Preparing for job cuts: Insights from HR

News of job cuts, retrenchments and layoffs are appearing in the news daily these last few weeks. It seems no sector is immune, even Tech, with Grab just announcing they will be cutting 5% of their corporate work force joining the likes of IBM, Airbnb and Uber.

With most economies now in recession and the timing of a recovery uncertain, unfortunately there will be more people will be receiving bad news in the coming months.

We hope these layoffs don’t affect you. But what to do if you are concerned about your own job security? How do you react if you find yourself unemployed in a recession? How can a talented professional take proactive steps to move your career forward even in these dark times?

We asked some expert HR practitioners with diverse experiences in industries and countries across Asia for their advice and insights.

If an employee is concerned about job cuts, what should they do to try and avoid being retrenched and keep their job or to make themselves more marketable?

Pauline Tay: Have a very open conversation with your line manager. Share your concerns about job cuts and ask if this is something you should be prepared for. More so in the situation where your company has already initiated layoffs. Doing this helps to prepare mentally for the worst if indeed a job cut is coming.

Step up at this point and ask to be given opportunities to take on more job responsibilities or volunteer to be part of working teams who may have been put in place at this point to look into process improvements or any projects which may have been initiated.

Continue to show commitment and a positive energy and attitude, even though everyone is going through a tough and challenging time now.  It is not easy but when a line manager sees a team member showing enthusiasm and staying positive, that helps to give them the assurance that people are still working as hard and still as committed even though a company may be going through tough times now.

To make yourself more marketable, now is a good time to reconnect and re-establish past relationships with executive search firms and consultants as for most people when they were too busy with work during those normal times, this might not have been a priority.  It’s good to reconnect so that the incumbent can be on the radar screen of the search firm/consultant as soon as the recovery comes and companies start hiring again.

Rebuild your personal network and build that personal branding.  Let your network know what you are good at and what would interest you so that when they next have a hiring need, they would remember you.  Now is also a good time to think beyond just work, it is also a time to give back to the community.  Find a cause that you can contribute to or be a part of.  This would not only allow you to become more socially responsible, but it also helps to boost that personal branding.

Ho Zhuang Xian: Try to make sure that you are consistently adding value and contributing to the team. It is also important to highlight and make sure your manager is aware of the contribution you have for the team and company.

What about searching for other opportunities, before job cuts are announced? When should they start looking and how should they approach the job search?

Pauline: Given the uncertain environment that we are in today, it is not a surprise that employees may be searching for alternate career opportunities.  There is really no ideal time per se, given the current situation.  But if you are still in employment, it is still prudent to be discreet about your job search.  Not unless, you have been notified about an impending lay-off, then you should agree with your line manager to allow you time and flexibility to search for alternate employment opportunities.

Zhuang Xian: For anyone concerned about potential job cuts at your firm, I believe observing what your competitors in the market are doing would likely give you a good hint as to what to expect. If you find your competitors announcing layoffs and pay cuts, it is likely not good news and you should be prepared for the worst. You can start off your job search by looking through your network in the industry and come up with a list of a contacts who could act as a strong referrer for you. Get in touch with them and let them know that you are open to explore new opportunities and get their help to keep a lookout for you. At the same time, you can also reach out to head hunters who specialise in your industry to get a sense of the market movement and allow them to assist you in your job search.

If the worst happens and they are told they are being retrenched, what advice do you have for them?

Pauline: It is never pleasant to be told about a retrenchment. So it is ok to share how you feel to your line manager/HR when they sit with you to inform you. However, it is advisable to be calm and level-headed. Ask questions if they have not been clear about the severance terms and work with them amicably to leave on good terms. Ask for a reference from your line manager for future employment.

Zhuang Xian: If unfortunately the worst happened and you are retrenched, stay calm and do a quick evaluation on your current financial situation. Compare your household monthly expenses vs your savings to determine how long your savings can last. Depending on your financial situation, determine if you need to take on a temporary job or if you can focus on your job search. At the meantime, do check out on some of the support grants available to you. For example, the Singapore government offer support for retrenched Singaporeans and PRs.

When you are recruiting what is your opinion of candidates who have been retrenched? Do you see this as a negative?

Pauline: Certainly not. To be retrenched is something that an employee has no control over. I would not have a negative opinion about a candidate who has been retrenched as companies retrench for different reasons.

Zhuang Xian: Personally I do not see this as a negative. We have seen many great candidates who are unfortunately affected due to the situation and we understand that the retrenchments are due to business reasons rather than the candidate’s individual work performance.

Apart from applying for jobs, what can they do when unemployed to improve their chances of getting a good job offer?

Pauline: You should take the time to learn or refresh/upgrade your skills (especially for those who are in the high-tech or high-tech related industries since technology is rapidly changing).  Re-connecting and re-establishing your relationships with your network would be helpful as well.  Getting involved with an NGO or participating in community causes may also open up a new world of opportunities for one too.

Zhuang Xian: Reach out to contacts in your network who can potentially refer you to their company and be open to the opportunities available in the market. It may be difficult to find your dream job in the current market, but there are likely opportunities out there that can help make it easier for you to get your dream job in the future.

Thank you to our HR contributors for your valuable insights!

Pauline Tay is a business leader with strategic Human Resource leadership experience in regional and global roles in hospitality, manufacturing, shipping, commodities and built environment sectors.

Ho Zhuang Xian is onsite Recruiter for a leading global technology company and employer of choice, where he recruits experienced hires across the Asia region.

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