Being made redundant is crappy. Even in the best case scenario - you didn't like your job anyway, you've got savings, you know you'll get another job soon – there is something incredibly depressing about being taken into a room and told that you're no longer necessary - to that organisation at least. Many, if not most of us have been there at some stage or another, so I know I wasn't the only one who felt a pang of identification with the news that 300 HMV employees in Ireland will be made redundant as a result of the stores' closures.
I got laid off from my old job at a magazine in 2009, along with several other staff members. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise - the market was in trouble, we knew our bosses were going to have to change things. But it was still a shock when, seemingly out of the blue, I was called into another room in the building and my boss told me they were going to have to let me go. I wasn't angry and I didn't resent it - she was really upset, and I knew she'd done her best to try and save our jobs. And although I loved my co-workers, I had been wondering whether life on the editorial side of journalism was right for me, and toyed with the idea of leaving.
But it was still a huge, horrible shock to be told I had no choice in the matter - I was almost surprised at how upset I was. It wasn't just the whole not-getting-paid thing. It was the fact that for three years, going to that office every day, seeing those people, had been my life. And then, suddenly, it wasn't. It was like the ground had been pulled from under my feet. I was so wobbly I couldn't even cycle home - I had to leave my bike there and go back and collect it a few days later. For at least a week, I felt shocked and a bit panicky. I felt I should be doing something about getting more work but I felt so shell-shocked I couldn't bring myself to start.
In comparison to lots of people who get laid off, I was lucky. As a journalist, I'd worked as a freelancer before I got the job at the magazine, so in a way I was back where I started - I could still work as a freelancer, which isn't the case with many professions. Also, I had savings. But freelance work never starts right away, and is shaky at the best of times. So like almost everyone who gets made redundant, I had to sign on. The first day, the queue at the dole office went right out of the building, around a courtyard and on to the street. The sheer size of it was incredibly depressing. When I finally got inside, I could see people clearly signing on for the first time who looked stunned by the realisation that the 200 or so quid they held in their hands was their only income for a week - and maybe realising that there are many people who have had to live on that sort of money for years.
Like I said, I was lucky. After a while I was getting enough freelance work to live on - not hugely well, but I didn't need to sign on. And I realised that I actually prefered the freedom of being self-employed, despite the lack of security. I've done okay since then – I still sometimes write for my old boss, who is lovely – and sometimes I think getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to me. It allowed me more professional and creative freedom (and the ability to take the afternoon off and go for a walk if I feel like it). But that's easy for me to say. I have friends who got laid off several years ago and haven't found a proper job since.Being unemployed is depressing and dispiriting, even when you know there are others in the same boat.
I hope it all works out for the 300 people who have lost their jobs at HMV. I hope they all find work they want to do, or that at least they don't hate. And I hope that at some stage, some of them look back and think, 'You know what? Losing that HMV job was the best thing that ever happened to me.'
So have you ever experienced the terrible surprise summons to the boss's office? And what are your strategies for dealing with it?
hmv image via irishtimes.ie
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