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  • Anthony Cohen

The Worst Thing About Redundancy

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

This post is my most read and commented upon post from Linkedin, and it holds as true today as it did the day I wrote it. It resonated with so many people who were in the same boat, whether they were my colleagues or complete strangers. I appreciate your comments and feedback on your own experience.

After nearly four months on the “other side” I think it’s time we stripped away the fear this word evokes, and look at what has actually been the worst thing about it, for me anyway. With nearly 60% of my team affected, and more broadly; close to 5,000 colleagues in my organisation, its topical amongst us, to say the least.

My mere mention of the “R word”, likely brought about all and any of the negative connotations you associate with it. For many years a certain stigma was associated with being retrenched, though these days (and certainly with so many of us affected), the stigma isn’t the worst thing about redundancy. The loss of regular income, whilst certainly very real to me, also isn’t the worst thing. Even if you’re not financially “fit” (and I’m not as fit as I probably should be), the severance pay sees you out for at least a period in time.

No, the worst thing I have found out about redundancy is the guilt. I feel guilty because I haven’t panicked about what the future holds. I feel guilt because I’m intentionally and very deliberately taking a break to focus on myself and what it is that I really want to do next. I feel guilty because for the first time in my working life I am not spinning in a hamster wheel, focussed on other people’s ambitions, plans and dogma.

In the society that we live in we are conditioned to be productive participants. For the last 20 years I haven’t shied away from that expectation or responsibility and I’ve loved it. I’ve grown as a professional and as a person. I’ve met amazing people and I’ve had opportunities to work on such diverse properties that I would never have dreamed possible. I owned the brand stewardship of the oldest continually operating airline in the world, I brought Oprah Winfrey to Australia (and a 500 strong entourage), I led a disruptive sponsorship activation in support of the Rugby World Cup (when we weren’t sponsors!), I fertilised the corporate soil to make the CEO Cook Off a reality, I managed the Australian crisis response to 9/11, I’ve worked with ARIA Award winning musicians, with fashionistas, and global icons. I’ve told a brand story through two syndicated documentaries and I’ve been part of Cannes Lion Award winning teams.

But for the last seven years I’ve also been on call for 2,555 days without a single break. That is, attached to my email and phone every day, 24 hours a day. During the Oprah period — which coincided with the QF32 incident — I even took to emailing in my sleep. Was it healthy? No. Did I love it? Absolutely. And so on reflection it is not at all surprising that now, having handed back my phone, I feel a sense of guilt for not being bound to that world even temporarily. Having caught up socially with many of my former colleagues, it seems that I am not alone. I am not alone in taking a break, luxuriating in attending to family, my partner, friends, and even getting things done around the house that I have put off for so many years. And you know what? It feels good.

I am not ready for retirement (nor is my bank account), but I am learning — slowly — to appreciate this time and to let go of the guilt. Before I know it, I’m going to be back in the grind, attached to another phone, another organisations’ goals, someone else’s focus. And whilst I’m looking forward to that, I want to make sure that when it happens I do not look back at this period and feel — with guilt — that it was anything less than a remarkable and rare opportunity.

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