It’s no surprise that retrenchment figures are going up, up, up in these times. Those who worried about their job would have thought about how this will happen without a face-to-face meeting.
As uncle Lim Koh Pee enthusiastically puts it: “Hah! If they can’t see me, then they can’t fire me!”
Another cousin Zhuo Boh Lam says, “Even if they want to fire me, as long as I don’t see the message, it means I was never fired.”
As much as my family is optimistic about their job situation, I’m afraid that’s not how it works.
Companies Are Already Retrenching People Through Zoom
The New Paper reports that many companies are taking retrenchment exercises online, and employment lawyers are also receiving more inquiries about retrenchment packages.
The article gives an example of a man who worked at an MNC for more than 20 years who was then fired on Zoom in a meeting less than 15 minutes. He didn’t reach an agreement with his employer, and the company said they would courier his belongings to him since he wouldn’t be allowed into the building.
What’s the problem? Online meetings just seem heartless and cold without human interaction, leading to great unhappiness.
And this isn’t the only example. At least this man had a one-to-one meeting.
Some Companies Had Mass Retrenchment Zoom Calls
Overseas, Uber had a highly efficient call in May. In just one Zoom call of about 3 minutes, they retrenched 3,500 workers.
And then, Bird, an electric scooter startup, had fired 406 employees in a way described as “like Black Mirror” (that depressing sci-fi show) in a one-way Zoom call. Workers logged into the call to be read a script that they had been laid off.
Now you’re thinking, that’s just very large companies and overseas. Surely, Singapore will be better?
Nope. A fashion commerce startup Zilingo retrenched 35 workers in a process said to be “cold, unprofessional and very rushed”. The employees were told to attend a one-on-one “catch up” the next day when they were told of the news.
The worse part? There’s probably going to be more of such Zoom calls. Maybank economists believe that retrenchments could reach 150,000 to 200,000.
But It’s Better Than Nothing
Yep. Unless you want some of that Coco, and I don’t mean a certain Curry Rice chain but COVID-19, remote retrenchments using video conference are pretty much the best way to do this.
Mr Ian Lim, a partner at TSMP Law Corporation, says, “While far from ideal as it risks making a painful process more cold and unfeeling, such remote retrenchments may be unavoidable for now, with the majority of employees still working from home and with managers unable to meet them face-to-face.”
And if it makes you feel better, another lawyer, Ms Muntaz Zainuddin, a partner at IRB Law, had been asked by employers for how to best conduct retrenchment exercises online, asking about privacy and how to handle confrontations remotely.
You can think of that as asking how to cover their backsides while also asking if it’s appropriate.
You see, anything discussed over video can be recorded, so acting professional is very important.
In fact, Mr Alvin Goh, executive director at the Singapore Human Resources Institute, cautions that retrenchment exercises should never be done on a mass scale since it may affect the company’s reputation.
Case in point: I’m sure your impression of the few companies I mentioned earlier haven’t exactly gone up.
The best is to have a one-to-one call with followups before and after so everybody affected wouldn’t have any negative feelings.
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