Julia Smith
Julia Smith 1 October 2019

What Happens When It All Goes Wrong? Turning a Bad Situation into a Positive

This week has been filled with headlines on the devastating news that 9000 people in the UK have lost their jobs at Thomas Cook. Our news feeds over the last 18 months has been filled with Brexit led stories on the impending doom for the jobs market and #metoo highlighted countless tales of bullying and harassment in the workplace.

It therefore couldn’t be timelier for dawn London, the community dedicated to inspiring and developing women to host an event at Dentsu Aegis on how to supercharge your 2019 and included 4 industry leaders talking about their experiences of when work goes wrong.
The panel all had the experience professionally to talk about when things go wrong at work and the speakers gave open and honest accounts that delved into their emotional states when this happened; and the impact that it had on their professional and personal lives.  Here are their stories and their top tips for turning a negative into a positive.

Turning a bad situation into a positive

 Cat Agostinho, Founder of Agostinho Consulting Ltd. and Co-founder, dawn

After a long and successful media agency career, I started at a company where from word go, it became abundantly clear that something was not right. Cracks quickly started to show, and the atmosphere was one of a school playground which started to wear me down. It got considerably worse and I didn’t want to go to the office, I became insular and I wasn’t producing good work. I realised I had to either put up and shut up or leave. 

On a personal level, it really knocked my confidence and it was only years later that I recently opened up about how much it had affected me. I think I was too embarrassed to admit how much the behaviour of others had impacted my performance at work and in my personal life.

While I’d never want to experience that again, it did give me the push I needed to set up my consultancy earlier than planned and I have 3.5 amazing years under my belt now!

 I’ve recently started to talk about my experience more openly (while never mentioning the company or the people) which has helped me to rebuild my confidence, and I’m starting to work with charities to try and help others prevent the same situation happening to them.

You’re fired!

Stephanie Brown - Property Investor and Career Coach

People are often surprised to hear I’ve been fired. And not once, but twice! Despite a successful career working for 2 of the world’s most recognisable consumer brands, I am not immune to being fired. But these experiences led to opportunities I would never have come across otherwise and helped me to build a side hustle coaching people who have lost their jobs or are in a career rut. 

The first time I was fired, I was just 24 years old. After being told I was fired, I burst into tears. It was so uncomfortable, the male manager almost offered me my job back to stop me crying! In hindsight, it was a blessing as it led me to the job at Nike; it pushed me out of my comfort zone and drove me to get the job I always wanted. It changed my life.

8 years later, I was fired again just 3 months into a role and a week before Christmas! This time, I decided that I could have cried and felt down, or I could see it as an opportunity. Most people aren’t lucky enough to get fired and end up staying in a job they hate for years and years.

Being pushed outside your comfort zone by forces beyond your control is a blessing and a privilege - most people are not lucky enough to have this happen to them and spend their lives accepting the mediocre.

 Re-frame the situation and remember that you’re the lucky one. It’s not the failure but your response to the failure that determines the outcome of the situation

My biggest piece of advice stems from the fact that having only one income stream is the most vulnerable place you can be in 2019 - create multiple income streams (as passive as possible) and start doing it today.

Prepare an exit strategy

Jenny Stanley - Founder and MD, Appetite Creative Solutions and Founder, FemmeNiche

Before I started my own company, I signed up to a company in which after a year of working there and achieving all my targets, I went to management and asked for the agreed rewards that they’d promised me when I joined. They said no because if they gave the additional bonus to me, I’d be paid more than the older, male directors and was told I had to work another year, hitting more targets and then I would receive the bonus. I persevered and moved to Spain to set up their office there and in doing so achieved 36% over target and all was going well. They then said they then wanted to move to NY and told me that the job had moved to NY. When I responded that I did not want to move my family to the US, the response was “Tough shit – don’t get emotional about it; kids who are born into families in the military move around all the time, so that’s it!”

I continued to say no and over the next few months, I received a barrage of changes to my contract – reduced salary, reduction of notice period, no health care etc. It got to the point where one of the board propositioned me and pressured me to go to his room if I wanted to keep my job. That was the end of the line for me and I knew it was the final straw.

What I wished I had done was seen the signs earlier and had an exit plan. I would recommend to anyone having a similar situation to not say ‘how could this happen to me?’ and to remember that a bad thing isn’t happening to you because you’re a bad person. Bad things happen. It is not personal – in fact 40% of the FTSE CEOs have been fired in their lives. Stuff happens but it is essential to believe in yourself and turn it into something that works for you. I did exactly that and I went on to found award winning creative technology agency, Appetite Creative which is going from strength to strength. Don't be scared to fail,  believe in yourself no matter what anybody tells you and always put in 100% effort into whatever you do.

Pivot, Pivot and Pivot again

Andre Charles-Foster - Product Manager - Client Solutions EMEA, Xaxis

 I’ve had to pivot in the industry twice before and whilst scary, the freedom felt after changing careers was amazing and revitalising. My first career was playing football for Chelsea followed for a stint playing for a team in the Caribbean. I had an amazing time and then got injured and having recovered from the injury I found that I had fallen out of love with the game.

I was 25 years of age and I had a decision to make. What was I now going to do? So, I worked in various jobs, from bars to publishing and then to recruitment. For a while, it was great and although it was long hours, I had a good CEO until he brought in an old school sales house man who barked to get on the phone for 3 hrs solid and I didn’t know if that was for me. The breaking point came when I’d had my son and I wanted to enjoy life with him and be able to have those experiences. So, I decided to leave that company and moved to another recruitment company and it was worse and I actually got fired. This was devastating as I had a new-born son, but I picked myself up, decided to pivot into media and used my network to land a job at AOL and now work as a Product Manager at Xaxis. My different experiences have led me to a having a clear process of knowing what I do well, what I need to do well in my chosen field, and what I want to do well in the future.

My advice is to know your pressure points and have coping strategies. What can you change? Have a process to know what you want and what you are doing wrong.

Go in thinking 'what can I get out of this?'  Be selfish about what the role is going to allow you to learn and develop. Knowing about probability and value helped ease the anxieties I had.

Get to know yourself as much as possible as quickly as possible. Know about your perceptions, likes, dislikes, anxieties, biases, etc. The more you know about you, the more you know what you can and can’t cope with and what your breaking point is didn’t make it because I didn’t have the correct coping strategies.


Don’t let it knock your confidence. Know you’re good at your job.

In the wake of Thomas Cook, this all feels very raw and real as we are facing uncertainty and there is always a chance you can lose your job. The good news is that you can mentally prepare for it by knowing who you are, what your value is. Keep asking how I can improve my role; can I better my knowledge and can I prepare for the worst-case scenario. If you are being bullied at work, don’t be tempted to name and shame or react emotionally; do talk to charities like NABS which supports those affected by bullying in the workplace  and if you’ve been treated unfairly you can seek legal advice or speak to ACAS for guidance.  If you’re not happy in your role or company and  know it’s not right, remember that you have got nothing to lose; make a plan and get out.

Know in yourself what you want to be and what you want from a job. It is human nature to stay too long in a bad job, or a bad relationship. Think about the business you want to work for, would be proud to work for: seek them out. 

And finally, know your value and your worth in the market; if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.

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