Losing your job is something that’s almost always unexpected and the first and most natural instinct in response to this is to panic. What are you going to do? Where will you go? And what about your financial situation?

When you no longer have that safety net, it’s easy to make hasty decisions to fill that void, but it’s that rush that can often trip you up. It also doesn’t help that suddenly everyone suddenly has advice on what you should do next. 

This is not a bad thing, but it does get overwhelming when you hear so many different things from different people and can make you feel like you are drowning in a sea of (helpful and well-intentioned) voices.  

How do you combat that uncertainty and fear? And how do you navigate your way when it feels like all doors have been closed?

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1. Process the fact that you’ve been retrenched

You’re going to feel a lot of emotions during this time and sometimes your first instinct is to immediately jump into the next best thing. 

But what you need to remember is that in many cases, something this unexpected has a huge impact on your life and that every decision that you make next hinges on how you deal with the news. 

You can certainly expect to feel angry, confused and shocked, but you might also find yourself being surprised at unexpected emotions that rise to the surface. For example, if you’ve been at a company for years and you’ve built up a strong sense of camaraderie with the people you work with, you’ll also experience a sense of loss. 

So allow yourself to feel the full range of the emotional spectrum if that’s what it takes because not taking the time to absorb the trauma of being retrenched can often lead to you not making informed decisions about the future ahead.

I spoke to Elizabeth Mamacos, freelancer and former head of content at Careers24.co.za who offered some solid advice in terms of what you should do when you get retrenched: 

She agrees about not panicking and suggests that processing how you feel and speaking to HR or management about your options could go a long way in helping you.

“Some employees became angry and resign immediately, which means that they will then lose any opportunity to cash out a retrenchment package. It's best to stay calm, try to understand the business rationale for the retrenchments and to ensure you have a good reference to take with you.” 

2. Don’t sign anything immediately simply because you want the entire process to be over as quickly as possible.

Naturally the first thing you’d want to do is to get everything done in one go because it would be so much easier if you could move on as quickly as possible.  

Depending on your situation, Elizabeth suggests that it’s best to chat to your HR department about your options, because “retrenchment packages vary, and by making an informed choice the outgoing employee should find themselves financially secure for a few weeks or even months, with time to find a new job without financial strain.” 

Yes you want to move on, but you need to think ahead since you not only have to make time to sort out any admin that you may have, but you need to have enough money to get by while you’re in the process of looking for something else.

Make sure that you understand that the package you’re getting allows you to have a bit of leeway between job searches and will stand you in good stead since you can’t really predict how long you’ll be searching for a new job.

Elizabeth adds that “some companies offer voluntary severance packages, that can be quite attractive depending on how long the employee has worked for the company. In other cases, it might pay to stay until the retrenchment takes effect and accept an involuntary severance package, which may come with a higher pay check.”

3. Think carefully about what you want to do with your money

You may find that you have a little extra to spare that could help for the next few months but how you spend it will be the difference between how soon you need to get a job or whether or not you could still take some time off for yourself.

Also, consider things like your pension fund – in many cases most people suggest that you don’t cash it out immediately because it’s taxed very heavily, but you can either choose to leave it in your company and have them transfer your funds to your new company or transfer it directly to the new pension fund in a personal capacity.

A good idea would also be to seek out financial advice in terms of how to best invest and to help you work out what you can save and what you should spend in a way that will serve your needs best.

4. Use the opportunity to take stock of what it is that you want next

Being laid off could be a good opportunity for you to decide what you want to do next. Perhaps getting out of your comfort zone can help you to determine whether you still want to work within the field you’re in or whether you want to move on to a different challenge.

Depending on the amount of time you have, do some research even while you’re applying for jobs in-between.  

Do you maybe even want to start your own business? Or perhaps even freelance?

Sometimes, retrenchments can be a blessing in disguise and open up possibilities that you might never have considered. Remember that it’s one hundred percent okay to feel nervous or scared, but don’t let that fear block out the potential to feel excitement about the road ahead.

It may sound like pseudo-pschyo babble, but fear can often cloud our judgement, so use this time to find a structured way to deal with your next steps.

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Make lists of things you want to do, and things you don’t. Consider the skills you have and the list of contacts you’ve built up. Fear often makes you forget that over the years that you’ve worked, you’ve built up a considerable amount of experience. Use that to your advantage.

Elizabeth agrees. “There are many success stories of women who faced retrenchment and then went on to found their own businesses, or to start a whole new career, or to be headhunted for an amazing new opportunity. There are even cases where they found a new job so quickly that they had cash to spare from the retrenchment package. Very often a setback like this can open avenues you never thought possible.” 

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