By Catherine Bell
I recently had a win – a big win, a no-holds-barred tug-at-your-heartstrings win – in my consulting business. And I want to tell you why it’s my biggest win yet.
A lot of the work I do is with leaders and senior teams in large businesses and corporates. Emotionally Intelligent Leadership, Team Work, Workshops of several days and more – and I love that work. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s my happy place. A few months ago I got a call from a business that needed something really different, but for some reason I said yes – and I’ll forever be grateful that I did.
As the car manufacturing industry closes down in Australia, it’s not just Ford, Toyota and Holden workers who are losing their jobs; it’s also the workers along the entire supply chain for all their parts. I got a call from the HR Manager at one of these parts companies (they make the little plastic clips that go inside car doors to hold together all the wiring); she was looking for help for her workforce. They had known for several years that their operation would eventually cease and had had plenty of time to prepare – everyone had received enormous amounts of support from this caring, diligent lady in the form of new qualifications in food manufacturing, resume and interview skills training, one-on-one support and Coaching, Mental Health awareness campaigns and even a Jobs Fair! She had done everything humanly possible to help prepare her loyal staff for their eventual redundancies. But as the time grew close, and waves of redundancies started to hit, everyone was really struggling – and she was looking for help. An old boss of mine from 20 years ago, she called me for some advice on how to support them through this last part of he process. After some consultation, we agreed on a video series and some Supervisor-led activities to help build their resilience and EI, to help them through this final part of the transition. It wasn’t the most lucrative gig, or glamorous; but when she described the impact that these looming redundancies were having on the emotional and mental health of her staff, I just couldn’t refuse! So I jumped in and got to work.
Over the next 4 months, I created and delivered the video series, with worksheets and activities for everyone to complete in-house. Early feedback was good – the HR Manager excitedly called me and said, “They walked out of here with smiles on their faces for the first time in ages”! As we progressed, other great things started happening – more positive conversations about the future, more encouragement in the workplace, an air of optimism returning. An announcement of the final closure date of the operation – much earlier than expected – was not met by the Team with despair or fear, but rather a sense of relief that they knew their date now, and a sense of renewed vigour in starting to prepare for their transitions. For many of them, these were 10-plus year old jobs that were disappearing. The final week of the program, I was invited to go for lunch to the operation, meet the people, hear their stories and receive thanks. I was delighted and happily went to meet these lovely, brave people.
That lunch was one of the most memorable in my life – sharing sandwiches, cake and stories of hope with a roomful of people who were facing imminent joblessness. I was touched by their stories about how the EI and resilience skills they had learned, had helped them feel more hopeful and excited about the future. Their time at home was better too, they said, because they were not so stressed about the future, and they realised how important it was to enjoy the good things in their lives like family and friends. One lady announced her intention to study and move into Childcare; one gentleman told how he had started reading some of the books I referenced in the program and had really changed his life; another man, who was finishing up the next day, said he felt excited about his future. I was overwhelmed by their quiet strength and their incredible resilience in tough circumstances. At the end of our lunch, they hugged me, shook my hand and waved goodbye before heading back to the factory floor to make and package up their last few clips, smiles on their faces.
Of all the work I have done in the last seven years, this quiet little video series, supplied at a bargain price to some people who just needed help, has meant more than just about anything else. I’m so grateful I was able to help in some small way, and when I need some inspiration to get through MY days, I just think of them all going out to their interviews, their trainings, their new futures – with a BIG smile on MY face.