After decades in one organisation a person might feel they have become institutionalised © Getty Images

This week’s problem

I’m a civil servant and my department is facing a restructure. I think I could be offered voluntary redundancy in the coming months. I have been there for decades and am worried I have become institutionalised. How can I change my mindset to de-institutionalise myself? What steps should I take now to ensure I have a choice, whether it is keeping my career options open or ensuring I will have enough money to live on? Anonymous, 50s

Jonathan’s answer

To be institutionalised is to be considered less able to think and act independently because of having lived for a long time under the rules of one organisation. However, the fact you have asked the question on whether to take voluntary redundancy implies you know and have free will.

Over the past decades, you have amassed valuable experience that you can apply to a wide range of opportunities, and you have contributed greatly to public life. Take the time you have before possible redundancy to both plan your personal budget and start making connections and exploring future options.

Assess which costs can be cut, and what level of rainy-day money you want to keep aside. Before you start your job search, reflect on your whole career, to identify the rich training and experiences you already have; to work for decades in the civil service, your transferable skills will probably include teamwork, resilience, communications, problem solving, and adaptability.

For example, you may be able to bring detailed planning and governance experience to start-ups, schools, or charities, or perhaps to support supply-chain issues, which have become so much more important in the past few months.

The next broad and challenging question is what directions do you want to go? What do you want to spend the next 10-20 years doing? For some, legacy and contributing to society and public life come to the fore at this stage, and for others it may be the chance to top up the pension fund. You may create a portfolio of activities to address all your ambitions.

Be brave and honest with yourself — if you no longer have to work for political masters and could apply your skills to a cause that you care about, this is your chance. Now, define what you can offer and identify industries and roles that are interesting. You may need to consider if you need additional formal training and contact some of the many people you have worked with in different industries over the decades to gain advice.

Before you leave your current role, you can build your career confidence by addressing your budget, making an inventory of your valuable skills, identifying some dream jobs, and reconnecting with people in different fields of work.

Readers’ advice

Don’t be afraid of change . . . Expand your mind. Enjoy life . . . Forget about a career, give love and support to others. It’s content and meaning that bring happiness. Follow this advice and a wave of ideas will move you into seeing opportunities with enthusiasm. Madrugada

At times redundancy can be a bit like putting your mind through a washing machine on spin cycle . . . Focus on gathering up the advice from the people with front line experience. The reality is that it is tough but can also be transformative. Another engineer

The next problem

I am a mature student studying English and considering a career in journalism. After some research I discovered one can develop a career working on the business side. I had not previously given much thought that news outlets have chief executives and chief operating officers. But where would a graduate even start? Most training schemes appear to be for editorial. Male, 20s

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development, and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email

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