Your workday starts off normally — then you’re asked to go in for a meeting that’s not in your calendar. Sure, that’s happened before, no problem. However, this time it’s different. You find yourself in a meeting room with a poker-faced HR representative and the next few moments are something you replay in your mind for days to come. You’ve just been retrenched with no prior warning.
The shock of going from employed to unemployed can be staggering – above the sudden loss of a steady income. The Singapore Counselling Centre says it has seen an average increase of 30 percent year-on-year of older Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs) seeking counselling due to retrenchment, and notes that the range of emotions are extreme because the retrenched worker feels the loss of:
- A daily routine and structure
- A work-based social network
- A sense of purposeful activity and professional identity
- A sense of security and certainty
“The initial reaction from many, especially older PMETs who have been in the same job for many years, is that life has lost all meaning,” says the Centre’s president, Dr John Lim.
There are normally five emotional stages of retrenchment and these include:
- Shock and Denial
Dr Lim cites the example of Michael (not his real name), who was retrenched at the age of 47 because his company decided to discontinue the product line that he was in charge of as it was at the end of its product lifecycle. Michael had been working in the same company for 22 years and he had been certain that with his proven contributions and dependability, he would never be laid off. When he was first retrenched, he described the feeling as “surreal”.
For Michael, the company decided not to continue with the product line that he was in charge of as they felt that the product was at the end of its product life cycle.
His very first response was shock, closely followed by denial — that it was not happening to him and the company had made a mistake. Michael repeatedly tried appealing the retrenchment but to no avail.
“Michael just couldn’t believe that the company whom he had helped grow, whom he had supported even during its challenges, was now abandoning him,” says Dr Lim.
Anger soon took over. Michael started resenting the Director who approved his retrenchment. “At times, he was furious to the point that he found himself wishing his director would be hit by a truck and he even felt like burning down the company’s premises,” adds Dr Lim.
Isn’t anger bad for you? Dr Lim explains that processing the aftermath of retrenchment involves going through a range of emotions, often including anger. “Going through stages is good as there is progression. It means you are moving forward rather than staying stagnant,” he elaborates.
3. Depression and Acceptance
The next wave of emotion for Michael was depression — where overwhelming waves of emotions started making it difficult for him to deal with his every day routine.
Another key emotion Michael struggled with was guilt. Here, he started blaming himself for losing his job — replaying the retrenchment in his head and wondering if he could have negotiated something with his bosses.
5. Acceptance and Relief
Michael started to realise that these feelings of grief and guilt were pushing him away from his loved ones by driving a wedge between them. It was these acute feelings of sadness and guilt which spurred Michael to seek help from an experienced counsellor, who helped him realise that retrenchment was not the end of his life.
Counselling helped Michael learn the importance of not blaming himself. Dr Lim points out that this is important to grasp as it can create an emotional distance between an individual and their loved ones who could provide the necessary support needed for an individual to recover from the negative emotions caused by retrenchment.
Michael eventually came to understand and incorporate the following healing actions/thoughts into his life:
Life can Still be Fulfilling, even when Retrenched
He realised that his life was not defined just by his career and neither was his self-worth. He learnt the importance of counting his blessings. In his case, he had a loving family whom he could turn to while weekend volunteer work added more meaning to his life.
“Once he realised this, Michael understood that a career setback does not mean that the person is career-condemned for the rest of his life. He also realised that there are other things out there that he enjoyed and could relate to. This allowed him to better accept his retrenchment and decide to move forward,” explains Dr Lim.
Catch Up with Things You Never Had Time For
As part of the healing process, a key question counsellors ask next is “what have you always wanted to do but couldn’t because of work?” These could include:
- Picking up new skills — there are career conversion programmes such as WSG’s Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) that can help PMETs move into new occupations or sectors.
- Taking time to review your finances. A clear view of your financial position will help you plan ahead.
- Picking up a new hobby — learning something new helps you grow.
- Exercising — take up your favourite sport again or sign up for a group exercise class. Not only will you keep healthy and fit, exercising will help you feel more confident and positive.
- Going on a holiday with your loved ones or visiting places on your bucket list — to reconnect and de-stress.
Think of Others
This may seem strange but during challenging times in life, such as a retrenchment, it’s important not to fall into a pit of self-focus or pity. Dr Lim describes this as only focusing on yourself and your needs/wants. “Being self-centric at such a time is a sure way to sink deeper into the abyss of depression,” he notes.
A good way of addressing this is by volunteering at a charity of your choice, especially one you feel inclined towards. This allows you to help others with their struggles — which helps put your life into perspective — in areas you might actually enjoy, such as working with animals or contributing to the lives of younger/older people in need.
What Value Can You Contribute in Your Next Job?
Move on with your job hunt. Remember your strengths such as your wealth of experience and key wins at your last job and weave this into your job search. “With your retrenchment, you also have fortitude and resilience to add to your next role,” adds Dr Lim. Remember to update your resume and customise it (and your cover letter) for each company you apply to for a position. You can do this by visiting the company’s website and studying its values, then asking yourself how you can make a positive difference and contribute to that company.
The thing to remember is that the different emotions experienced are normal. Dealing positively with your emotions lays the foundation for personal growth. Just remember that you can and will get out of this cycle of emotions.
How Long Does the Emotional Ride Last?
The length of time taken to process your emotions will vary. This is because there are a number of factors tied to this such as: how attached you were to your role, what you perceive to be your future prospects and so on.
Dr Lim notes the importance of giving yourself time and adds that the recovery time varies from person to person. “Some take as little as a few days to get over it while some struggle with the emotions for more than a year. The thing to remember is that the different emotions experienced are normal. Dealing positively with your emotions lays the foundation for personal growth. Just remember that you can and will get out of this cycle of emotions. If you feel very overwhelmed by these emotions, don’t hesitate to speak with a qualified counsellor, coach or therapist.”
Need to speak with a professional counsellor? Contact the Singapore Counselling Centre at +65 6339 5411 or email email@example.com.