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Employees in retrenching companies experiencing lower morale

The lack of transparency in the retrenchment exercises coupled with uncertainty in the direction of the company is causing high anxiety among those still in employment

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Employees from industries experiencing retrenchment over this pandemic have reported lower morale and higher levels of stress as a result of higher workload and lack of clarity in the direction of the companies.

Even though the extent of the impact of retrenchment on employees’ mental health is not clear, workplace stress has been shown to increase over the pandemic. A survey by research centre Mind Science Centre and a mental health online platform called the Community Care Buddy in mid-August reported that three in five telecommuters and half of the front liners felt stressed at work.

Compared to last year, the number of people seeking help for their mental health increased. The Ministry of Health reported more than a 50 percent increase in calls to the IMH Helpline between April to July, according to a written reply by the Ministry of Health on COVID-19-related stresses.

Retrenchment levels in June has more than doubled since March this year and is expected to continue increasing through the end of the year.

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Higher unpaid overtime hours
Amy (not her real name), 26-year old equipment engineer working in the oil and gas industry said to The Independent Singapore, “The type of work that I do remains unchanged, but the workload has increased (each engineer supports more areas of the plant),” as part of cost-cutting measures that her company is undertaking.

According to the report from the MOM, around two in five people have been retrenched since the start of the year to June in the petroleum, chemical and pharmaceutical products industries.

As a result, she works longer hours than before, sometimes till 8 pm or 9 pm on weekdays. She also works more frequently on weekends to complete tasks — something that she had to do only occasionally before.

Similarly, Shawn (not his real name), a 26-year old programme executive in an event-based company wrote that he now has “longer working hours due to the larger amount of tasks to complete.” Additionally, “meeting times no longer happen within the 8 am to 5 pm time but at other odd hours to cater to timezones of other campuses,” he added.

As physical contact consists of a large part of their activities, the event-based company has been hit hard with only a third of “adept” employees in Shawn’s department left to take on the same amount of workload.

“It has impacted me greatly with an influx of stress and workload,” he said. “The idea of losing team members and having to take on more responsibilities due to them leaving has caused me to wonder whether the company appreciates the team.”

Both Amy and Shawn have chosen not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Higher anxiety and lower morale
The lack of transparency in the retrenchment exercises coupled with uncertainty in the direction of the company is causing high anxiety amongst employees left behind.

Shawn said that the lack of “transparency in addressing team members who are affected by the change” has negatively impacted employees’ morale and increased distrust in the leaders.

Eventually, many employees who were not retrenched left voluntarily after the restructure despite the ongoing recession.

Similarly, Amy said that the lack of clarity in the direction of the company on top of the ongoing retrenchment in the company has created much uncertainty and reduced morale amongst the employees.

“Anyone could be next on the chopping board,” she said. “It is very stressful to think about the security of your own rice bowl…[R]ight now, I am pushing myself to focus my energy on my work and to just survive”

Mental health support required consistently
The pandemic has highlighted the lack of resilience in mental health care in the workforce.

As someone who has worked and managed large teams in the tech industry for over 25 years, Sanjeev Magotra, 52, has frequently seen stress and motivation issues at work. With the pandemic, these issues have become “very visible as people are now open to talking about it”.

Magotra believes that mental health is something that needs to be worked on consistently, similar to their physical fitness, and it is time for enterprises to change their mindset towards their employees’ mental health.

“Typically, enterprises look at mental health as something that only 5 to 10 percent of employees needs. However, now is the stage when we need to recognise that all employees need the support,” he said.

That was his idea behind Joye.ai, the world’s first voice-enabled platform that utilises artificial intelligence for employers to track their employees’ mental health.

His digital platform encourages frequent engagement in their actual state by facilitating the experience through voice-enabled detections. Employees can engage verbally on their thoughts and progress, and the programme would then detect what they are going through and provide suggestions on what to do. This also enables employers to better track their employees’ mental status. /TISG

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