Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.
In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.
SINGAPORE — As a bright-eyed fresh graduate, I was thrilled to land my first full-time job last year and was raring to tear off the “unemployed” tag that comes in the period after completing one’s studies.
Finally, I would be financially independent, or so I thought, but things do not always turn out the way you hope.
After just three months, I was laid off from my role as part of a wider retrenchment exercise and was once again unemployed. Most of the staff in my small team lost their jobs.
To add salt to the wound, the letter bearing the grim news was handed to me exactly a week after I had received my employment confirmation letter.
Naturally, I was bummed about the turn of events, but I resolved to secure a new gig as soon as possible.
And so, I jumped back into the job search cycle again — sending out resumes and going for job interviews until I landed a job at TODAY early this year.
But even as I settled into my new role, I could not shake the anxiety that I might lose my “rice bowl” once again.
There were moments that caused my thoughts to spiral toward the worst possible outcome of getting let go by the company and led me to recall my experience with retrenchment.
For instance, a message from my editor simply to ask how I was coping and to have a chat about my goal-setting gave me a mini panic attack — my palms turned clammy and I began to ruminate on how I had been performing.
Would this lead to a chat about getting let go instead?
Initially, I attributed my nerves to new job jitters — who doesn’t feel slightly on edge when thrust into a new environment?
But when such feelings persisted past my first month at work, I confided in some friends about my fears and learnt that I was not alone in experiencing such feelings.
In fact, a recent survey by TODAY found that 74 per cent of youths think that they could be retrenched at least once in their lifetime.
The experience of losing my job so abruptly made me question if I had what it took to tackle the tasks that were handed to me.
FIRST STEP: ACCEPTING RETRENCHMENT
Even though I had been retrenched for some time, I did not like talking about it as I had associated it with having not performed up to standard.
In fact, the thought that haunted me the most each time I recalled my retrenchment was that it seemed a lot like a line from a bad break-up: Was I not good enough?
When I spoke to Dr Geraldine Tan, the principal psychologist at The Therapy Room, about my experience, she said that those who have been laid off should understand that getting retrenched is not a personal thing.
“Because your self-esteem has taken a beating from this rejection, many of us will experience doubt and question our abilities to perform up to task.”
Dr Tan added that the lack of transparency on the part of companies about the retrenchment criteria also fuels the self-doubt that those who have been laid off face, causing many to question why they were “chosen” to be let go over others.
The timing of my retrenchment — just a week after my confirmation — and the shock of it compounded my self-doubt and caused my anxiety to persist long after I had settled into a new job.
Career coach Adrian Choo, chief executive of consulting firm Career Agility International, said that retrenchments are commonplace today with no negative associations.
“Whether you’re a fresh graduate or in middle management, a lot of individuals have this issue of feeling anxious about their work performance today.”
He added that hiring managers are also more understanding of the job market situation now.
Retrenched workers need a change in mindset over being laid off, Dr Tan said.
They should see the event not as reflecting a personal flaw but rather a corporate decision to sustain the company.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
As I got used to the fast pace of the newsroom, I temporarily forgot my anxieties as the day-to-day work would take up most of my attention.
Even so, there were times when I would make a mistake and start to question my ability to do my job well.
To allay such anxieties, Mr Choo suggested that workers check in regularly with their supervisors to understand how they were performing and where they could improve.
“This can reduce work-related anxiety and allow open communication between bosses and workers,” he said.
And while many would have heard this advice before, Mr Choo reiterated that learning new skills is the top way to ensure one’s relevance in the job market, regardless if you’re new to the job or a seasoned professional.
And whether or not you’re facing an impending retrenchment, Mr Choo stressed the importance of networking to grow your circle of contacts.
You can turn to these contacts to seek out other job opportunities in the unfortunate case of a layoff, he said.
Luckily for me, I kept in contact with my previous internship employer, who kindly provided me with freelance writing gigs while I continued to search for a full-time position.
My current role also allows me to interact with people of different backgrounds, giving me many opportunities to meet and network with others outside of the industry.
In the months after I was laid off, I also took up a copy writing course on the open online course provider platform Coursera.
My previous role, while it also involving writing, was rather content-heavy and seldom touched on more technical aspects such as content marketing.
I won’t deny it — the learning curve in the course was steep at first as I was unfamiliar with the technical jargon.
However, I figured that knowing how to market my work would help greatly to distinguish myself from the pool of talent in the job market.
On the emotional wellness side of things, Dr Tan suggested simple exercises such as going on a brisk walk to get some sun and clear your head or shaking your hands out to release any pent-up tension when you get too overwhelmed.
She said having a support network will also make things easier to manage as it can help you to discuss any lingering anxieties and ease you into your new role.
While trying to get used to my new role, I confided in my family and friends about some of my fears.
They offered insights and advice based on their own experience, helping me to rationalise my anxieties as well as think about my long-term career goals.
But most importantly, workers should concentrate on what they are good at and reinforce it so that they will be able to showcase their skills, Dr Tan and Mr Choo both said.
“Remind yourself of what you are good at, rather than what you are not good at, so that you can help yourself to better manage your anxieties and doubts,” Dr Tan said.
As part of the goals I set for myself this year, learning how to create and edit videos was one of the top items on my agenda.
This month, I will get the opportunity to try out a month-long attachment as a producer with the Audience Growth team at TODAY, where I will be learning how to edit videos and try my hand at story boarding, among other things.
Despite knowing full well that I am a complete noob at anything related to creating videos, I am more excited than ever to take on this new role.
Picking up new skills may not be the easiest, but these fresh skills will help in my job search should I eventually move on to my next gig.
Who knows, I might create a video that’s good enough for an award nomination some time.
I suppose the process of losing a job is a lot like breaking up with a partner you’ve become attached to.
In both scenarios we feel a sense of loss, then indignation and finally learning to come to terms with it — almost like a grieving process where healing comes only after you acknowledge the pain.
For now, I’ll start off by checking in with my editor to find out how I’m performing at work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Shynn Ong is a journalist at TODAY covering general news.