I was in Exclusive Books. As I asked the sales assistant for the latest books on retrenchment, my throat closed up; my voice became squeaky; I couldn’t help but check if the next customer had overheard. I was so embarrassed. I felt like I was requesting shameful pornography!


I was retrenched 9 years ago, but the same powerful feelings came flooding back to me in the bookshop. Guilt: somehow I had not managed to survive the downsizing; shame: as a breadwinner I had failed my family; humiliation: I was a failure; embarrassment: what would my friends and former colleagues think of me?


I flashed back to when I changed overnight from a high powered, successful executive to an unemployed dad without income and a family to support. My wife was very ill and I had to start doing the grocery shopping. I was standing in the supermarket in front of a huge variety of baked beans and was unable to decide to buy the No-Name brand for R1.99 or the well known brand for R5.99? What was the difference? Why was there such price disparity? Should I just buy the least expensive? The more I wrestled with these questions, the tenser I became, until in a silent rage at my helplessness and ridiculous indecision, tears burst out of my eyes. Wide-eyed stares and a stranger’s attempts to assist me just made it worse.


“Wow!” I thought, as I shook myself back to the present in the book shop, “what amazing power this 9 year old memory has: I still carry the pain of retrenchment in my mind and body like a disease”.


The organisational retrenchment process I went through was designed to be scrupulously legally correct but it felt clinical and unfeeling. I was shocked and devastated – I never believed I, of all people, would be retrenched. Help was offered but of wrong sort and at the wrong time. I didn’t need counselling from a clinical psychologist about the loss I had suffered, but did need help to become mentally strong, resourceful and able to bounce back. My family not need to talk to a wellness counsellor about the calamity their dad had suffered to “deal with their feelings”, but they did need me to find ways of replacing our income stream – and quickly!


Eventually I did find a path to emerge from my dark night, to regain my equilibrium, and even to emerge better in many respects than before.


Through my experiences I learnt that there is a lot an organisation can do to help and support people they are retrenching. Practical assistance can be given to assist the retrenched person getting back on their feet again in the shortest possible time:

  • ·Getting rid of some of the anger and negative feelings and start the process of healing;
  • ·Building inner resourcefulness and mental grit to be able start the process of bouncing back;
  • ·Reassessing their career choices and what they would like to achieve in their lives
  • ·Deciding whether to replace the lost income stream by becoming an employee again, or becoming an employer or self-employer;
  • ·Developing a plan with milestones to implement the income replacing decisions;
  • ·Dealing with the dramatically changed personal financial situation;
  •  Making wise decisions about the retrenchment package.


Responding to the dramatic change brought on by retrenchment is not for sissies!


There’s a rich irony in this adversity however. Although no one seeks it out, it is necessary to disrupt one’s status quo and initiate change, to promote personal growth and ultimately create thriving in new and different ways. Retrenchment certainly achieves the disruption to the status quo. How one reacts to the disruption determines the quality of life after retrenchment.


What colour is your parachute? 2009By the way, I found very few, if any, decent books on retrenchment at the bookshop. The one that caught my attention was Richard Nelson Bolles: What colour is your parachute: 2009. This well known classic has stood the test of time and has a bit of a cult following.