Career consultant urges S’poreans to stop “unproductive worrying”, focus instead on “practical strategies” to mitigate retrenchment risk

"Managing your career is an individual responsibility, with or without a pandemic. No one owes you a living, you have to own this," said Paul Heng

While public anxieties over potential job loss continue to heighten as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, Next Career Consulting Group founder and managing director Paul Heng has urged Singaporeans to cease their “unproductive worrying” and to instead focus on “practical strategies” to manage the risk of retrenchment.

In an article titled “Worried about keeping your job? Here’s advice to soothe your concerns no matter how old you are” published by CNA on Monday (9 November), Mr Heng opined that many businesses and workers are “nowhere near exiting the disruption” caused by the coronavirus pandemic even with the Government’s financial support.

Noting that the pandemic has not only put an end to the business of iconic department store Robinsons but also caused small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to be “staring down their biggest crisis”, Mr Heng said: “I would urge all those concerned about their jobs to focus on practical strategies to mitigate the risk of receiving the dreaded pink slip and be ready for such an eventual scenario.”

“My advice to you is this: Worrying gives you something to do, but is ultimately unproductive and meaningless,” he wrote.

He acknowledged that the sudden loss of a routine, contact with colleagues and their work identity can be tough for the retrenched employees to grapple with.

However, Mr Heng urged those being retrenched to instead use the time to rethink their finances and their next plan.

“If you have followed expert advice of having at least six months’ worth of savings, you should have enough financial buffer,” he wrote.

Those below 35 should chase their dream job

Mr Heng’s first suggestion for all those below the age of 35 without a home loan and family responsibilities to take risks to improve their career prospects and use this time to “chase after their dream jobs” when everyone is holding firm to their jobs.

Noting the pandemic has also created unprecedented opportunities for many sectors, he said that this is a time for those of them to approach top-tier firms to pivot to a high-growth industry.

He also advised the people to get suitable training, which may include going back to college or university if they wish to transition to another career.

Those in the late 30s to 40s have to hang on to their jobs by entrenching contribution to the company

The best strategy for those in the late 30s to 40s, said Mr Heng, is to “hang on to their job, grinding their teeth and working really hard”.

This age range, he said, may be the sole breadwinner of their family and have outstanding home and car loans.

People in the age group, Mr Heng said, should seek additional responsibilities to increase their contributions to the company, arguing that “the more areas of responsibility you have, the more your boss will find it difficult to let you go.”

He also asserted that people shouldering bigger roles will also be in a better position to ask for a raise when the economy recovers.

Adding to that, he said people should also make their presence and accomplishments felt, be sensitive and responsive to the boss’ needs and “over-communicate” if necessary, to ensure that “your supervisor knows you are just a WhatsApp away”.

More senior adults should explore rebuilding their skills and think about life after work

For those who are 50 years old and above, Mr Heng suggested them either to explore rebuilding their skills to ensure their skill sets are up-to-date with the ever-changing economic situation or think about life after work.

Citing programmes and incentives offered by the Government such as SkillsFuture Singapore, Workforce Singapore and Jobs Growth Incentive, he said that the older employees can apply for it and “consider this the chapter 2 of your career”.

“Unless the external environment changes dramatically again, you can probably work till your late-60s or 70s, assuming of course you do well at your job and remain healthy,” he noted.

For those who are in their 60s and who might be looking forward to a change in pace and role in a post-corporate life phase, he urged them to remain active physically and mentally by getting exercise and think about activities to fill the spaces where work currently occupies, such as volunteering or coaching.

“If you already know what you want to do post-retirement, great. If you don’t, now is the time to sit down, ideally with a coach or friend, to map it out,” he added.

“Managing your career is an individual responsibility, with or without a pandemic. No one owes you a living, you have to own this,” he opined.

Netizens divided on Paul Heng’s commentary

Upon reading his op-ed, netizens seem to be divided on his views.

Netizens who agreed with his views said that “there is no such free lunch” in the society and people should focus on training and self-improvement instead of blaming others.

“By the time you finish complaining about being owed a living, you will not only have no living but no more lunch as well!” a netizen wrote.

Branding Mr Heng’s mindset an embodiment of “typical elitism”, several netizens said that his opinion lacks “understanding of all the factors involved the lives of others”.

A couple of netizens felt that Mr Heng’s suggestions are “easier said than done” and that it is not as “straight forward and simple” for everyone to accept the loss of income.

This year alone, the Singapore Government has presented four budgets: The Unity Budget worth S$6.44 billion, the Resilience Budget worth S$48 billion, the Solidarity Budget worth S$5.1 billion and the Fortitude Budget worth S$33 billion.

The Budgets were introduced to cushion the impact of the current economic downturn — Singapore’s economy contracted by 7 per cent for the third quarter of 2020, while the overall unemployment rate has increased to 3.4 per cent in August, surpassing the high of 3.3 per cent recorded during the global financial crisis in September 2009.

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