17 Oct 2015 18:19 IST

Different strokes for different folks: How to restart a stalled career

Here, helping people achieve their potential cannot be done with a paint brush approach

Recently, I met up with a friend of mine over coffee. A rising star in his company, I was shocked to know that he was laid off since the organisation was undergoing a restructuring process. As part of the restructuring efforts, the company had decided to chop off businesses that were not aligned to its core competencies. My friend, sadly, was a victim of these revised priorities of the organisation.

Off course

This entire incident set me wondering on the subject of how people cope with situations that can throw them off the laid out career race track. And what drives them to go back to work and what needs to be done by them, and organisations, to bring them back into the mainstream workforce.

My observations of having seen people rebound from a career break can be categorised into three segments:

1) Socio-economic reasons: This set of people might have lost their livelihood due to natural calamities, economic downturns like the dot-com or housing collapse or any other reason, on which they did not have any influence or control. Motivation could stem from the need to earn livelihood or rebuild the lost opportunity.

2) Organisational reasons: This category encompasses people who have lost out due to business exigencies and decisions such as downsizing, shifting of locations, outsourcing, etc.

3) Personal reasons: This set of population has voluntarily chosen to step aside from the career race track. The reasons could be multifarious – maternity, sabbatical, entrepreneurial ventures or simply following one’s passion.

The specific comeback motivations can be driven by personal ambitions of the individual, need to project a personal image in society or purely materialistic reasons such as maintaining a specific lifestyle standard.

Assuming that off-ramp individuals have put in efforts from their side and have secured employable options, the moot question is how organisations will ensure that they are set up for success.

Make a comeback

Having watched the industry trends in this space and the existing practices followed by various organisations, my perspective is that the career comeback programs should incorporate the context that led to the career break and assign roles that will help such people to ramp up faster to full productivity.

My recommendations for effective career comeback would include:

1) Exit due to socio-economic reasons: People who lost their jobs to natural causes or accidents harbour a lot of pent up negative emotions including anger, frustration, shock or denial. It’s important for organisations to provide counselling services to bring them in touch with reality. Putting them on structured repetitive work that keeps them fully occupied through the working hours will help them forget the painful past and focus on building self confidence.

2) Exit due to organisational reasons: This section could be in shock and denial mode. Compromising on self worth could lead to psychological issues. The specific intervention required for this group is to provide re-skilling opportunities and a support system of buddies and career counsellors at work to instil confidence and help them accept reality.

3) Exit due to personal reasons: Since this is a group that voluntarily opted out, they re-enter workforce with a lot of enthusiasm and burning desire to recover lost time. This population is willing to stretch, willing to experiment and to an extent, take risks. Providing them with challenging assignments will build their self esteem and put them in a take-off mode to being completely productive.

As they say, different strokes for different folks. Helping people achieve their potential cannot be done with a paint brush approach. By valuing the benefits they bring to the table and enabling a smooth transition into the organization, we have sowed the seeds of belongingness and engagement leading to business benefits in the short and long term.

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