A couple of weeks back, I was invited by an organisation that was laying off a number of employees to give them a pep talk on their next life. While preparing for the presentation, I was reminded of the story of the impoverished family whose only cow was pushed off the cliff. This is a story I covered in a previous article.
Most times, when we get employed, the default tendency is to gel into the organisation, adapt to its culture and blend with the politics. People who had all these grandiose plans of structuring their lives in a certain way, unknowingly abandon their script to follow the ideas developed by the group think of the work environment. Very few ever get to seriously plan for what they would do if they lost their job in an instant.
Let’s take the example of Balozi (hypothetical name), he joined a reputable telecom company as a graduate trainee, worked well and was eventually conscriptedas a full time staff. His starting salary was too good to be true for a graduate and the first thing that struck his mind was to acquire the kind of things that would make him gain acceptance among his workmates. Before we knew it, he had acquired a car, rented an expensive apartment in an exclusive neighborhood that he hardly spent time in.Each year, he had to visit a foreign destination during his annual leave complete with a lady friend. Each promotion came with an increase in salary which drove him into acquiring taste for a more expensive lifestyle. He took on consumption of foreign liquors, became a golf club and gym member, had a plush wedding and basically got everything going for him.
Just when he was basking in his success, news trickled in that the company was downsizing and his department was bound to be affected first. Before the news could sink in, he received information that he was on the list of those to be relieved of their duties. Balozi was dazed. He couldn’t imagine a life outside this company. All his networks were heavily dependent on his high life which was funded by the hefty salary he commanded. To cut the long story short, when he assessed the so called businesses he was investing in, none could keep him afloat. Starting with the send off package that he was given, Balozi laboured so hard to keep up appearances. After the funds dried up, all hell broke loose starting right from home where he could hardly even pay rent.
Now, you might or might not be a Balozi but what do we learn from Balozi?
Jobs are never permanent.For any job you get, whether you’re young or old, just know that a time is going to come when you’ll part ways with it. The circumstances around your parting may be positive or negative but that’s not the issue. So, as you join, invest time inplanning for your exit when it eventually happens.
Job loss can occur unexpectedly.An impression has been created that big companies or organisations cannever fail while small organisations are more likely to fail. This is a lie. There are numerous cases of large multinational companies that have unexpectedly wound up leaving thousands in tears.
Enron – One of America’s largest ever energy companies in history. The company was such a high flier that no one could believe when it tumbled within a span of five months following the resignation of the CEO in August 2001 to filing for bankruptcy by December of the same year. On the day it filed for bankruptcy, all employees were given 30 minutes to pack their belongings and vacate the offices. 62% of the 15,000 employees lost all their savings which were pegged on the company’s stock.
Lehman Brothers – Having been around for over 150 years, no one had any reason to doubt such a company’s ability to continue being in existence However, the global financial crisis of 2007 had a different idea altogether. The closure of one business unit in 2007 led to the loss of 1,200 jobs instantly. By the time the company filed for bankruptcy in 2008, a total of 25,000 jobs had been lost. This company’s failure triggered some form of economic turmoil which affected numerous other companies with an overall job loss in the region of 6 million.
Back home, we have some notable examples;
Greenland Bank – In 1999, this Ugandan bank that had gone international with branches in Kenya and Tanzania was closed by the Central bank subjecting its close to 700 employees to overnight unemployment.
Other companies that have closed shop include; Uganda Airlines, Uchumi Supermarket, Nakumatt Supermarket, Zzimwe Construction, Regency Hotels, Property Masters, International Credit Bank, Cooperative Bank, GTV, Sembule Steel Mills etc.
Even with colleagues around us, it helps to keep an intact mind. Friends, colleagues and the various groupings of people we associate with are good. However, amidst all the deep rooted interactions we have with them, it always helps to avoid losing our True north. The true north is what or whom the real you is. Many are the ideas we get from our groupies but not all are worthy of pursuit. At the end of the day, the buck starts and stops with you as regards your future or that of your family. Why for example did Balozi choose to rent a very expensive apartment yet he could settle for a much cheaper but decent house and put to productive use the saved money?
Group think isn’t necessarily Good think. There is usually this cow herd mentality among groups that wants to push everyone to toe a particular line. This tends to put too much pressure on individual members to toe the line. Take the example of the standard practise by most workers to raise money (saved or borrowed), buy land and build a house. It makes sense depending on what scale of earning you are at or alternative sources of income at your disposal. Noble idea? True. Good idea? Probably not. Having only a single income of not more than UGX 2 Million monthly, would you prefer to invest a borrowed UGX 80 Million in a house you will merely be sleeping in and use as a trophy for bragging rights or would you rather invest that amount in some rental units that earn you income equivalent to half your monthly salary? Which option would make you pay off your loan much faster?
Always have alternative investments. It doesnt matter how comfortable your job seems to be. The default should be for you to have some alternative investments in place to ensure that your income is diversified. However small the income is from the diversified investments, do not give up having a portfolio of these investments. When the shock of a job loss comes, these investments would very easily keep you buoyant until your next lucky break for a job.
Lifestyle can be a life maker or breaker. The way we lead our lives has a heavy impact on the kind of progress we make. Without going into details, there are wasteful and gainful lifestyle habits. There is this school of thought that believes that an individual’s economic progress is merely dictated by how much they earn. I must say, it’s not entirely true. Economic progress is largely determined by how wasteful we are with our income. The less wasteful we are, the higher the chance we have of growing our wealth
A few days back we woke up to the news of Kakira Sugar Works planning to lay off 4000 workers. In the Telecom sector, a good number of staff has been laid off with more job cuts to continue. The fear and uncertainty is high among employees who are fully aware about the difficulty involved in acquiring new jobs. Maybe you’re in a similar state, maybe not, however, either way, you need to prepare yourself for this kind of eventuality.
If you lost your job today, this is my advice to you;
Have a Cool Off period. Have you ever worked on a computer or phone only for it to malfunction? Often times, a simple restart (switch off-on) sorts out the problem. By taking sometime off the worries of work and a predetermined 8 to 5 routine, you will be able to draw into your innerself and reflect more on what you want. This will help you relaunch better with a more focused plan for either acquiring another job or launching your own business operations.
Reassess your priorities. Each of us at any one time has priorities. These priorities are usually determined by the environment we are engrossed in. The priorities of a married corporate professional are starkly different from those of a young unmarried graduate. Use this time off work to assess yourself and see how much progress you’ve made to achieve your goals. Are you still on course or have you veered off course? What corrective action do you need to engage in, if any?
Take stock of your alternative income generating activities if any. You probably have some side business activities that predate your job loss. Sieve them carefully, see how they perform, assess their potential and work towards growing them or dropping those that are merely a burden. You might have to survive off these businesses opportunities for a while as you work out the way forward. Its funny but most side businesses run by employed people tend to be heavily subsidised by the proprietor to the extent that they fail when the subsidies cease to flow in.
Scale down activity in all spheres of your life. Loss of a job implies loss of income. This calls for boot strapping. The circus you have been living through has to stop. You need to make tough choices in your lifestyle. If you have been supporting numerous causes, they are likely to get hit. Your goal is to stretch your financial reserves over the longest possible period as you work on the way forward considering that you could go for a few months or even a year without a job.
Effectively plan for your retirement benefits. Some employers will retire their employees with some form of benefits. For the case of the organisation I dealt with, they did this. Often times, you find people grumbling about how much or little money they have been given. My observation over the years reveals that, no money is too much or too little. I recall a former Bank of Uganda top official who squandered retirement benefits of UGX 450 Million he received in the 90s only to die a few years later out of frustration. Then again, I know of a gateman who was laid off and given UGX 3.6 Million as a send off. Today, he’s running a very successful poultry and piggery farm that earns him five times what he used to earn as monthly salary. What this implies is that your focus should be on planning well for the benefits you’ve been given.
Finally, you have the choice to view a job loss positively or negatively. When given lemon, bitter as the fruit may seem, you can still make lemonade out of it. The circumstances you’re faced with shouldn’t discourage you from the determination to pursue progress, ensure that you learn the key lessons to propel you forward. Your cow (job) may have been thrown over the cliff but its absence is getting you thinking in a bigger and better way.
James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda
Follow @wirejames on Twitter.
Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com