Friendly Fired: A Short Guide to Setting Up and Running a Re

This article considers the idea of peer support for people experiencing compulsory or voluntary redundancy. It includes a case study of a successful redundancy support group.

A redundancy support group is for colleagues who have been made redundant from an organisation at roughly the same time, although there is some fluidity in that some people may join and others leave over the lifespan of the group.

Many of the difficulties people face having been made redundant are practical and emotional. Peer support helps individuals to overcome both. The practical, in terms of supporting each other through the change with advice or ideas, the emotional by helping people through the loneliness, loss of confidence or motivation and, in some cases, anger. Emotional departure does not always happen at the same time as physical departure and the time lag can be difficult to cope with, causing a sense of isolation and possibly strong feelings of need for affiliation as well as rejection. Being able to maintain the connection with the company through other leavers can ease the transition.

Peer pressure helps individuals to move forward - it is quite common for people to lose their desire to get things done when there is nobody around to encourage them, or who rely on the outcome. At work we are often motivated by our desire not to let down colleagues or to appear unreliable. Peer support provides for this function.

The group can be made up of people in a range of ways. It may be open to any employees of an organisation that have been made redundant or are facing redundancy, people from a particular functional area within the company, or based on level of seniority. While some of the advantages of mutual understanding are lost if a group comprises people from different organisations, this situation still has the potential to foster a valuable experience for the members.

The pros and cons of each model are:

All Employees
* Few people leaving
* Small, tight knit organisation
* People with different needs and issues may not be able to help each other well
Functional group
* People know each other well
* People understand each others' needs in terms of employment aspirations

* May be competition for jobs therefore some tension
* May lack the creativity that cross functional interaction brings
* May be a narrow skill set so some external help may be needed for some activities
* Different levels of employee may have little in common and senior people may be uncomfortable being as open with junior people
Seniority Groups
* Common understanding of situation
* Cross pollination of expertise
* Openness and not too likely that there will be competition
* Groups of junior people would benefit from the greater experience and contacts that may be derived from mixing with senior people (maybe in larger set up there is a possibility for matrix peer groups or just better to extend to outside the group if required)

There is no limit to group size, although 6 - 10 appears to be optimal. Any fewer and the benefits of shared tasks are reduced, any more and it's harder for everyone to meet at the same time.

Part of the purpose of peer support is for the individuals to feel free to talk openly about their feelings, and this may mean expressing anger about what has happened. I call this "bite-back". Bite-back cannot happen easily if the initiative is seen as being started or supported by the organisation itself. It is therefore important that support groups are formed independently and employees join a group only if they want to. The only intervention the company might provide is some information about such groups as part of the overall support programme so that people can take them up if they want to.

There is no optimum time for groups to start - it may be best to wait until people have finished work or as soon as they have been given notice. For some people, a break before beginning the process is required and these people may not want to do anything about their career transition for some time. For others, emotional support may be required regardless of whether or not they are ready to start the job search.

Meetings will benefit from regularity in order to foster and maintain momentum. Once a fortnight appears to work well - enough time for individuals to make progress between meetings, yet not so far apart that the impetus is lost.

The meetings are a social occasion as well as for business. Make them relaxed and keep the agenda as loose as possible. The more "business" there is the less opportunity will there be for personal support.

There is no model for how your group might be shaped in terms of the topics it covers. In broad terms, there are three main categories:

Job or career help, including
Contacts for networking
Suggestions and advice about CV or letters
Looking out for possible opportunities for each other
Helping each other to identify strengths and weaknesses
Suggesting creative ideas for career change
Brainstorming specific agreed topics such as "How can we get experience of new work"

Practical support, including
Tax and financial planning issues
Researching the best suppliers of equipment or supplies
Negotiating with the employer as a group

Social and emotional support, including
Doing fun things together
Helping with travel / holiday arrangements
Being a comfort when under stress
Instilling confidence or motivation when either are waning

Again, there are no recommendations for best practice in terms of the location of meetings. It comes down to what is most practical for the majority of members. This might mean a regular fixed venue or moving around. It could be members' homes, a restaurant or bar, or some other public space like a hotel or serviced office.

Case Study: the New Futures Group

The New Futures Group was originally formed in early 2005 by seven senior managers at InterContinental Hotels in London. All took voluntary redundancy or were made redundant as part of a large re-organisation programme.

The group was essentially social in nature, typically meeting over coffee or lunch. The initial value to the members was to retain a social network, gain and share practical support and maintain their connection with the company. The group worked successfully because they shared values and felt trusted and understood by each other. This fostered individual motivation and pressure to complete the tasks that members set for themselves. It also provided opportunities to do fun things together such as a rather unsuccessful car boot sale!

The most obvious benefit was that rather than each person looking after their own issues in isolation, there were six other people thinking about them. This also meant that people could use complementary skills for their mutual benefit.

The upshot was that each person had easy access to each other's networks and networking activity grew very quickly for each member as a result. They also advised each other on CV design, application letters and interview technique. Those with IT skills trained the others where necessary.

Other examples of ways by which members of the New Futures Group supported each other were:

* Advice on purchasing business tools and supplies that had previously been provided by the company such as computers and broadband, mobile phones,cars and business cards.

* Financial matters: recommendations for IFA's, insurance, medical cover, and sorting out pensions, tax and national insurance details as well as state benefits.

* Dealing with the company: The group members had common issues such as what to do about their share options and obtaining various papers and documents. Rather than each person dealing with the company on an individual basis, one person would take on the responsibility to handle the matters for everyone.

* Recommending recruiters and head-hunters.

Peer group support is widely recognised as a valuable channel for personal and professional development. As well as the benefits of resource sharing, a trusting group that has no obvious leader provides an environment that can be empowering for the individual.

Members of the New Futures Group have been able to move through the career transition process with greater efficiency and vigour than many individuals would have managed alone.

While the ideal situation is for former colleagues to work together, it is possible to form a successful peer support group with people leaving different organisations. Much of the benefit is still available and in the absence of former colleagues to work with, it is recommended above working alone.

(c) Nick Gendler 2005

About the Author

Nick Gendler is the founder of Workjoy, a career and outplacement consultancy.

Jacqueline Moyse is currently growing a consultancy business specialising in internal brand development and employee engagement.