Redundancy and Agency. 4 tips for surviving uncertainty.

Redundancy. It's a word that strikes fear into the heart, and for good reason. The thought of being out of work and struggling to make ends meet is daunting. But it doesn't have to be. By understanding and using agency, you can face redundancy head-on and come out stronger than ever.

Redundancy and Agency. 4 tips for surviving uncertainty.
Photo by Jasmin Sessler / Unsplash

This post is personal

For me, this topic is highly relevant and personal right now. I and many others have been made redundant in the tech sector. Whether we want to call this "The Great Restructuring" or when "The Startup bubble burst" (Like when the "Dot Com Bubble" burst in 2000). One thing is certain, regardless of how talented you are, how skilled you are, and how much everyone talks about a skills shortage in our industry, getting made redundant sucks. You're left feeling deflated, uncertain, angry, and worried about your future. At this point, to rub salt in the wounds, you're now competing against the thousands of other talented people in the same situation. It's hard.

But this isn't the first time I have faced this down. It probably won't be the last (I'm a perennial risk taker addicted to early-stage startups and scale-ups). So here is my guide on how I survive and thrive post redundancy.

#1 Check your Agency!

No, not that kind. I'm talking about your power to control your life, make decisions and enact change. This is what Personal Agency is;

"Personal agency is the belief that we are in control of our lives and our destiny. It's the ability to direct our actions, thoughts, and feelings and to be responsible for the consequences of our choices and behaviours."

In other words, it's taking control of your life and owning the decisions you make. Now you know what it is, let's see how you evaluate it.

The 5 components of personal agency

Agency comprises 5 things; Opportunity, Awareness, Skill, Resource, and Intent. Your ability to influence the outcome relies on having everything in your control. A lack of, or misrepresentation of, one of those 5 components will drastically impact your agency in any given situation. Let's dig into each one a little bit.

Opportunity – This represents whether circumstances allow you to act, i.e., whether you have the chance to do something. A doctor must have access to a patient to treat them. In context, their agency is limited by their physical proximity.

Awareness – This is your conscious recognition of the opportunity to act, i.e., knowing there’s something to do. Without a way to know that someone is unwell, a doctor will not be able to treat them.

Skill – This represents your relevant physical and mental abilities, i.e., what you can do. A doctor has been trained to diagnose and treat illness and injury. Without that knowledge and skill, they would be ineffective in their attempt to help and would have limited agency in the situation.

Resource – This represents the things, tools, and information you need to act, i.e., the stuff needed to do what can be done. Without the proper equipment and medicine, a doctor can do little to help a patient and have limited agency.

Intent – This represents the choice to act and the understanding of the effect, i.e., that you mean to do something to create a specific result. If doctors do not choose their actions or recognise the effect, they can only achieve a limited outcome. The conscious purpose is a critical part of your agency.

How to use your agency to help you now

Now you know what agency is and what it consists of. "Great; how does that help me?" I hear you ask. Let me tell you.

Use Agency to let go

Evaluate your current situation, evaluate your agency in that situation, and let go of the thoughts and feelings where you had little to no agency. Nothing you could have done would have avoided this situation. So let's use the agency we have to do something proactive instead.

Use Agency to give yourself a confidence boost

Let's start by using it to give yourself a confidence boost and to help get you over the post redundancy blues. Look for small things you can do, professional or otherwise, where you have complete control of your agency. For me, this was landscaping my garden. I was in control, had all the agency aspects I needed, and could take on the project and see it through. Having something to do, a goal to reach, and achieving that goal gave me a great sense of personal pride and fulfilment. Afterwards, I was already feeling much more positive and confident. And confidence helps in interview settings.

Use Agency to move the needle

Use your agency to engage your network, and move the needle forward without getting weighed down by the things you can't control. How else can you utilise your agency? You might not have control over the outcomes achieved by this, but you can certainly set yourself a goal of proactive outreach that you have complete control over. Aim to reach out to a set number of former colleagues or people of influence in your professional network each day or week. Begin to upskill yourself; if you have the agency, find a new skill you want to acquire, be that a new programming language, framework, or methodology, and get it. Watch courses, write code, whatever it takes; if you have the agency execute on it, do it. I'm sure there are many more ways than the two listed above, but you should look for ways to improve your chances of finding and securing a new role that you have the agency to see through and execute on them.

You've taken care of yourself; now look beyond your agency!

You've let go, taking care of everything you have the power to do, and now it's time to look beyond yourself. Having a strong sense of personal agency and self-reliance doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't ask for help. Look at some of the outcomes you seek, where you are lacking in an area of the agency, and use the agency you have to find people who can fill that gap and give you what you need to succeed.

#2 Research and evaluate

The next tip is to research and evaluate your skill set. Think about your skills, what skills you can demonstrate well, and how you have utilised them in your last (and other recent) role(s). Now compare your skills against job postings online. How do you stack up compared to demand? Is your skill set in demand? Are you missing an essential skill? Once you have determined where in the current market you sit, you need to work out your worth.

Your worth is irrespective of your current salary. Your current salary could have been way over the market. It could be way under market. It could be the current going rate. The main point is that the market has probably shifted since you last secured a role or negotiated a salary. Don't treat your past knowledge, research, and experience as a barometer for now. That would be like dressing for tomorrow based on last week's weather. Always assess the here and now. That is the market you're working in.

The best places to start are by looking on job boards, hitting up google to search for salary benchmarking and speaking with recruitment companies. Between those three points, you should be able to get a fair sense of the current market value for your skill set. Now comes the big question. Does the market value pay more, less or the same as your last role? If it pays more, good for you; get that pay rise. If it pays the same, that's great. You're playing in the right ballpark. The tricky part only comes if it pays less. Now, what do you do?

You need to evaluate yourself and your situation. Do you provide additional skills and qualities that are quantifiably worth more to a company? Saying "but I'm a far better at X than the average" isn't going to cut it; that's going to be objective. Do you have management experience? Team Lead experience? Have you got a track record of delivering above and beyond results within budgets and timeframes? Can you prove this? There are many things to assess, but you need to work out if you can justify asking above the market.

So you have decided you can justify it ... ok, great. Now you need to do two things: re-evaluate the job market and see how many roles are out there paying above the market. And you need to look at roles that are a step up from what you were doing and see if they pay the rate you're after.

You should now have an idea of what space you're playing in. How many jobs there are that meet your expectations. And if you're going to need to stretch yourself and apply to roles above your last one by demonstrating that extra value adds you bring above your current role.

You have one last thing to do before you start throwing out your CV. Look at your finances and your lifestyle. After all, this is a volatile market with strong competition. You need to prepare for the worst case. What spending could you cut back on? What are your mandatory expenses to keep yourself (and your family) going? How does that number compare to your desired one, and how does your desired number compare to the market? Is there a big difference, a slight difference? I can't answer this one for you, but as a rule of thumb, if there is a big difference, focus more on the role than the money because you're sitting pretty; you have many options available because the market is paying more than you need. If the gap is big, and the market is paying less than you want but more than you need, prepare to adjust and include this adjustment "cut-off" in your plan. It only gets tricky when the gap is small, and you are asking for more than the market. In this situation, you need to start evaluating all your options, I'm not a financial advisor, so I can't tell you how to handle this scenario, but my advice would be to speak to a professional to see what they advise and what your options might be.

Let's move on. Set your boundaries, and make a plan.

#3 Set boundaries and have a plan

The first part is easy. Set your boundaries. You should already know the absolute minimum comp you need and your desired base comp. The next thing, what are your other non-negotiables? Do you categorically require fully remote, or could you be flexible and do 1-2 days in an office? Think about all of the "perks" and benefits on offer. Which ones have you utilised? Which ones sound great, but you've never really used them? These are the things that build up your boundaries. For example, you might come to this kind of list;

Upper Bound (The realistic ideal):

  • £150K Base
  • Unlimited PTO
  • Private Health Care
  • >5% Pension
  • Staff Engineer Title
  • Start-up/Scale-up

Lower Bound (The lowest acceptable situation):

  • £110K Base
  • 25 Days Holiday (This is how many you usually take on average)
  • 5% Pension
  • Senior Engineer Title

You can see that your base is much lower in the lower bound. The title might be what you have now rather than what you want. The pension is based on your actual average contributions right now. The PTO is based on the average you take in reality. You live in the UK, so you've dropped the private health care as you've never claimed on it before (Thank you, NHS). And although you love the world of start-ups and scale-ups, you could live with being in a larger corporate setting for a while.

So now you know what you're aiming for and what you'd accept. You've now got a sliding scale to work with when assessing roles, speaking to companies, and deciding if to accept an offer. My advice in this scenario is that you should accept anything that meets or exceeds your lower bound. You can always keep an eye on the market. You can always move on. The most important thing right now is your well-being and the well-being of your family.

Your scenario may be different. You might have a nest egg to last 6 months, in which case, you can be as picky as you want; I can't answer that for you. But through my experience, it's better to secure a role and move on 6 months later than to take a risk and burn your savings. Keep your savings for what is important, the future of your family.

#4 Be resilient

This last point is the most difficult, and you might need to keep reviewing tip #1 and assessing your agency, but you need to be resilient. It's going to be difficult. You will likely receive rejections, sometimes after interviews, sometimes in a very impersonal email sent from an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). Now it's always effortless to say "stay positive" or "be resilient", but it's a lot harder to do in the face of adversity and rejection. This is where I like to "borrow" some of the tenants from Stoicism (the philosophical school of thought). One of the things they advise you to do is to think about and reflect upon worst-case scenarios, this isn't to say to wallow in them, but it's simply to visualise them, imagine the feelings, and let yourself feel them for a moment, then move on. In stoicism, this practice is supposed to help you "prepare" for that scenario by allowing you time to feel and process this outcome before it ever happens, in theory lessening the load if it does happen. The other intent is so that it causes you to appreciate what you have now and to enjoy what you have now. That second part isn't very relevant in this situation, but I find the visualisation technique helpful in receiving rejections.

My other tip for resiliency is to look for and ask for feedback, you may often not receive any, and for that, I developed another "hack" that sometimes works for me. At the end of an interview, when asked if I have any questions, my final one is always something along these lines. "Is there any understanding, skill, or aspect of my career experience that you wanted to hear more about or that I haven't given a satisfactory answer to that will leave you unsure about my capability or suitability for the role so that I can attempt to address that concern now?" Sometimes the answer is no, sometimes you get good feedback, but it always gives me a pulse check on how it went when you see or hear their reaction to the question.

Overall, building resilience in this situation is about being prepared for rejection, looking for feedback to allow you to address areas of weakness (or perceived weakness), and trying to learn from each interview the same way you learn from each iteration in a development cycle.

As a reminder, this is the exact situation I am in now whilst writing this article. I'm 2 months into redundancy, on the precipice of surviving on my savings whilst trying to support a young family. So this is how I tackle my feelings, staying positive, being resilient and keeping my foot on the job hunt gas. I hope it helps you too.

Keep your heads up, keep going, and reach out to talk to me if you need someone to listen. I'll see you on the other side!