After years in the safe confines of public service I am having to adjust to not having a job. I am being made redundant. Very soon. To help me and, I hope, others get through this sort of experience I thought I would blog about it.
This is not a blog where I’ll rant about the decisions taken by others that determined this would happen to me. Nor will I rant about politics more generally. Years of strict public service neutrality have left a deep imprint that may always inhibit me from getting involved in that sort of blogging. I am also not going to special plead on behalf of public servants or the public sector. My family and friends in industry and commerce have had their own tough times that are not over yet.
In deciding to blog on my experiences of this process I thought that there would be some people out there going through the same who might find some comfort from knowing they are not alone. Also there are experiences I’ve already had that it may be helpful for others to hear about. And sometimes it is just good therapy to write something out of your system. Finally, as the Coalition Government celebrates its first 100 days I thought that it was long past time to hear a little from those of us on the sharp end of those ‘difficult decisions’ that politicians talk about as generalities rather than specifics.
Now a bit about me. To start at the beginning I’m a fairly typical example of a middle-aged, middle-class married white guy. We’ve got kids at school and university. My wife works part-time in a school. I was the first from my family to go to university. I’ve worked hard to climb from working class benefits dependency to middle class professional status. For me education was the magic potion that kept me out of agricultural contracting as a hired hand.
We have a nice house with a hefty mortgage. See, I told you we were typical.
I’ve worked in the same branch of public services for 20 years. I’ve done different roles and progressed up the career ladder. I hadn’t ever consciously thought of my job as being one for life. But I suppose I felt that it was secure. With a good pension. And it involved me in doing some good. I passed up on private sector offers when they came along. I was reasonably paid and happy in what I was doing.
I’m sure the picture that I’m painting applies to many thousands of people who have jogged along in their careers as public servants and who are now facing redundancy. But this is my story and the story of my family.
I want to talk about three pieces of learning I have had in the last 100 days.
Because of the job I did we knew as a family that deep spending cuts were coming whatever the election result. We knew then that there was a risk to my bit of the public sector and the job I had. But – and this is my first hard-won lesson – there’s a difference between knowing that there’s a risk of something and that risk turning into certainty.
For us that came with the Programme for Government. Suddenly what had been a not very specific threat to our family livelihood became real. Immediate. All-consuming. Colleagues I’d known for years became zombified in the time it takes to click on a web link and read a few paragraphs of text. Other colleagues not immediately affected didn’t immediately scatter on seeing you but their unease about how to behave was striking. You feel as if redundancy carries its own special reek.
Since the publication of the Programme it’s been a slow unfurling of plans and their consequences that I have had no hand in designing. This is my second learning lesson. That losing any ability to control your professional life after years of being able to do just that quickly erodes your sense of self-worth. The skills that made you excellent at your job are now double-edged. You can see the flaws and holes in plans and strategies. You want to shout to the heavens. But despite all the listening exercises no one is hearing you. Powerlessness makes you tired.
My third and final lesson is this. I never really understood how my work dominated my life and that of my family. Suddenly I’ve stopped being able to define myself by the work that I no longer do. My family is no longer able to joke that I do a very important job that I only I understand. Instead my wife and kids have become fearful about the future. The job I did was the strong, mature tree in the wood that provided the financial shelter for our whole family life. That shelter has been ripped from the ground by a storm whose ferocity and speed are stupefying. Suddenly we, as a family, are blinking in a harsh and unforgiving sunlight. Each wondering what’s next?