'Too early to see effects of layoffs'

'Too early to see effects of layoffs'
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Despite the record number of retrenchments last year, counsellors have not been seeing an increase in retrenched workers beating a path to their doors - at least not yet.

There were 19,170 layoffs last year, compared to 15,580 in 2015. This figure has been rising since 2010.

Unemployment also rose, with the annual average unemployment rate last year rising to 2.1 per cent overall, up from 1.9 per cent the year before, making it the highest since 2010.

Counsellors said it might be too soon for affected workers to start streaming in.

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Mr Jonathan Siew, a counsellor with Care Corner Counselling Centre, said that two years after the 2007 financial crisis, he saw a spike in people who were depressed or anxious because they had yet to find a job.

He said: "Those who come for counselling usually have been jobless for a year or more, and the prolonged unemployment usually causes anxiety and despair.

"If they are also struggling with a deep sense of shame and guilt and are coping ineffectively, they will just get more anxious and depressed."

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Most workers suffer from stress and grief after being retrenched or forced to resign, said FaithActs counsellor Michael Tiew, who has 20 years of counselling experience.

Not all of them turn to counselling, often because of the costs and social stigma involved, he added.

"After they lose their jobs, going for counselling is the last thing on their minds. Normally they are thinking about what to do next." he said.

A Ministry of Manpower spokesman said individuals who have been retrenched or think they are at risk of being retrenched are encouraged to contact Workforce Singapore (WSG) or the NTUC e2i career centres for assistance.

"Through WSG and e2i, individuals will be able to access a suite of employment services and programmes, including enlisting the help of career coaches, to help them find employment," the spokesman said.

"Career coaches are certified career development facilitators with skills in group facilitation, basic counselling, as well as use of psychometric and career matching tools. They can proactively motivate individuals to discover their strengths for future employment."

In NTUC's Pivot programme, which was launched on March 13, over 60 volunteers from 16 industries will share their experience and provide emotional support to jobseekers.

It also provides opportunities for them to meet career coaches, attend talks by industry associations, get training in soft and technical skills and be matched to suitable jobs.

Counsellors encourage individuals in need of a listening ear to come to them.

Mr Siew said: "If they are feeling increasingly anxious or depressed, or even easily irritated, I would recommend they speak to a counsellor who may not be able to assist them on job searching but can help them manage their emotions and cope better.

"...Unemployment is more than an personal issue, it actually affects everyone in the family."

Counsellor: Set realistic expectations

Two months after he was asked to resign from his job as an engineering project manager in April last year, Mr Tan, now 45, was still feeling distressed and worried. He decided to approach a counsellor for a listening ear.

Mr Michael Tiew of FaithActs advised him to set realistic expectations for his family, but to expect a less than positive response.

It took Mr Tan at least a month to work up the courage to call for a family meeting.

For someone who used to make more than $8,000 a month, Mr Tan had to cut back on luxury expenses like eating at expensive restaurants.

His children, who are in university, were also shocked at having to take a pocket money cut at first.

But after a few months, his family adjusted to the changes and rallied around him.

Mr Tan is now driving a private-hire car, and is happy to have more time for his family and himself.

This article was first published on Mar 28, 2017.
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