Top tips from a HR consultant on coping with unemployment

First published on: 8th June 2020

As the country eases out of lockdown, not only are we allowed back outside but our economy is finally able to slowly reopen. But the tough question is, will we all have a job to go back to? We share some expert HR advice to help you navigate the prospect of unemployment during a pandemic. By Sarah Bradbury.

Facing unemployment can be difficult and scary at the best of times, nevermind during a pandemic. But we’re here to help you through any challenging times that may lie ahead.

You may have already lost your job or currently be on furlough, wondering what happens when the government scheme ends. Whatever your current reality is, read on for some practical advice from HR consultant Hilary Culkin for how you can come out the otherside.

1. How to exit well

It’s really hard asking somebody who’s about to lose their job to try and keep a lid on it, because obviously it’s a really stressful situation. But it’s all about trying not to take it personally, especially in this current scenario.

It really is a technical business commercial decision that has nothing to do with your performance or your ability or how good you are at your job. Try where possible not to get emotional. Remember it’s not your fault, it’s the global pandemic’s fault.

 Be respectful of the person delivering the news for whom it’s also difficult. Try to be friendly, approachable and available to make the whole process go smoothly. If your reaction is reasonable, they’re more likely to be open to any suggestions for the company to help you.

 Prepare for the meetings to make them productive. Have a list of questions prepared in advance. Seek advice from any friends or colleagues who might have with HR experience.

2. How to check your contract

Most obviously, make sure you have a copy of your contract! If you don’t, ask for it plus dig out any offer, bonus or commission letters. You even have the right to ask for your file if you want to…

The important bits of information are:
 The start date. Important as if you have over two years continuous service, you are entitled to statutory redundancy pay.
 Your notice period. This is important because either the company will pay you in lieu of the notice period in a lump sum or have you working during that notice period.
 Your redundancy policy. If there is one it will tell you what you might be eligible for throughout the process and also over and above the statutory redundancy pay.
 Your holiday entitlement, including the time in the year it starts and finishes and whether it includes all public holidays. Anything accrued but not taken will be paid out in your final payments. Note however some employers may ask you to take any remaining holiday during your notice period.

3. Things to negotiate!

 It will depend on your circumstances but ideally it’s better to ask to be paid in lieu for your notice period rather than working so you have that lump sum of money in the bank to tide you over while you’re looking for a job. Alternatively you could offer to work some of it, and then be on “gardening leave” for the rest.

 If you are on furlough, you might want to ask to delay leaving until the end of the furlough period. Most employers are doing this but it’s worth asking it for some reason they are not.

 Offer to work part-time for a period until there’s more work available and then go back to full-time.

 Offer to stay on furlough, then once it finishes to go on unpaid leave until work becomes available. Just make sure they agree you can work short term for another employer in the meantime which you will need their permission for.

 Suggest taking a sabbatical. While similar to unpaid leave there’s normally slightly different conditions around the policy – such as not accruing holiday – which they might more readily agree to.

 Offer to take a pay cut. If it hasn’t been presented as an option, it might be worth offering if you’re willing. If can also continue to work from home, you can cut down on your travel costs.

 Ask if there’s another vacancy at the business, even if it’s for less money or a step down.

4. How to start working now to stay employed

 You’re not allowed to work during furlough but you can keep in touch: make sure to check in on a weekly basis for company updates and on any training opportunities. The more you keep in touch and the more you engage with whatever is going on with the company if you’re on furlough, the better it looks for you.

 Show your appreciation where applicable with any HR personnel or line managers sending you updates .

 You’re not allowed to volunteer or do any work for your company while you’re on furlough. But if there’s a charity that they’re supporting, you could volunteer for it. Make sure to share that fact with the company.

 With lots of free training online available, it’s a good idea to get stuck into some online qualifications if you’ve got the time and inclination. Again, keep your company updated on this, as acquiring a new skill could open up new roles within the company.

 Why not suggest a webinar workshop where all employees send videos sharing their skills whether cooking, to making cocktails, or how to crochet?!

5. How to get the most out of your exit

 The way you handle any tricky conversations with your employer around employee rights is important. Throwing tantrums, being emotional, huffing and puffing and generally being difficult on Zoom calls is not the way to handle it.

 Choose your words carefully and position yourself in the right way. If you’re expressing yourself in a professional, respectful manner and show understanding of their side, most employers will respond reasonably.

 It’s often better to do it verbally than in writing because emails and messages can be misconstrued. Over a video call your tone and body language can help you tame your questions and make them less controversial.

 Ask for a reference in writing so you’ve got and you can file it. However, references in writing are normally very basic so also ask people that you’ve worked closely if they are also willing to give a verbal reference.

 Always ask for help with CV writing or for someone to look over it. It might even be worth investing in a CV writer. Remember a recruiter will literally take two seconds to scan a CV. If the relevant points do not jump out at them they move on to the next one. So, CV writing is absolutely key.

 Ask people in the business you’ve got a good relationship with if they will send your beautifully updated CV out to their contacts.

 Ask what job boards your company normally use and ask for help on interview techniques and interview questions.

 Update your LinkedIn presence and ask your employer and any senior management to endorse and recommend you.

 Ask if they have any freelance short term contract work.

 Ask if you can access any online training resources after you’re left. It will cost the employer next to nothing to allow you access for another 6 months for example.

5. And finally:

 Be flexible about what kind of job you’re going to do. Minimum wage workers are happy to turn their hand to anything to get some money coming in. There will be work out there, it’s just what you’re willing to do.

 Remember you can work for another employer while on furlough as long as you have permission. There are cases where some have enjoyed their new job so much they’ve resigned from their original one.

 Be clever about how you manage your finances. Obviously easier said than done, especially if you have a family. But if you’re on your own you can live on not too much in the short term. Check out MoneySavingExpert for hints and tricks.

 And also remember, how bad it may seem, there could be someone struggling more than you. Feel thankful for what you have and realise what’s important: family and relationships and eating and paying rent. We don’t need handbags and Asos clothes…

6. Good websites and resources

 ACAS – lots of great advice and a helpline for both employees and employers

 The government website also has plenty of guidance and advice around things like furlough, with both an employee and employer section.

 Martin at MoneySavingExpert always has lots of great tips and advice.

 Citizen’s Advice has lots of useful resources.

 Check if your company as an EAP (Employment Assistance Programme).

 Check your home insurance as might have legal cover built in.

You can also check out our other features on how many people are likely to be affected by unemployment, mental health advice and a special podcast dedicated to the issue:

 Five tips for emotional resilience from coaching psychologist Megan Woodward

 Advice from life coach Harriet Minter from Electric Woman

 Our podcast on unemployment with renowned psychotherapist Gabrielle Rifkind

 Overview of unemployment during the pandemic

Did you find this advice useful? Do you have any further tips and guidance to share? Or any questions you’d like answered?