Unemployed in Zurich – 10 Tips for Expats
By Angie Weinberger, the Global Mobility Coach and Founder of Global People Transitions GmbH
For the last twenty-five years you have been a good corporate soldier. You were always in the office first thing in the morning, you took on overtime without complaint and worked during your holidays. Even your health wasn’t as important as getting back to your clients before a deadline on a Friday evening. Your marriage suffered and your children complained. Your father often said that he’d love to see you sometime.
Then, one Monday you walk into the office and Tamara from HR asks to see you. You know almost immediately what it means, but you think there must be some mistake. Tamara and Martin, your line manager, explain to you that you are being made redundant and your job is moving to Bratislava. You are one of ten. You will find a job again. After all, you are a reliable worker. You have made it to Senior Manager. You are at a plateau in your career. You are not yet 50 but you are not that far away either. You maintain a professional face as the news sinks in. You ask how long you will remain on the payroll, when your job will start transitioning over, and when your gardening leave will begin. You are told that you are entitled to a six month severance package and outplacement consultancy.
You politely say goodbye. The shock keeps you from shaking but you think to yourself: “I’m losing my job. I am losing my income.” and you also hear a voice saying “You are such a loser and your family will be destitute.” You have been the breadwinner for a long time. But it’s time to accept that things are changing.
The next morning you are back in the office. For a while you just carry on. You are angry but you don’t show it. You take your anger home with you. You go to bed earlier than normal and you don’t speak much at dinner. A few days later you finally tell your partner over a glass of wine: you are unemployed in Zurich.
The Shock of Job Loss for Expats
Being unemployed because of redundancy, especially due to offshoring and outsourcing does not always come as a surprise. These decisions are usually much faster in Switzerland than in other European countries. In Spain, France, Germany and even the UK works council consultation is the norm and makes such processes long-winded. Often the works council consultation includes a period when you have to discuss with all the managers involved.
Being unemployed might feel harsher for you because you have built your life in Switzerland on a local contract with some great perks. For example, you might have agreed to move initially because the company offered to pay the international schooling for your kids.
In some instances (for example if you are Australian or Indian) losing your employment could also mean that you lose the right to reside in Switzerland.
Worst of all, you are a high achiever and have never been in this situation before. You’ve never had to promote yourself on LinkedIn or “network” in order to find employment. You were always in high demand. And now you feel like you have to start “dating again” after you’ve been in a 25 year marriage.
1) Expect depression and take it seriously
Psychologically losing a job, as far as stress levels are concerned, is very similar to losing a loved one or moving country. You can expect to go through several phases, similar to the phases of grief; from denial, anger, depression, bargaining to acceptance (based on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief).
Just allow yourself to have those feelings. It is sometimes helpful to share them in a group or with a career coach. If you feel depressed, you might need to seek the help of a psychiatrist or request sick leave if you are still on the payroll.
2) Check your Work and Residence Permit Status
While EU-citizens are usually allowed to stay on in Switzerland during the period when they receive unemployment benefit, or for as long as they pay their rent and taxes, it could be that your right to reside in the country expires when you leave the payroll. This applies to third-country nationals. I’m not sure if it is always enforced by the authorities, but it is important that you understand your rights and obligations.
3) Speak to the Regional Unemployment Centre
As soon as you find out that you are being made redundant you should contact the regional unemployment centre in your city. In Zurich it’s called RAV (Regionale Arbeitsvermittlung). They will give you guidance on how to leave your current employer without damaging your right to unemployment payment. Also, if you have been in Switzerland for less than three years and you have not come from an EU-country, you need to find out if you are entitled to benefits at all.
You could also have issues preventing you from unemployment benefits such as, for example, if your spouse owns a Limited Liability Company. On the other hand, you may not have been in Switzerland long enough to qualify.
You should also contact the regional unemployment centre as they might be able to pay for a course for you or help you with accessing the job market through their database.
4) Contact an Employment Lawyer to check your “Zeugnis”
If you have been with the company a long time and you are not a German native speaker and do not understand the concept of a work certificate (“Zeugnis”), you might want to consult an employment lawyer to ensure that your work certificate does not limit your potential to find work again.
5) Allow Yourself a “Chill Phase”
I told a client many years ago that he should give himself permission to have a “chill phase” where he could do everything he couldn’t previously do when he was working, like staying in bed all day, not getting out of his pyjamas, growing a beard and spending lots of time with his family.
Losing a job has a lot of side effects. If you are unemployed, after the first three weeks you might find it stressful no longer having a structure to your day. You might find yourself less motivated than you thought. When your partner starts complaining that you’re not even doing the grocery shopping and you’re spending all day watching Netflix, it might be time to spring back into action.
6) Speak to your Partner about Options
It’s hard for your partner to support you when you are not open about all the available options. If you are thinking about returning to your “home” country, it is important that you do not take this decision alone. I usually advise against a family separation. Although in some cases it can make perfect sense. In other cases the first option could be for your partner to take on the role of breadwinner for a while, or event that you follow your partner to another country for a change.
If you do not find a job right away you could become a volunteer for a charity or a good cause. This will help you to maintain or even develop your skills set, whilst keeping you out of the house and at the same time, helping others who are less privileged. You could for example support the IDCN, Capacity Zurich, Singa Switzerlandor Action from Switzerland.
Before you drown in self-pity, you might want to remind yourself that you probably still have a roof above your head, some savings, and nice clothes to wear. Helping refugees or working with children will help you too.
8) Go through the “Global Career Workbook”
Maybe you haven’t applied for a job for a long while. Maybe you’re lacking support or feel you cannot work with a career coach. Then, I would recommend that you, at least, buy the Global Career Workbook and start working through it. The book will explain how to work out your personal brand, how to improve your networking skills and how to excel in interviews.
9) Join a HireMe! Group
If you find that your job coaching or the support provided to you by your RAV Advisor is not enough, you could join one of our HireMe! Groups. We specialise in helping Expats, Expat Spouses and Global Mobility Managers. Being in the group, could help you make progress in a more effective way. We are also very strict with homework and progress accountability and we have a large network in Zurich. This network has been instrumental in helping previous clients to find a job in Zurich.
10) Join the RockMe! Retreat
Over the past 20 years I have also worked with very Senior Managers who had been made redundant. As an HR Manager, I did not particularly like having redundancy conversations. I refer to those days as the time when I worked for the “dark force”. Still, those times have made me very sensitive to the needs of Managers whose job is also an important part of their identity.
This is not the worst time to lose a job in Switzerland, but I understand that it comes as a shock to most of us. You cannot just move on as if nothing happened and you might even want to have a career break or a career make over”. If you need a fully focused eight days to strategize and plan your next career steps, I can offer an eight-day RockMe! Retreat in Lindau, South Germany in November 2018. Why not consider joining us?
Angie Weinberger is the Global Mobility Coach, a Global Mobility Project Manager and Managing Director of Global People Transitions GmbH in Zürich. She offers programmes for Expats, Expats Spouses and Global Mobility Managers (HireMe! FlyMe! or RockMe!). Angie wrote and published the Global Career Workbook, a self-help job search guide for internationally mobile professionals, and the Global Mobility Workbook.
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