Being put 'at risk.' Going through a re-organisation. Chances are if you work anywhere these days you stand a chance of going through this stomach-churning process that tests patience and commitment and frays nerves. Tom Phillips in his 39-years in local government did every kind of job imaginable and some best not imagined. After surviving a series of re-organisations he took voluntary redundancy in 2011.
by Tom Phillips
They don’t give out campaign medals for surviving local government reorganisations, or I’d have a chestful. I’d only been working in my first job a week when they announced the 1974 changes following the Local Government Act 1972. It never really stopped after that. When I finally stepped off the merry-go-round in 2011, I had been in jobs placed “officially at risk” twelve times. In one particularly hectic phase in the 1990s, I was “at risk” three times in six months, in a service suffering badly from central government interference and privatisation.
Let’s be clear: being placed “at risk” doesn’t mean that you are automatically going to be made redundant. It means redundancy is a risk (of course), but principally it means that your job, and probably a number of others is affected by structural and/or funding changes that are probably going to result in significant structural changes to the hierarchy within which you work, and probably that, at the end of the day, there will be fewer jobs, or a number of lower graded jobs.
These are generalisations, but in my experience there is one definite given: there is no such thing as a “reorganization-proof” job. Far from inducing fear and uncertainty, fully accepting that being placed at risk might come your way is a sensible springboard for several other good habits and approaches. Never ceases to surprise me how many local government people I meet who think it’s not a likely prospect for them.
Those good habits?
- Remember from the outset and right through, that it’s your post, your position or your job’s responsibilities in the hierarchy that are being questioned. It can be hard to acknowledge that it is posts, not personalities that get made redundant, but it is important to your personal mental well-being through a time of reorganization, to recognize that if your job is put “at risk” it does not mean that the organization has a downer on you personally. Being “at risk” does not make you a bad person.
- Look at what you can do to influence the reorganization that you find your job involved in. There will always be a consultation period. Its length will depend on how many posts are involved in the changes. Read the rationale behind the changes, understand why your organization considers they need to be made, and comment on them. You will probably have opportunities to comment as part of a work group, individually, and (if you belong) through a Union or professional association. Your views might alter the course of events. They might not, but composing them will help you to see things in context, and to give some quality thought as to your options, personally and collectively.
- Try to be rational about your opportunities. A straight downsizing operation where, say, four people will be chasing two jobs is relatively uncommon. Usually the changes being proposed will go wider than just paring back on net headcount. Press to see job descriptions for the future structure so that you can make informed and rational decisions.
- Don’t try to rely on your reputation within the organization to see you through. I found it quite common for a third party to be brought in to carry out the nuts and bolts of changes and consultation. Sometimes that was consultants, sometimes it was someone from another part of the same organization, or from a similar organisation. Whatever, it’s likely to be someone who doesn’t know you well, or at all. They probably won’t know about whatever it is you think gives you a reputation within the existing structure.
- Reappraise your CV. How well do you come across on paper? There’s probably nothing you can do this time around to boost your CV, unless you have allowed it to become out of date, but reviewing it is one of the best things you can do to reach a realistic and rational assessment of your experience and skills. Don’t forget that nowadays, your digital/on-line presence (social media, blogs, LinkedIn etc) is also a legitimate component of your overall CV, so review that as well. Many internal reorganisations don’t involve the full job application paraphernalia for existing staff who are “at risk”, and the paperwork may just involve you making what is often called “an expression of interest”.
- Make sure you have a support network. You’ll want to talk. You’ll need to talk. Make sure you have people who will listen. It’s amazing how useful it can be to have someone just to act as a sounding board. Being “at risk” is a trial of your emotions – make no mistake about that. It’s good to talk.
- Take a little time to think about why you do the job you do. Ask yourself some basic questions. Is it for the money? The status? Your impact? Dunno really? This will help you assess your motivation as a person whose post is “at risk”. You never know: this might be the reorganization that has you saying “Time to go”.
- Be prepared to use your “at risk” status as a springboard for a job change. You may find you are entitled to preferential access to some jobs within the new structure. Be realistic, but be honest with yourself too. Maybe a change is overdue?
Being put “at risk” might, with the eventual benefit of hindsight, be something you look upon as an important milestone. I look back at a couple of such points from my own career when, left to my own devices, I’d probably have languished in a dull job had not had the rug pulled out from under my feet. The ride can be uncomfortable, but the destination might be rewarding.
Tom Phillips is a freelance photographer and social media trainer. You can see his work or contact him here.