askST Jobs: I heard a retrenchment exercise is coming. What can I do?

Retrenchments spiked in Singapore in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, though the situation has since improved. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - In this series, manpower correspondent Calvin Yang offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q: I heard a retrenchment exercise is coming. I am worried but dare not broach the topic with my boss and co-workers. Help?  

A: Do not panic and jump to conclusions. You may want to tread carefully because the rumour could be unfounded.

Speculation about something that may or may not happen could make it look like you are a "problem employee", says Mr David Blasco, senior director at recruitment firm Randstad Singapore.

And if a retrenchment exercise does happen, you may actually run the risk of being let go.

"Instead of speculating, you should start evaluating your own work performance and skills. If you have recorded good work performance over the past few years, are equipped with in-demand skills, and demonstrate an ability to adapt to new changes, you may stand a better chance of staying with the organisation," he adds.

Retrenchments - which spiked in Singapore in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, though the situation has since improved - are very structured exercises carried out by businesses.

If you hear of a retrenchment exercise coming soon, try speaking to your supervisor or, if you find that difficult, a human resource colleague or union representative. Verify the news first before planning your next step.

If you happen to be affected, it would help to understand your entitlements, says Ms Linda Teo, country manager at ManpowerGroup Singapore.

Consider whether you are eligible to receive any retrenchment benefits, based on your employment contract or collective agreement. If you know there will be benefits and you do not yet have a confirmed job offer, it might be better to take such benefits than to resign.

If you are not expecting the bad news and it hits you hard, do give yourself some time to calm down and process everything, says Ms Teo.

If need be, you can also ask the person who delivered the news to explain the contents of the layoff letter personally again in a private setting.

"Confide in someone whom you trust to clear your mind and process your emotions," adds Ms Teo. Your family and friends, for instance.

It is fine to seek help and you need not go through this journey alone.

Being thrown this curveball during the pandemic can create emotional stress, points out Ms Teo, adding that workers can approach career coaches for advice to alleviate some stress if there are opportunities to do so.

"The career coach will prepare you for the next steps, such as helping you understand your strengths, recognising the hiring trends and identifying the available opportunities and finding the in-demand jobs."

Usually, affected employees would be offered career coaching services if the employer has engaged an outplacement firm to hold their retrenchment exercise. If not, check with your HR if the company is offering any career coaching services.

Another way is to approach either Workforce Singapore or Employment and Employability Institute, which offer free career coaching services to retrenched Singaporeans and permanent residents, says Ms Teo.

With bills to pay and perhaps a family to feed, you may be anxious to clinch a new job as quickly as possible. But note that it may do you good to take some time to review your career plans before starting the job search on a strong footing.

Why not take the opportunity to update your skills and build a strong network?

If you stay relevant, then your employability for the future will not be an issue, explains Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem.

"If you have not invested in your own training in the past, then it is never too late to start getting the relevant skills, and be prepared to take a smaller job to start from mid-level and consider a career switch if you are indeed retrenched."

As Ms Teo puts it: "When you can't change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails."

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