tested is more attractive than that which has had a fairly smooth ride.

‘‘If I am hiring for a parastatal or stable NGO that is looking for stability rather than dynamism, I would consider someone who has the experience of job loss,’’ Mr Otieno says.

The misfortune is also likely to make one more adventurous and excited about new life and career experiences.

‘‘Your ability to build relationships and to sustain them improves,’’ Mr Otieno notes.

Read: Start-up closures leave trail of job losses in 2022

The professionals agree that the most an organisation can do is to dignify the process and make it as humane as possible.

‘‘It is not easy to comfort someone who has lost a job on more than one occasion. People deal with loss differently," Ms Njaga says.

She adds that companies should show empathy to affected individuals and support them in every way.

‘‘When you promise to contact them when an opportunity comes up, make sure to follow through.’’

Even so, however humanely the process is conducted, employees will ‘‘naturally feel targeted’’ and that the exercise can never satisfy all the parties, notes Ms Njaga.

‘‘Losing your job comes with shock, especially when you have been putting your best foot forward. But it is also important for employees to understand the dynamics of today’s job market,’’ she adds.

In most companies, restructuring is almost synonymous with job losses for senior managers. Is this an indictment of ambition and growth? Ms Njaga disagrees.

‘‘Companies assess all roles in senior and mid-level management and junior levels before making any decision. The entire story of layoffs is often not told in entirety. Affected senior managers tend to draw most of the attention.’’

For Mr Otieno, going through the process more than once causes one to reflect.

‘‘It is a wake-up call on what you might be doing wrong. You should draw from the first job loss. You must stand up for yourself,’’ Ms Njaga says.

Ms Micheni adds that it is up to an individual to handle loss rationally.

‘‘You should seek psychological help and counselling. Open up to your network and support system. This helps to avoid self-pity that may prevent you from bouncing back.’’

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