Retrenched…again! Here are some things I learned about managing expectations

File photo of a person holding a box of personal belongings. Photo: Felix/Rawpixel
File photo of a person holding a box of personal belongings. Photo: Felix/Rawpixel

Lost, stuck, and unmotivated. Those are the overall emotions I experienced when I was retrenched as a reporter at a Malaysian business publication four years ago. At the time, the paper was facing financial turmoil owing to a suspension imposed by the then Barisan Nasional-led government over exposé of the country’s biggest corruption scandal. Soon after, I switched to working in PR and communications, which offered some job security.

But this year, while taking on the role of a communications manager at an architectural firm, I found myself in the same predicament after the company trimmed its headcount. This time, it was due to the COVID-19 pandemic which brought along a wave of unemployment. While feeling dejected, I learned that it was beyond my control. With the second retrenchment in mind, here are some things that I learned about managing emotional expectations during this trying time.

Find your people

Losing a job can be tough for many, especially for those with families to support. It can be overwhelming to manage your emotions in handling this difficult situation. It is advisable to go through your offer and retrenchment letters to understand your rights as an employee and identify any discrepancies. Make sure to obtain all the crucial information and documents, such as those related to your retrenchment benefit, when your final payment will be made, and documents you need for tax filing. If you feel iffy or confused about any legal agreements, it is best to consult a lawyer.  

Rest assured that you are not alone in this trying situation, as the saying goes, “misery loves company”. Identify and stay in touch with your colleagues who have been retrenched so you can support one another by sharing job opportunities and online courses or supporting their online business. Even if you do not have the financial means, you can spread the word about your peers’ products or services to your family and friends. There’s no better time than a personal crisis to surround yourself with people who truly support you, with positive and helpful information to share. Then again, you may also meet people who will try to dampen your spirits, so choose your people wisely.

 

Apply for all types of financial aid

Even if you have received a severance package, try applying for financial aid according to your eligibility. Any form of monetary support available during this difficult time can help ease your financial burden. The Malaysian government has provided numerous direct financial assistance through PRIHATIN, PRIHATIN SME+, PENJANA, and KITA PRIHATIN, which has amounted to RM55 billion (about US$13 billion) for the lower and middle-income groups.

According to a news report by the New Straits Times, more than 90,000 unemployed Malaysians have applied for the Employment Insurance System (EIS) as of Oct 28. Managed by the Social Security Organisation (Socso), the EIS provides financial assistance of up to six months for Malaysian employees who have lost their jobs due to retrenchment or other similar circumstances. Aside from providing a six-month Job Search Allowance, the scheme helps applicants to land new jobs through its Re-employment Programme. Interested applicants can also participate in its Vocational Skills Training to improve their employability and enhance their skills and knowledge.

It is important to act fast and claim your EIS benefits within 60 days of losing your job. I have just submitted my application and I was informed that it will take at least 30 days to receive the results. Once it has been approved, the next step would be to submit the Re-employment Placement form and the allowance will be credited into your bank account. The allowance allocation can only be claimed for a maximum of six months. After the announcement of Budget 2021 in November, the insurance scheme has been extended for another three months. To receive your second month’s allowance and other subsequent months, you will need to provide proof that you are actively looking for jobs. For more information about the EIS, head to https://eis.perkeso.gov.my/eisportal/insured/appl/instruction.

It is advisable to try to stretch your money the best way possible or find alternative means to supplement your income.

 

Harness your skills, find your passion

Despite its wrath and ongoing devastating effects, the COVID-19 outbreak has opened new doors for budding entrepreneurs. Alia Darweena Abdul Halim, 29, was at her wit’s end when she lost her job in September. Trained as an architect, Darweena worked as a project manager at a leading architectural firm for two years. She loved her job but upon receiving the retrenchment letter, she was left feeling devastated and embarrassed. Darweena has been toying with the idea of starting a food business. Sadly, she was disheartened when she read hurtful comments towards people with high-flying careers who had to downsize their lifestyle by selling hawker food. Thanks to her supportive family, Darweena decided to take the leap of starting her online food business, @tauhubegedilbyweena, selling bite-sized fried stuffed tofu and decadent Laksa Johor.

 

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A post shared by @tauhubegedilbyweena

A box of 20 tauhu begedil is priced at RM25 while a pack of Laksa Johor that comes with thick gravy, spaghetti spun into bundles, and its accompanying garnish costs RM15. Darweena pointed out that one of the challenges of running a small home-based business is the distribution. As she runs the business with the help of her husband and helper, she has to rely on third-party delivery services such as Lalamove and GrabFood.

“I had to ensure it was reasonable and customers are comfortable with the price after the delivery fee is included. The delivery fee could be a deterrent as it will cost more,” she said.

“I have a newfound respect for people working in the F&B industry. It’s hard work and you have to be mentally prepared. It keeps me on my toes but I enjoy every minute of it. I learn a lot,” Darweena added.

“Another reason that kept me going was, I didn’t want to feel ‘stuck,’ like during the first phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO).  As we were not allowed to go out, our daily routines are interrupted. I was in this rut and felt depressed. When the retrenchment thing happened, I had to escape from feeling that way again and find something to keep myself occupied and motivated,” she revealed.

Starting anew during a pandemic could be the best thing. Seeing how things are progressing with her business, Darweena might consider doing this full-time.

“If you’re laid off, it’s important to allow time to digest the fact and be sad but don’t wallow in your sadness for too long. It’s okay to try something new. For me, I love doing project management and I still feel like I’m giving up something that I love. But it’s not wrong to try something new and different. It might be your calling,” she explained.

 

Build your resume and start looking for jobs

Now is also a good time to tailor your career path according to what you want to do. Read and research the current job market trends. According to JobStreet Malaysia’s COVID-19 Job Report released in August, 74 percent of employers are expected to make new hires in the next six months. JobStreet has also observed a growing trend of employers seeking candidates for emerging IT roles such as data analysts, artificial intelligence, and machine learning specialists together with experienced digital transformation professionals. It is also a good idea to sign up for online courses so you’ll get a leg up for the future job market. If you have the financial means, perhaps you could pursue a Masters’s degree to boost your career.

Whatever you decide to do, do not feel discouraged if you did not get the job offer or receive a call-back. Keep trying but always check in with yourself. It is a challenging time but learn to take comfort in knowing that things will get better. I know it can feel like all hope is lost but together, we can weather the storm. 

Other stories to check out:

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In a country obsessed with fair skin, Malaysia’s brown women are finally in the spotlight

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