Bob Cuffe will never forget the time he had been made redundant and spotted in the supermarket a former client of the newspaper group where he had previously been regional managing director.
“I hid from him,” admitted Bob. “I dress a bit scruffy when I’m not working and oh, the horror of ‘What if he sees me?’ It was almost as if he was going to judge me – ‘Look, there’s the person who was made redundant!’”
Though Bob – formerly the regional MD of a major newspaper group – has been in the unenviable position of having to make staff redundant as part of a number of company restructurings, he’s twice been on the receiving end of losing a job too (from the same organisation each time!), so he knows just how it feels.
Taking part in a Talking Business online chat with Tees Business, he reflected: “When I was heading up a restructuring programme, I would always say that this isn’t a personal decision, it’s a professional decision, a business decision, but then one day somebody sat in front of me and said those words, and you know what? It was personal, it did feel personal!”
Bob, who is now non-executive director of Tees Business publishers Resolution and vice chair of Darlington Building Society, admitted he didn’t take his first redundancy well at all.
“It felt humiliating,” he revealed. “I was very angry and I didn’t let go of that anger. I kept asking ‘Why me? Why is this happening to me?’
“I handled it really, really badly and made some classic mistakes. I was in my early 50s at the time and someone I trust enormously advised me to take three months out, to rest up and not take the first job that came along.”
As it happened, Bob was offered a new role within 48 hours of losing the old one, and turned it down. “Classic mistake,” he admitted. “No one offered me anything else for six months.”
The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is forecast to result in many redundancies in our region – but Bob had words of advice for those who suffer the consequences of a situation beyond their control.
“We will see bright, talented people losing their jobs because of what we are going through, and I hope they are not too hard on themselves” he said.
“Redundancy isn’t a disease, its not contagious, it doesn’t have the connotations it had in the past. I hope those affected are kind to themselves, that they reach out to people they know for help and support.
“However, I would also say to have your five minutes, then let go of the anger and start looking for another job straight away.
“Use your network. Make a list of people you know who are influential, keep in touch and let them know you are looking for work. Ask them as they’re out and about to keep you in mind should anything come up.
“Don’t hide away the way I did.”
As for those with the stressful task of telling people they will no longer have a job, Bob issued these words of wisdom: “It is awful. All you can do is try and understand how people are feeling.
“Be open and honest and give them the dignity they deserve. If you can’t do things face-to-face, then a one-to-one Zoom is better than addressing a room of 20. The more you can personalise things and be there for people throughout the journey, the better.”
Bob feels so strongly on the subject of redundancy that he is offering himself as a shoulder to anyone he knows who is affected by it.
“From here on in, I want to be there for them, to do the listening and to give a wee bit of advice,” he said.