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Dealing with lean times – how to remove stress associated with redundancies and contract work

Dealing with lean times – how to remove stress associated with redundancies and contract work


Negotiating human resources during the lean times is an ongoing challenge for many practices. This is where a few practised strategies can help.

By its very nature, the architecture and design industry experiences periods of feast and famine. It is an industry filled with creativity, imagination and hard work, but it is also one that is incredibly fluid and ever-changing with many hiring contractors or working as contractors. The industry can often be unpredictable and dealing with anxiety and stress has become a reality for many architects.  

While this may sound quite doom and gloom, the silver lining is that there are practical and real solutions to dealing with the unpredictable nature of the industry. Simon Rountree is the founder of Change Ready and an expert in change leadership and workplace wellness. He has provided some top tips on how to navigate challenges such as redundancy, contract work and the need for a career change.

Unpredictable nature of contract work 

Creating routines are an important element of dealing with the unpredictable nature of contract work, says Rountree. Having routines when working and when looking for work allows individuals to be their best, most productive self. 

Rountree says that routines are a stronger and more enduring motivator than willpower, as the latter requires effort, which is a finite resource. Once established, however, routines are more enduring as they don’t require much effort and they provide you with the framework to work efficiently and effectively to achieve your goals. 

Coping strategies 

Whether you have been made redundant or you’re between contract roles, being out of work can be an emotional and difficult time. It is human nature to crave stability and security and not knowing what the future holds can create uncertainty and stress. Rountree suggests the following strategies to assist you in making the best out of a difficult situation.

  • Manage your finances. Work to a budget or, if need be, seek financial advice. Any lump sum redundancy payment should be carefully managed to ensure it can support you for potentially an extended period of time. 
  • Be mindful of your language. The language we use is extremely important in supporting us to identify what happened and for seeing the situation for what it really is. If it’s a redundancy, ensure you frame the situation as it happened and make the mental shift from saying things like ‘l lost my job!’, which is negative and puts the blame on you, to being real and honest by saying ‘the position was made redundant to reduce overheads’.
  • Understand the value of your skills. Spend time outlining your skills and capabilities. Look to update your skills or learn new ones. 

Dos and don’ts of redundancies 

Owning a business is never easy, let alone one in the ever-changing architecture and design industry. Being a boss also means making tough decisions, such as making staff redundant or not extending someone’s contract.

Dealing with redundancies as a boss is never easy or pleasant and Rountree says the most important thing is to treat your employees as human beings and not as numbers. 


  • Prepare and have a clear process that you follow. And don’t deviate from it! It’s important that everyone is treated the same. 
  • Ensure the process operates hand in hand with your business values. Treat people as you would want to be treated – with empathy, dignity, respect and fairness. 
  • Communicate clearly. Avoid any spin or ambiguity and acknowledge that this is difficult for them. 
  • Wherever possible deliver the news in person. Encourage verbal discussions instead of emails or written correspondence. 


  • Turn bad news into good news. Don’t try and explain the positive outcomes this will have for the company. 
  • Make assumptions as to how your staff will react. Be prepared for an array of different emotions and reactions. A last in/first out criterion as the redundancy should be about the role, not the person.
  • Miss steps in the process. Don’t go down the path of compulsory redundancy until you have exhausted every other possibility from taking half pay, leave without pay, natural attrition, changing working hours or even offering voluntary redundancy.

Having a ‘career change’ without changing your career

Have you lost a zest for the work you do? Or have you just reached a point of no return? If this is you, don’t worry! The good news is you may not need to change industries to get your career back on track. Rountree points out that by using your industry expertise you may be able to create new opportunities and possibilities that can enhance your career. He suggests some of the following job titles:

  • Trainer: Do your skills allow you the ability to train and facilitate workshops or learning sessions to others within your industry? Whether it’s face-to-face, online instructions or potentially through podcasts, could the knowledge and experience you have be shared with others?
  • Expert in your field: Be a voice for your industry and advocate on its behalf. Build your profile by communicating what you know and in the process position yourself as an expert and thought leader.
  • Consult: If you have an expert knowledge of architecture or design, then there may be opportunities for you to consult, provide feedback, analyse or assess risk for certain projects. It may be a specific area of the industry that you specialise in.  

The unpredictable nature of the sector can sometimes be quite daunting, but with Rountree’s practical solutions to deal with change, you can certainly be the master of your own destiny. 

Image: 123RF’s Sean Prior © 123RF.com.

A version of this article first appeared in AR162, on sale now.


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