There’s never a good time to be made redundant. Not only does your confidence – and your bank balance – take a massive knock, the fear and anxiety around how to move forward can be paralysing. That’s before you throw in a global pandemic that has resulted in a job-seeking landscape where potential employees far outweigh potential roles. The UK unemployment rate has risen to 5%, meaning that 1.72 million people are currently unemployed, and economists predict that unemployment is likely to reach 2.6 million (7.5% of the working-age population) by mid-2021. But redundancy – even during coronavirus – can often be the catalyst for brilliant things. We spoke to Amy Rollings, a fashion Buying and Design Director, about how being made redundant from a job she was devoted to during COVID-19 has encouraged her to push out of her comfort zone and start something completely new to help others going through the same thing.
“I’ve worked in fashion for over 15 years, rising through the ranks of Burberry and Michael Kors as Buying Director before moving to Kurt Geiger as Head of Buying & Design. I’ve always balanced a creative eye with strong commercial knowledge, so when I was given the opportunity to pivot into a digital role, heading up Shoeaholics.com, three years ago, I snapped it up. That e-commerce experience is gold dust on my CV – the future is digital!
I worked relentlessly from the beginning of lockdown in March 2020. Like the rest of retail we had to navigate the new terrain and to adapt to a landscape we had never experienced. It was challenging but, despite social distancing, it helped me and my team come together and taught me to be a new style of leader. With a partially furloughed team but business as usual running the websites, we were under immense pressure to think strategically about the months ahead and how we were going to use the time to reflect and reset. It was a LOT. In September last year, I took redundancy.
Immediately, I found myself experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions. Fear, helplessness, shame and lack of confidence were mixed with happiness, excitement, hopefulness and gratitude. I’ve always been a very confident person and I naively thought my confidence wouldn’t be badly knocked by redundancy – how wrong I was! I catastrophised a lot at the beginning – ‘what happens if I never find a job again?’, ‘what happens if no one wants to employ me?’ – and literally questioned everything; my ability, my experience, my character. In hindsight, I wish I had realised all of these feelings were completely normal.
My career has always been very precious to me and it’s in my nature to absolutely throw myself into everything I do, so after 15 years working for fast-paced companies I, had to re-wire myself to adjust to a slowed down pace of life. In September, when lockdown restrictions eased and foreign travel was allowed, I was lucky enough to get away for a few days. I spent time with friends in Italy and also had three days by myself – the first time ever in my life I’ve been abroad alone. I sunbathed, I read, I decompressed. It was a very reflective time. I would advise anyone going through redundancy to take time out to really process what has happened before coming back fighting; it’s important for your mindset to fully compartmentalise what has happened. I had to accept the decision before taking it into my hands and ‘owning it’.
For someone who likes to be kept busy and loves being part of a team, I found the transition to an unstructured week difficult and quickly realised that I needed to keep busy. Thankfully, in September and October lockdown was temporarily lifted so life was a little easier, but there are a few things that definitely kept me going. My incredible network of friends and family was one of them; surrounding yourself with the people you love when you are riding such big emotional waves is invaluable.
Getting in 20,000 steps a day was another. To keep active, a couple of friends and started a step challenge, They were working so did 10k steps a day but I upped the ante to 20k. I literally walked every inch of East London and before I knew it my app was telling me I had walked the equivalent of the length of Italy! The fresh air, the sunshine and friends joining along the way absolutely helped me stay positive. Podcasts were another saviour – I listened to a podcast a day on my walks for nothing but sheer motivation. Grazia’s Life Advice, Mary Portas and Desert Island Discs were my go-to’s.
When it came to making the ‘what’s next?’ decision, I don’t think there was one point where I thought, ‘right, this is plan A.’ There were a couple of things I knew I 100% wanted to do now I had the luxury of time – one being a Harvard business course and the other helping a friend set up a mentoring scheme – so I started both of those quite quickly. Otherwise, I decided to approach life quite freely and see where opportunities took me, which is where my passion for networking came into play and I started Let’s Connect, a platform offering an innovative approach to networking.
Farfetch Commercial Director Kerem Atasoy has donated a conversation to Let’s Connect
Networking has always played an important role in my career, even more so post-redundancy. Not only does it keep me feeling connected to the industry I’m no longer working in, but it keeps me feeling positive, motivated and, most of all, speaking about my experience and career with people boosts my confidence.
I knew I wasn’t the only one who could benefit from networking after being made redundant, but reaching out to new people isn’t easy, especially during a pandemic. I suddenly thought, what if I could help get the awkward bit out the way, connecting brilliant professionals in my network with talented people currently out of work, with the simple premise of inspiring conversation, encouraging curiosity and spreading the power of human connection. I thought of the idea on a Thursday and brought it to life via Linkedin the following Monday, purposely keeping it very simple, which in hindsight I think is the magic of it all! The premise is that I ask working professionals in my network to make ‘conversation donations’, then every Monday – Thursday at 10 am on my LinkedIn profile, I present the opportunity for those out of work due to redundancy to grab one of these conversations. So far we’ve had conversations from Commercial Directors, Buyers, Merchandisers, Retail Directors & CEO’s from the likes of Farfetch, Ganni, Victoria Beckham, Burberry, lululemon & Fiorucci. I currently have 5 weeks of incredible talent lined up with more friends and old colleagues wanting to join every single day.
I’m passionate about supporting and helping others going through redundancy, normalising the conversation and making people realise they shouldn’t be ashamed of their situation, that redundancy is absolutely not a reflection on them as a person. The trauma people are going through caused by redundancy is very apparent and should not be underestimated, and my heart goes out to those people really suffering. The more we all keep talking, the more we all keep connecting, the more we will rise out of this pandemic stronger than before.
Luxury Fashion Consultant Erin Mullaney has donated a conversation to Let’s Connect
The reaction to Let’s Connect has been incredible and made me realise that this support is absolutely needed. I’ve had over 800 people add me on LinkedIn since the launch with words and messages of support and I’ve connected nearly 50 people, some of whom are at interview stages for jobs. But its the feedback from the conversations that has humbled me the most. As one woman put it: ‘thanks Amy for grounding me back to reality and making me realise this is just a moment in time and not the final destination’.
If you’re currently looking for work after redundancy, self-promote like you’ve never done before – now is not the time to be shy! Think of innovative ways of catching the eyes of the brands you love and people that inspire you. For example, I saw an article on LinkedIn about a new start-up whose business model I loved. Before you know it, I had added the CEO, asked him for a virtual coffee chat and we might just be collaborating on something fun very soon!
Back in September, friends would tell me that this could be the best thing that ever happened to me and I would roll my eyes. Five months later, I get it. We get sucked into life and the hamster wheel of jobs and its very rare that you are forced into a situation where you can really put yourself first and have time to reflect and reset.
Try to view redundancy as a time for growth, for new opportunities. It’s absolutely not a reflection on you as a person – its life’s way of saying ‘it’s time for change. Shine bright.’”
Follow Amy @letsconnect.