Workplace doctor: Test the wind when planning your exit

I work in retail and there’s a lot of talk of redundancies due to falling sales figures. Should I stick it out and hope I don’t get cut or jump before I get pushed. I’ve been in this position before and don’t want to get caught out. KG, Dubai

Retail is a challenging industry anywhere in the world, but especially in the GCC, where we feel the backlash of a lack of economic confidence. Anxiety is in the atmosphere because of lower oil prices, which results in uncertainty over jobs. This anxiety affects consumer spending on non-essential items significantly. We hear and read things and then cut back on buying a new car or wait another year for a new kitchen. Equally, people stick to their budget more strictly and that weekly shopping trip turns into a fortnightly one. This is all bad news for the retail sector and those who work in it.

Unfortunately, this type of situation also creates a vicious cycle for you, as your own fear of redundancy further contributes to the stall in consumer spending, and like many others, you too tighten your belt.

It is not all bad news though. If the lack of parking space at the malls is anything to go by, then people are at least heading to the malls. They may just be going to the cinema, but the temptation to spend while they are there will still exist Another positive economic sign is that many organisations are planning to hire in the next year, so falls in sales figures may only be a short-term hiccup and a more optimistic future may be on the horizon.

If you believe your company is planning to reduce its workforce and are worried you won’t making the cut, it’s important to notice the early warning signs about your job being at risk before you make any rash decisions. Remember, you don’t want to jump if you’re not going to be pushed at all.

As you have been in this position before and it ended badly, it would help to first identify any similarities in the previous experience with your current one. Has anything happened recently to make you feel uneasy and think “Oh no. Here we go again”?

Observe the behaviour of senior management; has anything changed recently? Do you feel important conversations are going on that you are no longer a part of? If you feel management is avoiding you, then this could be a warning sign. But enquire further before jumping the gun. In a sales role, you are the face of the organisation and if you begin to feel invisible then this should raise an alarm.

Also, try to assess the financial status of the business. You could either check out the latest sales figures – if you have access to them – or pay closer attention to the businesses performance both locally and internationally The closer you get to the realities of the situation, the more equipped you will be to make an informed decision, rather than basing it on emotions or hearsay.

If management’s behaviour, the financials and the office gossip (something that should never be solely relied on) all seem to be painting a consistently dreary picture, then I suggest sticking it out while simultaneously planning your exit. Start a discreet job search, take stock of what your passion really is, and think about the learning experience from your current job. If you do not want to feel as exposed again, then target your job search in roles outside of sales and away from retail. That way you may feel more stable and secure in the future.

Doctor’s Prescription:

Unfortunately, the retail industry is vulnerable to economic anxiety and consumer pessimism and that vulnerability plays out through fear of redundancy. For those who feel susceptible, gather as accurate a picture as possible of the true situation. Although it is impossible to fully understand the reality, the closer you are to it, the easier it is to make an informed decision.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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Alex Davda

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