After what felt like an eternal flight, I was reunited with my extended family at an apartment in the heart of Manila. Amongst the joyous celebration, I sat anxiously on the floor clutching my smartphone, as it reached out in desperation for droplets of data, trickling from the weak stream of a wifi signal.

Success! One unread email. When it finally loaded, a sickening feeling washed over me.

My manager had emailed to let me know not to expect him to be around next year, and that all positions in our team had been disestablished. Only two of us were invited to apply for new positions that resembled our current roles, and although our manager fought for it, he was unsuccessful in having us directly translated to the new roles…

This is a glimpse of my first restructure experience at MQ, from December 2015.


With current job uncertainty looming over the university, I can’t help but be reminded of my previous experience of restructure and the toll it takes on the community as a whole. Given the general unease and negative lens often applied to these large shifts in organisational direction, I’m compelled to share, and attempt to take, a more Stoic approach to the situation.

Here’s a question we could ask ourselves during this time: What if we reframed our thoughts around current (and future) organisational restructuring as opportunities?


This is an opportunity to be an example for our students

It’s no secret that restructures occur for various reasons every few years – it’s almost cyclical and often coincides with change of management. To what extent and impact varies from one to the next, however we’re no strangers to organisational change in the sector. In fact, we can come to expect it.

We talk about the importance of ’employability’ as one of the key hallmarks of student success, as we strive to prepare our students for the future world of work.

Well, I’d hazard a guess that the future world of work is just as uncertain as the present world of work. How we respond to these current challenges is a prime example for our students.

As mentors and guides through our students’ learning journeys, it is an opportunity, through our actions, to demonstrate to our students what it is to be a resilient, resourceful, professional, and competitive member of a workforce.

What can you do? In the short term, maybe brush up on your presentation techniques, learn rudimentary digital media production skills to improve your teaching materials, discover new ways of engaging audiences, revamp your CV. There are many avenues for self-study available that can help broaden and strengthen your skillset. LinkedIn Learning, for example, is a resource freely available for MQ staff and something I found personally useful.

When my position was disestablished in 2015, I learnt new skills to be hired for a part-time writing job, and devoted more time to improving my small photography business to prepare for the loss of my full-time income. A challenging situation no doubt as my children were pre-school -aged at the time. I’m grateful that I eventually managed to secure a full-time role in the then-new structure. I found that being proactive and taking control of my own income situation by leveraging new skills was honestly better for my self-esteem than waiting for the axe to fall, or spending valuable time and energy worrying about impending change that was out of my control.

As the lifelong learners that we encourage our students to emulate, we can choose to use the resources we have at our disposal to confidently navigate the rough seas that one can expect along their employment journey.


This is an opportunity to reset your compass

Being in a position of potential job loss can certainly be humbling. Having a sense of appreciation for what we currently do have (a momentary position of employment) and knowing that it cannot last forever allows one to choose to entertain other possibilities. Such situations are a chance for us to revisit our true callings or passions that we may have put aside in pursuit of paying the bills.

We could ask ourselves – what is the next best thing you could do if MQ was no longer an option?

My mentor (and of countless others across the MQ community) Dr Albert Lim stressed the importance of mapping out career goals interdependently with your personal aspirations, and constantly revisiting these with the aim of achieving a rewarding and fulfilling life as a whole.

This approach invites us to adapt and change to the situation. You can choose to accept the external decisions being made that affect you but you have no control over, in order to discover clarity in what you can control. The challenge then is to reflect deeply about your life’s direction and have the courage to take the next steps suited to your vision of your life and the lives of your loved ones.

By working in your current role are you taking steps in the direction you want your life to be? If not, well, it’s never too late to change course towards wherever it is you’ve always wanted to go.


This is an opportunity to build and strengthen your relationships

What I’ve found extremely valuable over the last decade of a ‘career’ in the higher ed sector is working in a place that allows one to be surrounded by brilliant people with a wide variety of expertise and knowledge. It’s the strong relationships built between such people, as colleagues and friends, and as mentors and mentees in learning, that are crucial in challenging and uncertain times.

I’d say it’s an opportune time to leverage these relationships for support and guidance. It’s a chance to learn and grow with people from different disciplines, faculties and offices. Lend an ear to someone who needs to vent. Review and strengthen someone’s CV. Help facilitate new professional connections and networks. Have coffee and an honest chat with a colleague. Don’t be afraid to ask for mentorship from others across different disciplines, and be a mentor to your colleagues, too. As cliche’d as it is; you are not alone, we’re all in this together.

Help each other to find the opportunities rather than indulging in resentment for difficult decisions that, thankfully, are not yours to make.


There are opportunities in these challenging times, if we make the choice to seek them.

– Visit LinkedIn Learning (log in using MQ OneID)
– Book to get a new LinkedIn profile photo
– Recommended reading: Ryan Holiday – The Obstacle is the Way

Posted by Mike Catabay

I'm an Educational Media Producer at the Learning Innovation Hub. I write about being a dad at YDad, I take photos at The Cbays, and you can follow me @mikecbay.

25 Comments

  1. This article is highly insensitive given the current situation at MQ Uni

    Reply

    1. trying to be happy 15 November, 2019 at 1:20 pm

      whats so insensitive? he is just asking if we can see some positives in our current situation. See the bigger picture and take a step back to reevaluate. Everyone has different approaches and emotions to the situation. And he did state it in his premise that he is taking a “stoic” view.

      Reply

  2. Fantastic article Mike! Life is a living lesson and as you correctly pointed out Higher Ed landscape is changing and some things are not in our control. Not to be cliched but “change is the only constant” here. How well we react to it is the best lesson we can teach our students.

    Reply

  3. Cathy Rytmeister 15 November, 2019 at 2:55 pm

    Some people affected by the restructures simply don’t have that option to retrain or update their LinkedIn profile. They have spent many years providing a dedicated service to the University and now risk being discarded as if none of that matters at all.

    Your approach is likely to work best for some people who have the confidence to reskill and seek other opportunities, but it is an unrealistic expectation for most staff. Not because they lack ability, but because their situation is such that they have many fewer choices.

    Despite the University management bestowing the title “professional” on many of these staff, they are not in fact treated as professionals by their employer. They are often largely neglected when it comes to professional learning opportunities and are at times obstructed from taking up opportunities to learn skills deemed by their manager to be “out of scope” for their specific roles.

    Age discrimination is also rife in today’s world of staff recruitment. The sad reality is that for many long-serving staff over 50, the options for further work at a similar skill and pay level are very limited – not because they lack employability skills but merely because of their age (and sometimes gender).

    While the “positive”, opportunity-seeking approach works for people with the personal and professional resources to undertake it, it is also an approach that a) ignores the employer’s duty of care to staff and b) is highly individualised, not recognising the collective interest of workers as contributors to the institution’s success.

    The fact is that many employment practices at Macquarie (for example, hiring people on fixed-term contracts to do what is clearly continuing work; the over-use of casual employment, the persistent overwork in teaching and admin and the pressure to produce research and other outcomes to meet ever higher and increasingly delusional goals) are both exploitative and dishonest.

    Fixed-term employment, for example, forces people to sign a contract acknowledging that they have no right to expect an extension of that contract, even though the work they are contracted to do is still clearly there to do. It is exploitative because a large, powerful institution manages risk by devolving it via precarious work contracts to workers with minimal power (further minimised by the nature of their employment).

    The only way we can hope to balance the power of the institutional management is for employees to join together and work collectively for the benefit of all (that’s called a UNION). This is particularly important when the power of the employer is being abused, with workers suffering the consequences of poor management decision-making, rather than the managers themselves being held accountable for their actions.

    At Macquarie we currently have a range of people who, through no fault of their own, and in spite of their dedicated service and excellent performance, are at risk of losing their jobs. No amount of reframing will take away the reality that the powerful will almost always try to use their power to save themselves at the expense of others. To ignore that political dynamic is to leave the world unchanged while scraping out a liveable corner for oneself to survive in. I know it works for a lot of people, and good luck to them, but it will never be the mindset that works for me. That’s why I’m an NTEU member and that’s why I will continue to campaign against these unjust job cuts and exploitative employment practices.

    Reply

    1. Here here!!

      Well said!

      Reply

  4. I understand that this is your perspective and I am thankful that you’re willing to share your lived experience. However, for those potentially affected by these changes (FHS admin in the dissolution of the faculty and ECRs in the uni wide hiring freeze) that may lose their jobs (in a national job market that still sits higher than pre-GFC levels), this article is unlikely to be outwardly helpful.

    The simple reality of this situation for a section of our university community (specifically young researchers on short-term contracts) is that they may be forced out of academia by a lack of funding. May be forced out of their positions with incomplete projects by factors far outside their control. The management of the university can’t seriously think that people will be fine with these changes when the people who may lose their jobs haven’t done anything wrong. Change may be inevitable but asking people to take it lying down is rubbish; the people in the firing line have a right to hold those responsible for the poor forecast and leadership failures to account.

    Reply

  5. Here here!!

    Well said!

    Reply

  6. To “Trying To Be Happy”

    It’s very nice for staff if losing their job doesn’t effect their life too much. However, for others, struggling with mortages, rental prices, and simply getting by in one of the most expensive cities in the world, it’s downright insulting to insist that we should look on the bright side. It’s all very well and good to talk about the “positives”, but defaulting on your mortgage isn’t something that can be brushed aside by thinking differently. That’s a really very neoliberal, individualist point-of-view which elides the privilege of taking on such a position.

    From,
    NotHappy

    Reply

    1. trying to be happy 15 November, 2019 at 3:54 pm

      to “not happy”,
      You are completely missing his point! He isn’t saying don’t be stressed and that you shouldn’t be concerned about the current situation and he isn’t saying that this shouldn’t cause anxiety or other issues. These are all there in the current climate, but there maybe other things to take in as well in the current situation.
      Maybe its an opportunity to realise how you react to such changes,especially when some changes are not in our control.
      how you act/react makes who you are, and if there are lessons that we can learn and impart to students, maybe we should look at it from that point of view as well. Maybe its an opportunity to grow as a person. (these are “maybes”, so they “may not bes” as well. But don’t you think for ones own reflection its worth looking into?)

      Trying to keep a positive mindset is important for ones mental health. don’t you agree?

      Reply

  7. Yeah somehow I can’t bring myself to feel grateful about the prospect of losing my livelihood. I would rather be able to eat than grow as a person, thanks. I understand his point and am profoundly offended by it.

    Reply

    1. trying to be happy 15 November, 2019 at 4:08 pm

      It’s your choice to ‘react’ offended to a blog post. I am just sorry to hear that.
      Hope you can ‘try to be happy’. 🙏

      Reply

      1. I will be very happy if our staff have jobs. Also, being offended is not a choice, fyi.

        Reply

        1. trying to be happy 15 November, 2019 at 4:19 pm

          Offended: “resentful or annoyed, typically as a result of a perceived insult.” being an emotion as a result of ones own perception, its in your control how you react.

          We will all be happy if our staff have jobs too! but that shouldn’t impinge on your other happiness’.

          Reply

          1. Solidarity, huh?

          2. trying to be happy 15 November, 2019 at 4:27 pm

            Was there any question about solidarity in the first place?

            🙏

            have a good weekend 🙂

  8. Collective Response 15 November, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    “What can you do?” Join the union. Stand up for workers across the campus. Hold management accountable for their poor decisions and the way they treat people. Know that we have agency and power in solidarity. That’d be a start.

    Reply

  9. I’ll just leave this here for anyone who would like to join those affected in solidarity:

    https://www.nteu.org.au/join

    Reply

    1. Let’s not make this thought provoking (both good and bad) post about the union and its agenda. There are other places for the union to advertise eg. The thousands and thousands of paper stuck up everywhere!

      Reply

  10. Stick around, there’s a lot more to come.

    Reply

    1. people are wanting to to stick around .. management doesn’t 😂

      Reply

  11. Michael Garganera 18 November, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Great write-up. I liked the note about being a resilient, resourceful, professional, and competitive member of a workforce.

    I know these approaches aren’t a one size fits all, but there’s no harm in sharing experiences that have worked for the author – you never know who could be positively affected by reading this. For my situation (facing my first restructure, contract ending in February with no guarantee of renewal), I find it inspiring to hear stories like this in the steps one has taken to improve their own situation.

    This article doesn’t discount any other movements or approaches to addressing job loss here at MQ, and so some of the negative comments made unfortunately come across as unproductive and trivial. It’s like getting offended that the free lemonade stand set-up on a hot day isn’t serving smoothies that accommodates all diets instead.

    Reply

    1. Well said 👏

      Reply

    2. MargaretThatcher 18 November, 2019 at 3:20 pm

      Yes I can’t think of anything more trivial than unemployment!

      Reply

    3. Well said Michael re Mike Catabay’s post. One of the consequences of restructuring for the staff who are fortunate to continue with their jobs, is losing the relationships and shared knowledge developed with people who ‘move on’.

      I’m fortunate to be a permanent staff member and have lost many great colleagues from a range of units (academic, marketing, learning and teaching, LEAP, etc) over the years who were excellent at their jobs, and with whom I had productive and informed work relationships with. It’s disruptive and inefficient to lose those good relationships, the shared knowledge, the understanding of each other’s project aims and so forth.

      Restructuring and the long months of uncertainty during them, waiting to see what the outcomes for a unit, or for individual members within that unit will be, also creates a generalised anxiety in others in the organisation.

      I hope February brings good news to you, and that we can progress our planned education resources development work.

      Reply

  12. Dear Mike,
    And other respondents.
    I would like to support Cathy’s detailed and generous response to your post Mike. I have worked in a similar role in the university, preparing HDR students for a career in research and mentoring them for what lies ahead. I have sat in meetings where we’ve told that as a result of a ‘downturn’ in the market (and misprojected forecasting by the executive) research budgets have been slashed. Scholarships for HDR students have been reduced and the expectations for academic performance increased. And yet, we’ve been told to weather the storm with a positive attitude and continue to work ‘hard’ to attract quality HDR candidates (but please just don’t mention that we won’t be able to offer the scholarships that assist students taking the ‘pathway to PhD’ program we advertise as our MRes degree). I’ve been told to think creatively about how we can deliver quality teaching with reduced staff, increased administrative loads, higher student-to-staff ratios, systems-level, policy and curriculum changes that are announcement and introduced with very little notice or time (or human resources) to prepare for those changes.
    Year after year it goes on and on and on.
    And I have seen the toll that ‘keeping a positive frame of mind’ has on staff who are chronically overworked, who care deeply about the students they teach or the staff and students they support, whose labour is often unacknowledged by management-level staff and who are now facing a deeply uncertain future.

    That uncertainty is concrete and immediate in the Faculty of Human Sciences. But it is not contained to that part of the university. Its an uncertainty we all now share.

    I am a fixed-contract employee, waiting to see if my contract will be exempt from the recruitment freeze, waiting until the 12th of Dec when the budget goes to senate to see if I’ll have a job two weeks later when my contract expires.

    Am I utilising my networks? Updating my CV? Thinking creatively about my next steps? Sure… when I can spare a few minutes away from the work I’m paid to do. And the unpaid, but deeply rewarding work that keeps me busy at home after the paid work ends.

    Does this ameliorate feelings of anxiety about my future? No.
    Does it dampen the feeling of resentment towards the executive staff who make these decisions, having very little understanding of our work and what goes on in the classroom, who wouldn’t even think to ask? Nope. Not at all.

    I value the enthusiasm with which you approach this problem and acknowledge the thinking you’ve put into your proposed solution to it. But like a few other posters here I am troubled by your parting comment:

    “Help each other to find the opportunities rather than indulging in resentment for difficult decisions that, thankfully, are not yours to make”.

    I find it hard to see how resentment is not an appropriate response to ‘difficult decisions’ that are made (without consultation, often conforming to an agenda that is not named and certainly not discussed at my level) which can unseat even the most positive, can-do workers amongst us.

    I don’t get to make these decisions. But I am not thankful of that. I would like to see a university ‘community’ (to use the vice-chancellors favourite phrase) where these decisions are made in a more collective, consultative and transparent way. Which would mean that none of us can express thanks that we had nothing to do with these decisions, and where we would all have the opportunity to take some responsibility for them.
    And where a ‘community’ is understood to be a group of people who care for, and can empathise with, their fellows (especially when times are tough).
    Thank you.

    Reply

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