Thursday, December 8, 2011

Retrenchment hits me

A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. Depression has hit me. I have just been retrenched.

For many, retrenchment is not just economic depression. It is also emotional depression, self-worth depression and a humiliating depression. For me personally, it is even more embarrassing because I have been known to bring work home and reject invitations to go out and play over the weekend. Perhaps some people are having their last laughs now.

Retrenchment leaves a person with plenty of time to think. Don't waste the experience. He needs to be brutally honest with himself. In my case, I cannot honestly say it was mainly my fault. It was the free market at work, fair and square. I work in the Electronics industry in Singapore. Although electronic gadgets(iPhones, e-books, smartphones) are still changing our lives for the better, fellow Singaporeans who work in the same industry will know that electronics in Singapore has been on the decline for more than a decade. The big companies (foreign MNCs) are moving out, there are no big local companies to take their place and the smaller companies which usually service the big ones are dying away. It is not just high labor cost. Land (especially land), transport and energy costs also make us uncompetitive. These are infrastructural costs which the government can do their part to keep low. If these infrastructural costs are kept low, then our wages can have more room to move up without hitting our competitiveness.

If the company cannot grow, my immediate supervisor cannot be promoted. If he cannot be promoted, how can I be promoted? This time round, everyone lost their jobs including my boss. One consolation was that I got a "diligent and honest worker" in my appraisal before the retrenchment. Hopefully, this is not just a parting gift just to be nice.
I am tempted to lament on how unfair life is. However, this is useless to me and readers who could not care less until the same thing happens to them. Rather, it is more useful to think about the practical measures to cope with retrenchment.

The first thing that comes to mind is to cut down on all unnecessary expenses. Unnecessary expenses refer to expenses incurred beyond keeping one alive. Eat the simplest, cheapest food. As long as it fills your stomach, it is good food. Try to eat at home. Don't eat out. The rental cost in Singapore is so high, why pay for them by eating at expensive restaurants?

Entertainment expenses should be cut mercilessly. I do not subscribe to the theory that good things must come with a price. A lot of good things in life can be very cheap or even free of charge. A person can go to the library and borrow wonderful books free of charge. Get entertained and be educated free of charge. There are plenty of quality documentaries on Youtube. Again, one can get entertained and be educated free of charge. Use the spare time for learning at low or no cost.

There are certain expenses which must not be cut. This is allowance to parents and parents-in-law. The first response from parents is to cut or stop their allowance upon learning of their children's retrenchment. I have never heard of parents stop providing for their children when they are out of a job. Therefore, why should children stop providing for their parents when they become jobless? People who stop their parents' allowance are making a gross miscalculation. Their own children will do the same thing to them when they grow up. They will not feel a pang of guilt because their own parents did the same thing to their own parents. Setting a good model example to the children is the most effective and yet, least time-consuming way to educate them. Much better than spending so much time giving them tuition yourself and yelling at them. They either end up resenting you or hating the subject.

The standard advice from government help bodies is to get retraining or some educational certificate to make your resume look good. While these people have good intentions, take their advice with a pinch of salt because you know your personal situation better than them. Is your personality suitable for the type of job you are retraining for? Will employers be willing to hire you even after you have earned a certificate because of certain discriminatory practices? (Age, hiring their own kind)

I am not willing to invest in higher education to make the resume look good because the education fees is too high today and the investment returns do not look good. Too many people with higher education but are there enough jobs requiring such higher education? In fact, after spending a bomb for that piece of paper, a person may even get discriminated during job interviews because he is overqualified or the interviewer feels threatened.

Finding a job is not the only option. One can think about his personal strengths. Think about his hobbies. Can he turn them into useful products/services to sell to people? If one can successfully do this, he can be a very happy person instead of slaving for people whom he has been yearning to say "fuck off".

Quite a number of retrenched people will be thinking of investing in the financial markets to make a living. On the surface, it looks like an easy way out. Psychology plays a very important role in successful investing. Retrenched people should be self-aware of their own weakened psychology as market participants. Given the heightened volatility in the financial markets today, weak psychology can lead to bad decisions because it is easier to be tricked by the high volatility to buy high and sell low given the weaker state of mind. Investing is a fun game for me (on a part-time basis only) and I am reasonably good at controlling my losses in terrible times. But, I have to take my own advice and be self-aware of my new deficiency from now on.