The legal industry is undergoing a period of considerable activity. Mergers on one side continue apace, including the on-going three-way combination of CMS, Olswang and Nabarro. Nothing seems likely to slow the pace of consolidation in the mid-tier. More rarely, but still a fact of competitive business life, is the demise of firms - KWM's European arm being the latest to collapse.

In both scenarios, the legal trade press tends to focus on the lawyers – what happens to highly valued business services professionals rarely gets the same coverage. But with law firms now benefitting from large business services teams, the impact can be profound when sudden change brings with it a higher risk of role changes and redundancies.

This is even more the case where business services might be the ones directly impacted by the opening of business services centres in other locations on or offshore. This piece seeks to address the fall-out from external change for business services professionals – particularly looking at how to deal with redundancy.

As in any case of redundancy, whether voluntary or otherwise, those affected face uncertainty, and may feel a whole gamut of emotions as they look ahead to what might be a very different future to the one they have imagined.

For those forced to go, especially if it is under such explosive circumstances as a business’s sudden demise, there is anger, confusion and a huge sense of loss as everything they have worked towards appears to have gone up in smoke. But if you are in that situation, there is much to be gained from keeping your head, thinking positively and using it as a way to move forward in your career.

Give yourself time


The news of redundancies can hit you like a brick. Step out of the office if need be. Take a breather. Try to resist acting on your initial emotions.

Should I stay or should I go?

 

When job losses are on the cards, businesses may throw it open to employees offering voluntary redundancies. Often there is a more generous settlement on offer as an inducement, and it is extremely tempting if you were thinking of leaving anyway. But look carefully at the offer and consider your finances. The Money Advice Service has helpful redundancy tips online – for example, if you have payment protection insurance to cover any loans, it may only pay out on compulsory rather than voluntary redundancy.

A long road ahead


Before any dismissals take place, businesses should consult with staff: if there are to be more than 20 redundancies, this process has to be a minimum of 30 days, rising to 45 days for 100 or more job losses. This can be a hugely trying time. Dealing with uncertainty, particularly when you feel you have little control over the situation, can take its toll. While over-used, the motto ‘keep calm and carry on’ is apt. Make sure you have a supportive network outside of the office, look at stress-busters such as exercise and keep on good terms with everyone you work with.

Negotiate a deal


Get your redundancy offer in writing. Before you agree to it, see if you can negotiate something better. The business, if it is still continuing, often wants to try to keep the good will of departing staff. If you have benefits such as private health insurance, ask if they can be continued for a period of time. See if there is any support available to help you find a new role. Even if it means just being able to keep your company laptop, negotiating is worth a try. Look at the package closely, remembering that it is only the first £30,000 of redundancy pay that is tax-free: the rest of the package is taxed at your normal rate and that includes the likes of holiday pay and pay in lieu of notice.

Don’t take it out on the managers

 

Fight the temptation to lash out. It is easy to blame the managers but chances are they are feeling terrible about the loss of jobs. Okay, so they may have got to keep theirs and that can seem grossly unfair, but leave as professionally as you started. It will reflect well on you and ensure that your reference is glowing.

Those that remain


While often not recognised, those who are not made redundant can also be left stressed by the process. The departure of colleagues, the pressure of not knowing if their job would be safe, as well as the uncertainty of what lies ahead can leave the people who stay angry and upset too. It is important for employees and managers to acknowledge this and allow for a period of adjustment.

Positive mind-sets


The most important thing to remember is not to take redundancy personally. The job loss has come about as a result of a business decision and not as something you have done wrong. It can still feel incredibly hurtful, especially when you have put everything into your role. If a project you have worked hard on has crashed down around you, it is demoralising.

But look at the experience as a whole: the skills you have developed on this and other projects will be invaluable and something you can take to your next job.

Also remember that for many people looking back, they will say that their redundancy was just what they needed to get out of a rut and push their career in the right direction. It might help you to find something more in line with your career goals, or prompt you to follow your ambitions down new avenues altogether.

At Totum, over the years we have worked with many candidates who have been through a redundancy process. We have considerable experience of turning what can be a very difficult experience into a positive career turning point. With the legal sector continuing to offer many opportunities for those in business services, redundancy doesn’t need to be an end but a beginning of exciting new ventures.

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