Sunday 16 November 2008

Fellow retrenchees, welcome to Between Jobs Hell

I laughed.

That was my reaction when I was first told that I was being retrenched.

I laughed out of relief because after weeks of speculation among my colleagues in my troubled company, the uncertainty was finally over. It was almost anti-climatic.

This was back in November 2001, two months after 9/11. But even before that, the economy was already reeling from the dotcom bust, and it would get worse with the subsequent Iraq war and Sars.

My company laid off 73 employees, nowhere near the 900 that DBS started retrenching last Thursday. With Singapore now in a recession, more such retrenchments are likely to follow.

I laughed when I was retrenched because I was amused by how my boss managed to retrench me without using the words “retrench”, “downsize” or even “rightsize”.

With an HR woman sitting beside him to make it official, he said: “As you are aware, the company is going through a restructuring exercise and unfortunately, you are one of those affected.”

That was it.

If I wasn’t expecting to be retrenched, I might not have realised I was being retrenched.

Fortunately, the word “unfortunately” gave me a clue that something bad was happening to me.

I laughed because I was in denial and possibly oblivious to the direness of my situation.

A month later in December 2001, Singapore’s unemployment rate of 4.7 per cent was the highest in 15 years. I had become a statistic.

According to the latest Ministry of Manpower figures, the unemployment rate for September 2008 was around 2 per cent. Let’s watch how much this number goes up in the coming months.

To keep myself busy during those long months of unemployment, I created a website to consolidate the links I found useful for my online job search.

I called it

To my surprise, other retrenchees started writing in to the site to share their stories and commiserate.

I learned that the biggest enemy of the retrenched was not that we couldn’t find a job, but the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that threatened to keep us from trying.

There was a need for some sort of support group for the retrenched that provided not just job-seeking advice, but also genuine empathy and moral support.

Sadly, for many at the time, was it. I have since shut down the website because, well, I found a job.

But with the way things are going, who knows? may be back.

I laughed when I was retrenched to keep from crying, which was what a few of my colleagues did when they received the news.

To them, being retrenched was no laughing matter.

- Published in The New Paper, 16 November 2008