Commentary: Worried about keeping your job? Here’s advice to soothe your concerns no matter how old you are

Managing your career is an individual responsibility, with or without a pandemic, says Paul Heng.

SINGAPORE: The coronavirus pandemic has caused huge disruption to lives and livelihoods.

I don’t think the world has seen the light at the end of the tunnel just yet.

While here in Singapore, all of us are eagerly looking forward to Phase 3 – when our economy opens up a little more and more rules on gatherings, activities and travel may be relaxed – health experts have cautioned this does not spell the end of the coronavirus threat. 

Until an effective vaccine is widely disseminated to the public, assuming the virus does not mutate, businesses and workers may have to hold their breath a little longer.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has just highlighted on Wednesday (Nov 4) that Singapore must be prepared for a Phase 3 that could last a year or more  even as the multi-ministry task force laid out a roadmap that could see Singapore enter this new phase of its reopening by end of the year.

On the economic front, the Singapore Government has been effective in supporting businesses and workers with four Budgets through this storm but we are nowhere near exiting this disruption. 

The Singapore economy is expected to contract 5 to 7 per cent in 2020, with unemployment already at a decades-long high.

The worst is definitely not over, as Government financial support to firms mainly through the Jobs Support Scheme is tapering off and targeted to end in early 2021.

The pandemic has ended the fortunes of retail giants like Esprit and Robinson’s. Scores of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which employ 70 per cent of Singaporeans, are staring down their biggest crisis.

SNAP OUT OF YOUR SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

Given the economic uncertainty, many Singaporeans are having sleepless nights over the possibility that their heads may be next on the chopping board.

My advice to you is this: Worrying gives you something to do, but is ultimately unproductive and meaningless. 

I would urge all those concerned about their jobs to focus on practical strategies to mitigate the risk of receiving the dreaded pink slip and be ready for such an eventual scenario.

FOR ALL THOSE BELOW 35: CHASE AFTER YOUR DREAM JOB

Living through the pandemic does not mean you park your career management activities on the back burner and do everything to cling on tightly to your job.

Opportunities do present themselves during crisis times. And if you are below 35, without a home loan and family responsibilities, you should take risks to improve your career prospects and use this time to secure your dream role in an environment where everyone else is holding firm to their roles.

The coronavirus has caused huge upheaval, but it has also created unprecedented opportunities for many sectors.

Many of you are likely to have been working hard to stay employable.  This is a time to approach top-tier firms to pivot to a high-growth industry. Just think of all those names you would love to have on your resume like that tech company you’ve been dreaming of working at.

Write up a list and reach out to potential hiring managers. Use your LinkedIn to showcase the value you can bring to the table and demonstrate your knowledge of news and developments shaping the sector.

Request for a conversation without asking for a job right away – most things in life begin with one. 

A word of caution: Mind the number of companies you reach out to. You don’t want the entire market to know you are exploring a job change. People in high-performing sectors can be small and highly connected.  Be prepared that word will get around. 

If transitioning to another career means getting suitable training – as a medical or legal professional for instance, go back to school.

You may have been drifting for some years but that is alright. Most of us started out not knowing what we want to do with our lives. This pandemic is a chance to reset your career.

FOR THOSE IN YOUR LATE 30S TO 40S: DEMONSTRATE VALUE

If you are in your late 30s to 40s, you may be the sole breadwinner of the family, and have outstanding home and car loans. If so, this is no time to be adventurous. 

Your best strategy is to hang on to your job. 

Sometimes that means grinding your teeth and working really hard. This is not the time to focus on work-life balance issues, much as this is important to everyone.

You should seek out additional responsibilities to entrench your contribution to the company. The more areas of responsibility you have, the more your boss will find it difficult to let you go.

When the economy picks up, shouldering bigger roles also puts you in a better position to ask for a raise.

If you have been cruising along in your job, now is the time to wake up and do something about it. Make your presence and accomplishments felt. Be sensitive and responsive to your boss’ needs. This will not come easy seeing how most of us are working from home.

Over-communicate if you need to. Make sure your supervisor knows you are just a WhatsApp away.

FOR THOSE 50 AND ABOVE: GO FOR TRAINING, THINK ABOUT LIFE AFTER WORK

If you are over 50, unless you have been actively managing your career and have been keeping up with training to ensure your skillsets are up-to-date, you should explore rebuilding your skills. 

The Government has put in place several skills conversion programmes through SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore you can apply for. 

The Government has also incentivised employers in high growth sectors like ICT to hire older workers through the Jobs Growth Incentive from now until February 2021.

Consider this the chapter 2 of your career.  Unless the external environment changes dramatically again, you can probably work till your late-60s or 70s, assuming of course you do well at your job and remain healthy. 

If you are in your 60s, you might be looking forward to a change in pace and role –with activities you enjoy in a post-corporate life phase.

I would urge you to remain active physically and mentally for as long as you can. Get exercise and think about activities that may fill the spaces where work currently occupies – whether volunteering or coaching.

If you already know what you want to do post-retirement, great.  If you don’t, now is the time to sit down, ideally with a coach or friend, to map it out. 

I myself have a portfolio of 14 activities that gives me deep satisfaction and purpose I would like to engage in, in a life after work. I plan to continue with coaching, writing, facilitating of small group activities and active volunteering.

We only have one life. While we are some time away from when borders can reopen safely and the costs make sense, travelling is high up on my list. I fondly recall my walk up to Bhutan’s Tiger Nest monastery.

PREPARING FOR A RETRENCHMENT

All of these might not be enough to prepare you for the shock of being retrenched, even if you have been given a heads-up by your boss.

In that scenario, my advice is to keep your emotions in check. The sudden loss of a routine, contact with colleagues and your work identity can be tough to grapple with.

Apart from tying up loose ends, handing over to ensure your team and partners can continue without you, take time also to rethink your finances, what you want to do next and resist the urge to be a hermit. 

If you have followed expert advice of having at least six months’ worth of savings, you should have enough financial buffer.

Managing your career is an individual responsibility, with or without a pandemic.  No one owes you a living, you have to own this. 

By Paul Heng 09 Nov 2020

Paul Heng is founder and managing director of Next Career Consulting Group.

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