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Karen Drury

fe3 consulting

Partner

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Self-efficacy: Limiting the damage of redundancy

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Christmas is a time for giving. But some presents are less popular than others – and that includes the dubious gift of redundancy.

Sadly, however, Christmas is a depressingly common time for workers to be handed their notice – Virgin Megastores went into receivership on Christmas Eve, 2008; Woolworths closed the last of its stores in January 2009 and a December 2011 report from KPMG indicated that more than 700 public sector workers a day were losing their jobs.
 
With economic circumstances being what they are, some of these scenarios are unavoidable. But what is avoidable is the number of workers who believe that, once they have been made redundant, they will be on the scrapheap and never get another job. 
 
Notwithstanding the dire financial climate, if people believe that they can’t do something, the danger is that they won’t, which means that such attitudes are inherently unhelpful in finding new employment. Psychologists call the phenomenon a lack of ‘self-efficacy’.
 
Self-efficacy is the ultimate illustration of the Henry Ford quote: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t – you’re probably right”. People with high levels of self-efficacy believe that obstacles are surmountable, whereas people with low levels believe that the situation is hopeless and give up trying.
 
And the concept has recently experienced a revival in interest linked, perhaps unsurprisingly, with the resilience agenda. Looking at some of the academic evidence, self-efficacy appears to have strong links to performance, employee self-confidence and personal feelings of being in control. It can also be connected to burnout rates – so employees with high levels of self-efficacy are less likely to burn out in their jobs.
 
The term was first coined by Alfred Bandura in the late 1970s and early experiments focused on helping participants with phobias such as a fear of snakes. Bandura found that taking people through a series of exercises enabled them to gradually overcome their fears simply by increasing their belief that they could. 
 
But a sense of personal efficacy does not emerge by repeating various incantations – the idea here is that just saying something should not be confused with truly believing it.
 
Instead self-efficacy is constructed through a complex process of self-persuasion based on information obtained from doing something vicariously (by seeing others do it), socially (by being told you can do it) and physiologically, (by experiencing the emotional satisfaction of having done it).
 
Redundancy situations
 
And such ideas can just as simply be applied to the redundancy situation. For example, on losing their job, some people simply wilt and lose direction, their confidence takes a nosedive and, while they might have been perfectly capable of undertaking a given role in the past, they suddenly appear unemployable. 
 
Others, however, react with renewed vigour, both in performing a given role while they still have it, and also on leaving it. Because their feelings of self-efficacy are so closely aligned with self-confidence, the blow of redundancy is less severe and may also feel less personal.
 
As a result, any damage to confidence is less likely to affect their views about their own personal capabilities in a long-term sense.
 
Given that employees with high feelings of self-efficacy are more productive, more able to take on new responsibilities, learn more effectively and are less vulnerable to stress, the question becomes why organisations have to date failed to invest more heavily to try and boost it?
 
This is particularly pertinent because increasing self-efficacy appears to be more about the common sense than the complex.
 
The process starts by providing employees with information and feedback about the tasks that they have been asked to do. They are then given training to help improve their task-related capabilities and skills and are also furnished with an idea of the effort required to undertake each one.
 
Although such a scenario is hardly rocket-science, the question to ask oneself is how often people are promoted from technical into managerial positions without being given any preparation, information or the support of anyone that they could learn from?
 
The problem is that, because such help is not offered as a matter of course, people’s belief that they can perform any task competently without going through a lot of pain and effort is reduced.
 
Therefore, when they experience a real setback such as redundancy, they simply do not know whether they are equipped for success when their role comes to an end. In order to help boost self-efficacy in such a scenario, however, here are some suggestions that HR professionals can use:
 
  • Talk frankly and clearly about what getting a new job will entail and what help is available. Encourage people to reflect on their last big lifestyle change (not just in relation to their employer, but also to their role or latest house move) and how they employed existing skills to ensure the transition was successful
  • Provide training to help staff understand what transferrable skills they have. The aim is to put them in a position to demonstrate to new employers how their skills in one area can be employed to achieve success in another
  • Stress that if individuals do not succeed immediately, it is because they need to put more effort in rather than there being anything fundamentally wrong with their skillset. Such an approach will lead to people feeling less discouraged. If they do succeed, congratulate them on their skills (over which they have control) rather than their luck (over which they have little control)
 
As an HR professional, you may not always be able to choose when and where redundancies are made, but perhaps you can choose how people feel about themselves when they leave the organisation.

Karen Drury, partner at HR consultancy, fe3 consulting.

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Karen Drury

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Read more from Karen Drury
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