It’s not like I didn’t know that jobs were going to go. In 2013 the VC put out a press release about the cutting of 350 jobs. But, like my colleagues, I had no idea of the details. I had assumed that only underperforming staff would be affected. I was recently promoted to Associate Professor, on the basis of excellence, so there was no reason to think that my job was in any danger.
I was overseas, on leave, when I was notified: a generic email sent to the entire faculty. The email subject was ‘Faculty change proposal’. There were so many attachments and I was on leave, so I didn’t look at them. In the next two days I received commiserating emails from colleague-friends… sorry to hear what’s happened Rosaria.
It wasn’t just me. About 80% of staff in the faculty were affected. In what is known as a ‘spill and fill’ restructure, half of us would be redeployed. It felt like a blow to the back of the head with a sharp stone.
It’s ironic that one of my research areas is about how employment is changing. Numerous ideological, economic, geographic and political factors have combined, creating the current labour market reality of increasingly precarious employment and a reduction of the jobs with good conditions. Job losses are occurring throughout the world, across all industries.
If redundancy can happen anywhere, to anyone, why not me? I actually did think this. I know that no one is indispensable. And at first, I thought I would probably reapply for one of the jobs available at my level. Then my thinking changed.
Why should I reapply for a job that I am already doing? Why should I have to waste time making arguments to my colleagues that my performance is unquestionably high. It felt demeaning. If I’m going to write a job application, I thought, it’s going to be for somewhere else. I decided I was leaving.
There was something empowering about making this decision. From having been a victim of someone else’s ‘strategy’, I suddenly had my own strategy. A redundancy payout would mean I could pay off the mortgage. Friends reminded me I would have a lot more time and could pursue personal projects that had been on hold indefinitely.
I felt better for all of a few days, until I realized a whole new internal process had started. I have been in this job for 15 years. I felt sad about saying goodbye to the campus, to colleagues, to students. I worried about what a prospective employer might think about redundancy, and I worried about the likelihood of being successful in a job application at the age of 60. Suddenly who I was and my worth were in question: the redundancy was affecting my identity and self-esteem.
This restructure has been particularly cruel and ugly. Although I have been redundant for three months, I am still working, since the university has posited that despite the change upheaval, it’s ‘business as usual’ and staff are expected to meet all previously allocated workload commitments. Moreover, although any of us can indicate our preference for a specific job, or for departure, the university reserves the right to make the final decision. Many of us are in limbo, waiting, while we fulfill our pre-existing commitments. Others are on stress leave.
I have had a number of sleepless nights, troubled by anxiety or grief. I have cried and felt angry. A friend recently quipped, light-heartedly: “Is it just that the university hasn’t said we cant live without you, Rosaria?” I laughed, and said “Yeah, maybe”. But I know it’s not that.
It’s the sudden utter ruthlessness of understanding, viscerally, that I am totally disposable. It’s knowing that despite all managerial rhetoric about the value of human resources, my contribution is not seen as unique but equates only to dollars and cents. It’s realizing that while the firm – and it is a firm – wants my loyalty, there is no commitment to me.
I can’t plan or move on until I get the university’s final decision, and there is absolute powerlessness in knowing that I may have decided to leave, but they’ll let me go when they’re good and ready and not a moment before. I couldn’t know how deeply shattering redundancy was until it happened to me.