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How to Respond to Redundancy as a Fashion Employee

BoF spoke to fashion HR managers, career coaches and an employment lawyer to share advice on how to navigate the experience, better understand the legalities of the situation and optimise your next career steps.
Two colleagues discuss their job security in an office.
2023 has seen an increase in redundancies by 198 percent. (Shutterstock)

The Insider Advice series offers advice from leading fashion professionals, HR leaders and academics, to answer topical careers questions for today’s fashion employees and help inform and guide you in your career. Discover the latest job opportunities with 2,700+ roles on BoF Careers today.

The current economic climate has forced companies across a range of sectors to make redundancies or layoffs as they navigate rising costs, gloomy financial forecasts or seek to rebalance overhiring in their employee base.

Indeed, 2023 has seen an increase in redundancies by 198 percent, according to Forbes. In November alone, there were 47,000 redundancies by US-based employers. Ninety-six percent of companies across Australia, Germany, the UK and US have downsized, according to a survey of more than 400 businesses by outplacement and career transition services Randstad Risesmart.

The fashion industry has similarly felt the effects, with numerous brands and corporations, including H&M, PVH and Nordstrom, recently laying off 10 to 15 percent of their corporate workforce. Direct-to-consumer brands have also been hard hit, with basics brand Everlane reducing staff in three of its 11 store locations and cutting 17 percent of its 175 corporate positions.

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There is little that employees can do to prevent such actions as layoffs are typically a last resort for businesses to improve their financial health. However, knowing how to prepare for and navigate the aftermath of these transitions is crucial to rebuilding confidence, reducing anxiety and can help you land your next job faster.

“Historically, there was stigma around redundancies and layoffs in that there was very little transparency around it,” says James Hudson, an HR specialist who has worked for the likes of Nike and Levi’s. “What’s becoming increasingly clear to folks beyond HR is that redundancies and layoffs are corporate actions that invariably are not even tied to anything quantifiable like performance.”

Now, BoF shares actionable advice from industry insiders and an employment lawyer on how to navigate concerns that your job may be at risk, as well as the nuanced, legal technicalities surrounding redundancy and advice on how to handle the period thereafter.

Understand the legal terminology around layoffs and redundancies

There is a great deal of legal jargon that may be used in critical moments throughout your career. The HR or legal department at work should be able to clarify specific terminology, but if in doubt, you should consider consulting a lawyer or other resources available where you can learn more about what the terms in your contract mean.

For example, should you be worried about layoffs or redundancies, you should first understand the difference between the two.

“Redundancy is normally a process that employers go through where they need to reduce the number of people working in an organisation and is normally something permanent,” says Claire Christy, specialist in fashion employment law and partner at law firm Withersworldwide, whose clients include Moncler, MaxMara and Charlotte Tilbury.

“A layoff has a very specific meaning where a contract of employment may allow the employer to lay off the employee for a short period of time,” she continues. This temporary measure may last a few weeks or months.

How much does it cost to run your life? [...] Build a spreadsheet with all of your fixed monthly outgoings, whether that’s rent, mortgage, car payment, whatever it costs to keep the lights on.

In the UK, the employer needs to have a contractual right to lay off an employee on a temporary basis, during which time they would likely not pay the employee, whereas there is no contractual right required to make an employee redundant. Otherwise, employment contracts (with length of service of more than two years) would only give an organisation the right to terminate employment if the employee had committed gross misconduct.

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If you need clarification on your job status, review your employment contract thoroughly. Within the UK, ACAS and YESS Law are both useful for demystifying legal jargon surrounding redundancies and layoffs.

In the US, the legislation may vary from state to state, but you can learn more about the overarching systems in place on the US Department of Labor’s website. Organisations such as Randstad Risesmart are also equipped to help demystify complexities surrounding redundancy across 80 countries.

Prepare for any outcome for a smooth outplacement

Taking proactive steps to help prepare for a redundancy can reduce feelings of uncertainty regarding your future: if you think there is a possibility that you will be laid off or made redundant, do your research.

“Speak to organisations like the Retail Trust in the UK and make sure you’re clear on how much control you could have on the process, if you cannot control the outcome. That will then give you the tools to prepare for any conversations that might happen,” says Ben de Pfeiffer-Key, former HR manager at Michael Kors and Capri Holdings who recently launched a careers consultancy platform, DPK Consulting.

If your employer has not approached you for a meeting to discuss your employment status but you are still concerned, be proactive and approach them yourself. “If you raise concerns about how you are feeling and explain that it is having an impact on your performance, that will encourage business and management to support you through that journey, whether it happens or not,” says de Pfeiffer-Key.

“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. There is nothing you can do about it,” adds Hudson. “So if you have not been active in your broader network, now is a good time to start, because building your network is a career-long activity. You might want to have a couple of people look at your CV to see if it’s as good as it can be, or overhaul your Linkedin profile. You can toggle settings so that it doesn’t send a notification to folks that you have made those changes.”

If you’ve been continuously employed for two years, you have the right not to be unfairly dismissed.

You may wish to start scouting out other job opportunities and even begin the process of applications and interviews. This may help speed up the job hunt if your contract does end more abruptly and give you greater confidence when going into those conversations.

You should also look to understand your financial situation. “How much does it cost to run your life? [...] Build a spreadsheet with all of your fixed monthly outgoings, whether that’s rent, mortgage, car payment, whatever it costs to keep the lights on,” says Hudson. “Then you need to total up. What do you have in savings? What do you have in redundancy or severance payment if your company is offering one? And then, what does unemployment look like in your state or country?”

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This process allows you to establish what Hudson calls your “personal financial runway” — how many months you can live without another paycheck — so you can both financially and mentally prepare for what that time without work might look like.

Know your rights — and understand how to exercise them

Twenty-eight percent of workers are unaware of their rights within their current workplace, while 34 percent would not know where to turn if they felt they had been unfairly dismissed, according to trade union insurance provider, UIA Mutual Insurance. In many instances, employers have no obligation to educate employees on their workplace rights, which will vary depending on your legislation.

If your job is at risk of redundancy, the first thing you need to do is find out what you are entitled to. In the UK, for example, if the employer handles the redundancy process correctly, they should invite you to a meeting to consult with you on your job being at risk and they should tell you why your job is at risk.

“The best thing the employee can do is go to that meeting armed with questions,” says Christy. “For example, ‘Why have I been chosen? Why have I been selected? Who have I been compared with? Who else is at risk? Why is the company doing this? Are they downsizing? Are they restructuring? Are they closing the business completely?’”

Meetings such as this should be “to try and avoid redundancies” — by this point, it should not be a “done deal,” as such. “Employees should bear in mind that they are looking for ways to challenge the employer and say — I shouldn’t be made redundant,” Christy shares. If this is not respected, “you have the right to claim unfair dismissal because they haven’t followed a fair procedure.”

For those consultations, the employee is entitled to have a companion with them. While you may want to keep your meeting private, having someone else listen in and help you understand the situation can be valuable, especially during a stressful and emotional time.

Spend some time reflecting on your skill set and your strengths — could your skills transfer somewhere else?

You should also refer to your contract, check what your notice period is and remember that you are under no obligation to accept an offer you feel is unreasonable.

“If you’ve been continuously employed for two years, you have the right not to be unfairly dismissed. In that first two-year period, employers can dismiss you for whatever reason, they don’t even have to consult with you about redundancies,” Christy tells BoF.

It’s important to analyse the reasoning your employer has provided actually makes sense to you. “Often, employers will try to terminate employees under the guise of redundancy, when there could be some underlying discrimination,” Christy says.

“In the US, when some people get laid off, their computer gets turned off, they get escorted out of the building — and that’s it,” says Kelly Sedlak, a creative industries career coach who works with Randstad Risesmart, who also offer work-life coaching and talent mobility solutions. Some businesses will provide severance packages of “three months or six months of salary, with healthcare covered throughout that time,” she says, but it depends on the employer. However, some states have laws in place which require companies to notify their workforce in advance of job cuts.

Try to negotiate the best deal while maintaining a positive relationship

The initial meeting with your employer about a potential redundancy is also an opportunity to negotiate the best deal possible for you — the first package offered does not need to be the final one.

During this negotiation, consider asking if there are any other opportunities in the wider business, such as in other departments or brands, says de Pfeiffer-Key. “Spend some time reflecting on your skill set and your strengths — could your skills transfer somewhere else?”

However, should there be no other opportunities to explore within the business, ask about your severance package, check that your statutory redundancy payment is calculated properly and be sure to ask your employer for a reference while you are still top of mind.

“It’s quite difficult to stay motivated for your notice period. I would always try and negotiate whether you can be paid in lieu of notice,” says Christy. “Check whether you have got any post-termination restrictions in the contract that say, for example, you can’t go and work for a competitor or you can’t solicit clients.”

“Maintain a professional relationship with your former coworkers by adding them on Linkedin and tell the company that you enjoyed what you learned there and the skills you acquired,” adds Sedlak. Your former employers and colleagues are still a critical part of your network and may be valuable contacts for later on in your career.

Reach out to and build upon your industry network

While it is disorienting to receive news of a redundancy, many experienced professionals in the fashion industry have been in the same situation.

In a recent interview with BoF, Ganni’s chief brand officer Priya Matadeen discussed her own experience with redundancy early on in her career. “It really upped my resilience because it isn’t something that I thought would ever happen to me. [...] Once you go through it and know that you can come out and find another role — it helped me a lot.”

“I found that having coffees with people I trusted to try and work out my next move helped,” she added about the experience over email. “An external point of view gave me perspective and made me feel more calm and considered about the next steps. In some situations, it can create opportunity for change.”

Going to job fairs and professional conferences can help build these industry relationships. “You want to have your resume on your phone, ready to send to anybody at any time,” Sedlak adds. Meanwhile, remain active on social platforms by liking and sharing other people’s posts to make yourself “as visible as possible”, says Sedlak, so that you’re “up there on the algorithm” and top of mind for new opportunities among your online community.

Whether you want it or not, try and make the most of [your free time] because sooner or later you will be back at work and won’t have this time again.

Social media, particularly LinkedIn, has a big part to play in providing connections. If you have been made redundant, you should be using professional social platforms daily. Consider posting more on Instagram to leverage your creativity and keep your page relevant and visible to contacts who might follow you on there.

Depending on your agreement with your employer, you may not be able to speak about a layoff publicly — although in the US, as of this year, employers can no longer negotiate severance pay for employees’ silence over the terms and conditions of your employment.

However, if you can share your job hunt more openly, Sedlak suggests posting on social media to advertise that you are looking for new work opportunities. Hudson adds that there are two “Open to Work” features on LinkedIn, both of them built by the LinkedIn product team in response to the significant layoffs and redundancies that occurred during the pandemic in late 2020 — one that privately signifies to recruiters of your availability to work, while the other is a more public banner to add to your profile.

Making recruiters aware that you are open to work through the first specified feature could bring a “40 percent uplift in recruiter outreach,” adds Hudson, while the green “Open to Work” banner will see, on average, “an uplift of 20 percent of messages from everybody across the platform.”

Make the most of your free time in-between jobs

When applying for a new position, take a methodical approach to your job search. “Have a framework, be methodical, but also do what works for you. If you’re most productive in the morning, block out two hours every single morning, since that is going to be your productive time for job searching,” says Hudson.

Consider your transferable skills and how you can leverage these to different aspects of the industry if you are struggling to find your ideal new job right away. The fashion industry relies upon professionals in the “gig economy” — relating to a labour market consisting of short-term contracts or freelance work — which fashion professionals can use to their advantage. Consider short-term contracts to build up skills and income.

“Don’t limit yourself if you need to land a job quickly after you’ve been made redundant,” says Sedlak. You might be able to “transfer your skills to another industry temporarily [...] If you can manage people in systems, you can manage people in systems in any industry.” This might also put you in touch with a recruiter who can later offer you a job you want longer-term.

It’s also vital to prioritise your wellbeing, and taking time to nurture your physical and mental health. “Where possible, try to avoid cutting things that you love because you will need to keep your positive mindset by engaging in activities that are going to refuel you and re-energise you,” says de Pfeiffer-Key.

Having time off “is a rare gift in the 40-plus years that we all work in our lives,” Hudson says. “Whether you want it or not, try and make the most of it because sooner or later you will be back at work and won’t have this time again.”

© 2024 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions

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