Earlier this year I was made redundant from my job. I was one of those lucky people who got paid to do their activism. When I got the job, as a campaign coordinator for a cause that I cared deeply about, it was my dream job.
Sadly five and a half years later, after three years of precarious funding situation when at times my job security was based on how many weeks of funding we had left, I was made redundant.
For anyone who has been made redundant it is an emotional process. My experience was like a bad breakup, one you knew was coming, something that was for the best, but that still hurt like hell. (I may have issues with work-life-balance, but that is a different discussion).
For me the main feeling was failure and embarrassment. That I could have done something more, if I had tried harder, worked more, given more, it would not have been like this. In hindsight this outcome was inevitable, given the lack of support and involvement from the board who, unlike me, were responsible for the management and viability of the organisation. The fact that the organisation lasted as long as it did was largely because of me. This realisation has taken me a while and it took time for me to move past the self-blame.
When I left the organisation I thought I could start to move forward. During my notice period I secured work overseas, and I thought that distance would help me process the emotions that I was going through and allow me to move forward. If that had been the end of this story, it would have taken time, but eventually I would have been all right. But this wasn’t the end.
When I was made redundant the board agreed to give me a redundancy package. This decision was taken even though we were a small organisation (one employee) and it was not legally required. Unfortunately two months after leaving the organisation, when following up with a board member on the payment of my redundancy package, I was informed that they would not be paying me what they agreed to, that in fact, they would not be paying me anything.
This set off a multitude of emotions. Those feelings of failure and embarrassment I had been experiencing, BANG multiplied by 100. Hurt, anger, shock, disappointment and disbelief, are just a few emotions I have been feeling. I couldn’t think or talk about what was going on without crying. I couldn’t email my family about it without crying. Even now I am crying. I didn’t tell a lot of people, just my family and two friends. It is only recently that I have told another friend, and now all of you. I am hoping this will help.
One person that I did tell was my brother, who was amazing. He followed up with Fair Work because I couldn’t. Just contacting a board member I had counted as a friend for documentation now sent me in tears and a sleepless night because of the stress. And while the outcome from Fair Work is shitty, I am grateful for what he did.
So this whole process has been painful, hard, frustrating and really disappointing. And it is not over yet.
Some of the coping strategies I am using are:
- Remove contact. I have removed all contact with the organization and board, including social media. Just yesterday I saw something about the organisation on Facebook and had to defriend the person who posted it. Extreme I know, but much better than feeling anxious every time I went to Facebook.
- Regular exercise. I am doing exercise 3 times a week, plus loads of walking. It is still very forced and not natural but I go and I feel better when I am finished. This is coupled with eating healthy foods where possible, though my peanut M&M addiction continues.
- No alcohol. I don’t think it would be helpful!
- Meditation. I use an app called Headspace, which I have found useful in the past. I am just going through the motions at the moment, but am hopeful that it will soon go back to the way it was.
- Self-reflection. Looking at my values, core values and what I want in my life, and to see if my life aligns with this, or if what I may need to change.
- Not letting it define me at the moment. This is one thing that has happened to me, and it is hard but I have been looking at the many positive things in my life and focusing on them. I don’t want this experience to take that good away.
Added to this is the fact that I am someone who suffers from chronic depression and I am worried that this will trigger another episode. Luckily my coping strategies have been working, but I do see unhealthy behaviours creeping in, mainly social isolation. As I am living in a new country with people who have only known me for three months, I am already socially isolated. Couple this with excessive crying, and feeling embarrassed and like a massive failure, and I don’t want really want to talk to anyone. But I am making myself do it, and friends are being patient with me.
At the moment I don’t think this experience will leave me unchanged. It has really rocked me, and made me question who I can trust and whether I can believe in people. It’s been a nasty wake call to realise that not all people and institutions actually stand for what they say they do, which is disappointing.
This experience also has me questioning the health of our progressive movement. When we treat each other this way, why would we expect others to treat people better? I hope this article contributes to discussions about improving the treatment of workers, especially in small organisations with social change missions.
Zetty Brake works in international human rights, communications officer. She is a keen netballer and loves food. Zetty has lived in Thailand, Canada, London and is now living and working in Mongolia.
Thanks so much for sharing your story Zetty. Do readers have other experiences to share, or tips for handling a hard work break up?