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About to get fired? 5 tips to soften the blow

Hong Kong has officially been in a recession since October 2019. First the protests and now the coronavirus threats have made this once thriving city come to a standstill. Food and beverage, retail and hospitality sectors have been hit the hardest, with restaurant owners and major hotel chains announcing layoffs. The beleaguered Cathay Pacific has asked all of its 27,000 staff to take unpaid leave while SaSa has asked it’s managers to take a 70% paycut.

In no time at all, these cost cutting measures will begin showing up in financial services and professional services. First, firms will implement a hiring freeze. Leavers will not be replaced. Then they will cut T&E expenses, in-office perks, company-funded social events and training budgets. Rumours will start to fly about a potential “right-sizing” of the business.

You notice your boss hurriedly preparing confidential spreadsheets and running around with a worried look on his face. Your colleagues avoid eye contact with you. Your teammates take long lunch breaks, dart into conference rooms for personal calls and leave work early for doctor’s appointments. With minimal work to do, everyone is distracted and worried.

If this scenario sounds familiar, then now is the time to get prepared. News of an impending redundancy exercise can be scary, stressful and incredibly distracting. Instead of sitting around wondering when it will be your turn and calculating your dwindling bank balance, use these 5 tips to focus on what you can control when the axe finally falls.

1. Get your personal files from your work PC

If you are an office worker, you may not be able to go back to your desk after you’ve been terminated. Remember all of those photos you have on your hard drive or the personal weekend plans you have on your work calendar? It will all be inaccessible once you are shown the door, so take a few precautionary measures to make sure you have what you need.

If you keep track of your entire life on your office calendar, now is the time to consider a clean break between personal and professional. Gmail or any multitude of apps should do the trick. Think about your contact list—are most of your friends listed in your work email account or are there business contacts there who are actually friends? Spend some time organizing that information so your friends don’t think you’ve fallen off the face of the earth if you lose their contact details. You may have personal files on your PC too. Do a quick audit to figure out what you need and how to get it.

2. Download your payslips & performance reviews

At larger organizations, you can access your HR data (such as payslips and performance reviews) electronically through an internal HR system. However, once you leave, you’ll no longer have immediate access. If there is an “employee self-service” option in the HR system, download your payslips and performance reviews now. In general, I’d recommend that you download the last three months of your payslips and your last two or three performance reviews (assuming you have a semi-annual performance review cycle). A new employer will likely ask you for salary proof and it’s a good idea to have copies of your performance reviews (particularly if they are positive!) so you can remember the work that you did and have some evidence of your performance.

3. Kick-start your job search

Take a cue from your colleagues who are already on the job hunt. Spiff up your CV and your Linkedin profile (using some of the accomplishments you highlighted above). As always, get a trusted friend, mentor or career coach (like me!) to review your CV before you start applying for roles. If you are worried about your boss or coworkers seeing changes to your Linkedin profile, edit the settings so that updates are not sent to your network. Here in Hong Kong, it’s very common to use a recruitment agency to assist with a job search—now is the time to start making contact. If you don’t know any headhunters, ask friends for referrals. Take the recruiter out for coffee and try to get some information about market trends. Is your sector hot or over saturated? What key skills are hiring managers looking for? You may not be ready to start interviewing, but knowledge is power, so prioritize these discussions, particularly if you’ve been out of the market for a while. Networking is also critical to finding a new job, so dust off those contact lists, rejoin professional societies and use this free time on your calendar for lunches, drinks and coffees!

4. Audit your finances (and your relationships!)

Consider how you will cope financially if you are made redundant. Budget how long you can survive without an income and start to make some tough choices. Curtail your discretionary spending (such as eating out and entertainment) and review your fixed costs (rent, school tuition, phone, etc.). Speak to those closest to you so that a layoff is not a complete surprise (particularly if you are the sole breadwinner). Managing the expectations of your partner, parents or kids will help minimize the shock and ensure everyone pulls together, particularly around managing household expenses.

5. Reflect & plan

While your colleagues are busy gossiping about the impending layoffs, make good use of your time. Reflect on your career with your organization and assess what you’ve done well. What were your successes? Think about big projects that you led, money-saving ideas that you implemented, teams that you grew, etc. Be specific. Then write it all down, providing details about the scope, challenges, impact, etc. You can highlight these items when you start interviewing for your next job and use this list to update your CV. Do this self-reflection while you are still on the job. It will be much easier to think of examples now than it will be two months after you leave. You can also make use of your emails, files and past performance reviews to jog your memory on your various accomplishments. Time and distance can cloud your judgement and make you doubt your accomplishments on the job. Think about it when it is still fresh.

I promise you that these 5 tips will make you more prepared if you suddenly find yourself the victim of a redundancy.

Lastly, as you start auditing your finances, it will be important for you to understand how much money you might receive in your redundancy package. In another article, I’ll discuss some typical components you'll find in a redundancy package.

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Renee Conklin is an HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. Check out more of her articles on LinkedIn.

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