The news came out of left field. You’re reporting to work one morning and the next thing you know, you’re leaving the office carrying a dried-out succulent (apparently they can die) and a cardboard box of broken dreams: that’s right, you’ve been made redundant. Sound familiar? Despite what you may think, you’re not a lone ranger in navigating the rocky terrain of retrenchment.

This is the exact scenario Rachel (name has been changed), 29, found herself in, sans shrivelled cactus. Turning up for work one Monday morning, the former marketing manager was hit with the news that she would be losing her job later that day. “I waited, bracing myself for the awkward conversation I knew was coming,” she remembers. “Soon after, I was asked to go into my boss’ office and was told my position was being made redundant.”

Sure, you’ve heard the words “job cuts” and “cost-cutting” before, but now they seem to be creeping up on twenty-somethings more and more.

Facing Facts
The R-word may have once resonated more firmly with our parents’ generation, but these days, Gen-Y kids are the most likely candidates for retrenchment.

“Young people are now far more susceptible to redundancies because of two factors,” says social researcher Mark McCrindle. “Many employers tend to target people who have joined more recently, because their corporate knowledge and entrenchment in the organisation isn’t as strong as people who’ve been with the company for years,” he says. “It’s a bit easier from an employment perspective to do that and manage it strategically.”

And the second reason, as Mark explains, is that Gen Yers now make up 31 percent of the workforce. Even if these younger workers were in similar roles to their older colleagues, more of them would be affected than the Baby Boomers simply because they comprise a higher proportion of the workforce.

The takeaway message here is that if you do find your career path hitting unexpected turbulence, take comfort in the fact that it’s likely a reflection of the current economic climate – not of you or your ability to do your job.

One, two… you
While losing your job involuntarily isn’t something personal against you, it’s likely you’ll still experience a major rollercoaster of emotions, ranging from shock, denial and anger, to relief, acceptance and sometimes even happiness. So if you feel totally lost after your job is pulled out from beneath you, make an effort to see there’s room for change – of the amazing kind.

Experienced career consultant Melissa Johnston explains that while some people feel lost after their routine is broken, “others feel the experience is a positive one due to their personal circumstances. For instance, a redundancy payment, if they’re entitled to it, could come at the right time.” As a result, while some people go click-crazy looking for job vacancies on employment websites, others use the unexpected opportunity to take stock of their lives. They may then start a new business venture, or
use their payout to jet overseas on a holiday.

While it’s normal to feel all over the place – or perhaps even stoked – after being retrenched, Melissa says it’s vital that you keep your cool professionally. “Don’t take your initial feelings of the redundancy, whatever they may be, out on your employer,” she warns. “Always maintain your professional image, and don’t burn any bridges.” How you handle yourself in a crisis is often remembered, and could lead your former boss to help you find a new role – maybe one that’s even better than the position that you just lost.

What to do next
Like any hurdle or roadblock you might hit in life, there’ll always be a support network to catch you when you fall. “If it helps, talk to friends and family about the situation you’re in, or seek professional advice from an expert to assist you with the feelings you’re experiencing,” suggests Melissa.

But understanding how you’re feeling is only one element to consider. As Mark explains, post-redundancy is the perfect time to adapt to our new economic environment. “You really need to future-proof your career,” he explains. “How you keep your skills honed and relevant, how you adjust your career to move with the cycles – these are 21st-century skills that all young people need.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean heading back to university for another four- or five-year degree (crisis averted!). Have a crack at short courses or online classes to not only boost your employability and job prospects, but also to try something that’s a little bit different. You never know, you may even surprise yourself with all the cool new things you learn. So, in other words… YOLO.

Text: Ellie McDonald