Going beyond financial support for retrenched

By Paul Heng, NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia

In Singapore, we have seen recessionary pressure increasing on the economy since the Pandemic began to take hold in 2020. With recession comes the job losses that many anticipated. While the Singapore government urged employers to retrench only as a final option, businesses that are strapped for revenue have found it hard to avoid that step.

As companies take steps to implement the inevitable, much thought must be given to the care of affected employees. And this care must extend beyond monetary support. The government has a fairly comprehensive infrastructure when it comes to supporting the unemployed, with retraining and career coaching becoming par for the course. One of the key challenges, however, is the mental and emotional strain that the retrenched are likely to go through.

Anxiety is usually the first set of emotions felt during the initial stages of being laid off, as the affected worker grapples with how to cope with financial commitments and continue supporting dependents.

Building support around the retrenched worker is important. Some of those who have lost their jobs choose not to share the news with their immediate family members, and work-from-home measures remove the need to explain why one is not at the office. Those who choose not to tell their elderly parents or children do so because they think that the news might cause undue worry, and, in most cases, is unlikely make a difference to the situation.

As an outplacement coach, I encourage workers to break the news to their immediate family, and suggest employers counsel their affected workers to do the same. This eases the burden of guilt shouldered by those who have lost their jobs when they withhold bad news or lie to keep their loved ones from knowing. Without the stress of having to cover up the truth, the worker can also focus on finding the next job or the next source of income.

Compared to previous downturns, those who lose their jobs in the current pandemic-induced recession will need much greater emotional support. Given that most people are still working from home and big events are still not allowed, the opportunities for networking – the most effective means of securing a job – are significantly reduced. This exacerbates the challenge of job searching. It does not help either that recruiters have limited job openings to offer, as clients have put a pause on hiring.

Many of those retrenched are in their late 40s to early 60s, who would have last held senior-level positions in large multinational firms. The uncertainties and unprecedented challenges looming in not just the local market but the entire world have eroded their self-confidence. This compounds further the emotional challenge.

The need for emotional support cannot be under-stated. We need to communicate the message that losing one’s job is not the end of the world – everything else about the individual remains intact. But without a supportive system, affected workers may fall into depression – which leads to greater healthcare costs, or, in the worst-case scenario, suicide. Retrenchment may be an employer’s prerogative, but it is ultimately also employers’ implicit responsibility to do all that they can do to mitigate the risks of anything untoward happening to their ex-colleagues. It is a moral responsibility that cannot be simply waived by a retrenchment compensation.

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