Redundancy has stalked millions since the Covid-19 pandemic began battering the global economy a year ago, while countless other professionals have been left coping with income squeezes.
Some have found fresh opportunities or changed roles, but many more continue to experience sudden job loss as the fallout of the pandemic is felt across numerous sectors.
When Melody Beale’s job running corporate events in Dubai ended “with immediate effect” last year, it was her first experience of being made redundant.
“I was absolutely gutted, but it was more an emotional rollercoaster, having been told just the week before that my role was safe long term,” Ms Beale, 32, says.
“There was panic and I admit there were tears for a few hours. I had just started a new and exciting role and it was taken away from me so quickly.”
Luckily, Ms Beale’s husband still had his job, although on a reduced salary for a few months, so she says the panic was more on a “personal career path level” than financial.
She also admits she didn’t feel like devoting much time to job hunting, thinking it would be pointless.
“Being made redundant is already difficult enough, but during a pandemic when thousands of others are also being made redundant and trying to fight for very limited jobs on the market is even tougher and more daunting.
“I really couldn’t see what the path forward was for my career and I didn’t want to feel hopeless applying for jobs and getting nowhere.”
Ms Beale says her job hunting strategy typically has been to turn to existing connections and network to reach out to people directly.
“But this was not possible during that time, due to Covid-19 movement restrictions,” she says.
Psychologist Dr Sarah Rasmi says when people are in periods of stress and/or transition, such as a job loss, she recommends two types of coping mechanisms.
The first has to do with problem solving and taking action to address a situation within – or at least partly within – our control, says the founder and managing director of Thrive Wellbeing Centre in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai.
“When it comes to having been made redundant, that can include things like polishing up our CV, being more active on LinkedIn, contacting people in our broader network, so taking steps towards making changes,” she says.
“The other form of coping is emotion-focused coping … to do with soothing the way we feel about a certain situation, particularly when that situation is outside our control.”
Dr Rasmi cites examples such as making lifestyle changes, eating well, making sure we engage in plenty of exercise, particularly cardiovascular routines that burn off stress hormones, and doing things that make us feel good, particularly if that involves skills development and mastering some sort of task.
“That can be particularly helpful when made redundant because it can come with a big cost to the way we feel about and see ourselves … nurturing skills can be a good way to address that,” she adds.
Father-of-three Chris Bradwell, 41, had been laid off once before during his career and was naturally upset when redundancy hit him again in October.
The Dubai-based Briton had been working for an international relocation firm for just under two years when the pandemic intervened.
“I was informed over a Zoom call that due to the [economic] forecast, I would be made redundant,” Mr Bradwell says.
“At first, I was angry as it came unexpectedly … afterwards sad as I enjoyed my job.”
Financially, there were implications, not least with children aged four and 10 in Dubai and a teenage son in the UK, to look out for.
“My family are very supportive, so they handled it quite well,” says Mr Bradwell, who lives with his family in Dubai Silicon Oasis.
“Fortunately, the company paid me until the end of the year and, with my gratuity and holiday pay, it wasn’t a panic to search for a new job.”
Alongside that, Mr Bradwell, who is also the owner and administrator of the British Dads Dubai Facebook community page, was able to fall back on his wife Stacey’s income, so didn’t consider quitting their UAE life.
Mr Bradwell recently briefly joined another relocation firm as a senior residential sales consultant. It didn’t work out, so the search for a job continues.
“My wife works for a school here,” he adds. “I consider us, as a family, to be extremely lucky as my wife’s company provide for their staff, so we have been okay.”
Human resources consultant Thanj Kugananthan says the pandemic has resulted in the largest number of people she has seen, or heard of, being laid off during her time in the UAE.
She says the first thing someone should do is allow themself to “mourn” a job loss if caught up in the redundancy wave.
“If you have the finances, try to take some time off to process any negativity you may be feeling and simultaneously evaluate what it is you would like to do next,” says Ms Kugananthan, founder of Visible HR.
“This may be a new job, this may be starting your own business; either way, straight after redundancy is not typically the best time to make life-changing decisions.”
Ms Kugananthan advises anyone seeking new employment to make a list of what they would want from a job and employer and to update their CV accordingly with this "wish list", with the help of an expert if necessary.
“Being made redundant is a very upsetting time for individuals and it makes them question the employee-employer relationship,” she says.
“Statements such as, ‘I was so loyal to my manager/my company’, ‘I worked such long hours’, ‘I put my employer ahead of my family time’, are not uncommon thoughts after redundancy.
“This may inevitably give people the push to decide they no longer want to work for someone else again and they want to be their own boss, working on their own terms.”
If that is the case, Ms Kugananthan says networking is key.
“Speak to several business owners about what their learnings have been and how they can best advise you to succeed in your chosen field,” she adds. “Other business owners sharing their initial failures can sometimes be the best way to learn for your new venture.”
Ms Beale now falls into the self-employed category. She used the jolt of unemployment to conceptualise and launch a business she’d had in the back of her mind for years, embracing her love of food.
“My initial ideas had been to make some kind of sauces and chutneys,” says the Australian expat.
“I remember walking through the farmers’ market when I lived in London and at home in Sydney, fascinated with all these homemade, artisanal products.”
After being made redundant, she spotted a LinkedIn post by a New Zealand couple who quit successful jobs as lawyers and made it big with their own brand of peanut butter.
“I thought to myself, I should stop waiting and channel my energy into something I love, and Curious Elephant Soulful Sauces was founded,” says Ms Beale, who lives in Downtown Dubai.
“I feel truly fortunate to be able to say the pandemic has actually changed my career and life for the better … every day is tough with new challenges, longer hours and more hats to wear, but it is so fulfilling.”
Many don’t handle redundancy quite so positively, of course, and may face a financially fraught situation.
"Don't panic," is one of the first pieces of advice from Carol Glynn.
The founder of Conscious Finance Coaching advises taking stock of and analysing the overall financial situation – if that is not already a regular habit.
This means documenting liquid cash amounts available in local and overseas bank accounts and establishing the liquidity of assets such as cars, property and investments.
Ms Glynn recommends working out regular liabilities such as loans, credit cards and mortgage repayments, then examining expenditure by going over previous months’ spending. These include “needs” such as rent, utilities, mobile phones and groceries, versus “wants”, namely socialising, subscriptions and dining out.
Once someone has reviewed their expenditure, decided on their core needs, they should then use the total cost of the needs to calculate how many months of liquid cash is available. This is essentially the emergency fund and will reveal how long someone has until the cash runs out.
“Look for ways to reduce both the cost of your needs and spending on wants as much as possible,” Ms Glynn suggests.
“Can you move to cheaper accommodation, reduce your socialising costs, take a break from eating out, takeaways and shopping, cancel subscriptions and memberships you can live without?
“How much you must cut back will be influenced by how much liquid cash you have available, and how willing you are to use your cash to fund your lifestyle until you achieve an income again.”