I’ve been really struck in the past couple of weeks by how much some people define status in their lives through work. I was talking to a smart guy I’ve not seen for a couple of years about his mother who had a very big job, but was also refreshingly down to earth. He said “she recognised she had a serious job, but didn’t take herself too seriously because of it”.

This strikes me as a good approach. Some people have greater status needs than others. I think mine are less than many people’s. But I do also wonder if I think that, to some extent, because they are more than amply filled by my current job. Last week I did a speech to 100+ people on the 40th floor of a major bank to generous applause. I used to fear these sorts of things, now I almost enjoy them, but the fringe benefit is to feel I have a serious job, even if I don’t take myself too seriously because of it.

But in these recessionary times we all wonder from time to time whether this status might be rudely taken away by redundancy or our face not fitting. I know a couple of good, experienced people who got the bullet this week. In some ways worse is the more realistic realisation that I will likely be taking some people’s employment away from them in the coming months. I feel bad about this and think about it a lot.

I was talking to another professional in a different field about this on Friday and he said “hard decisions should feel hard”. I think he’s right, it’s all too easy to switch off your emotions, don the protective armour of ‘managerialism’ and simply ‘do what’s wanted’.

I think to downsize with care, empathy, kindness and self-respect is do-able. Engaging with people as people, not losing my humanity or switching off my emotions is an important part of doing this well. And ultimately if I am asked to do something I feel is wrong, finding the courage to say I feel it is wrong and being brave enough to risk my own job and status feels important too.

The paradox of job cuts is what’s brave is to do the right thing for the many as well as deal with individual people with care, integrity and humanity. The cowardly thing is to ‘act tough’, switch off your emotions and use the excuse of managerialism whilst saving your own skin.

What looks and is often rewarded as ‘tough’ in job cuts is in fact comparatively easy in my experience. What is hard is caring, thinking fully about the consequences of what you are doing and doing it right.

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