Coping With Retrenchment In The COVID Era

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“As the effects of COVID-19 are felt across all corners of the South African economy, retrenchments are rife in industries across the board. So, how can those who have been affected move on and stand out in a strained job market? 21st Century’s Antoinette Crafford shares a few insights.

“When you are retrenched, first and foremost, know your rights. The law states that you are entitled to one week’s pay for every completed (i.e. full) year of service. Although, some companies do go beyond that on a voluntary basis. In addition to that, the company must also pay for your notice period, in accordance with your employment agreement, your outstanding leave, and any outstanding bonuses.

“Another point that is important to make is, it is the right of an employee to seek alternatives to retrenchment. Retrenchment should be the final option, in that the employee and the company should first work together to find an alternative solution. This can include taking annual leave or a temporary lay-off or ‘furloughing’ arrangement – unpaid leaves of absence.

“Salary cuts are also an option – and one that many employers have implemented due to COVID-19. While these types of measures may not be ideal, they can be workable alternatives to outright retrenchment. At the end of the day, holding onto a job, even in less than perfect circumstances, can be infinitely preferable to having no job at all. And it is the responsibility of the employer to consult all the possible alternatives with their staff. Ultimately, retrenchment should be a last resort.

“Written agreements are extremely important in any of these cases. This is such new territory for so many employers that there isn’t really a ‘right’ way to implement these potential alternatives to retrenchment. A salary cut or temporary leave of absence should never be left open-ended. There should always be a specified time period following which the arrangement will be reviewed. Also note, if you agree to take a demotion – i.e. a ‘smaller’ job instead of retrenchment – any salary cut you agree to take maybe permanent as, in essence, your responsibilities have diminished.

“This is a daunting time to be in the job market. But the reality is, many South Africans are in the position where they need to find jobs. And in terms of getting started, many people feel demotivated and unhappy following a job loss. But getting into the market sooner, rather than later is extremely important. Time is always of the essence when you’re getting those job applications in. So, trying to stay positive and proactive despite the disappointment is really important.

“While some industries have been very badly affected by COVID-19 – the hospitality and restaurant industries for example – others are picking up. And there is light at the end of the tunnel, even for the most affected industries, as the economy reopens in phases. Technology, IT, and some healthcare industries are doing better than most at the moment. So, it’s not all doom and gloom and it’s so important to try not to be disheartened.

“Making yourself more ‘employable’, no matter what industry you are in, begins with three important tools:

– Your network – You could even argue that this is more important than your CV. Via your network, word of mouth can be your greatest tool. Friends, colleagues, and even family members who have your best interests at heart can tap into their networks, spreading the word that you are looking – ideally creating a word of mouth ‘domino effect’ that will get your message out there.

– A professional CV – Your CV sells you to potential employers and should make them want to meet you for an interview. CVs can differ in varying industries but there are a few standard points that always keep it professional. Your CV should talk to your capabilities rather than what you have done (although those should feature in a secondary capacity). Try to keep your CV ‘outwardly focused’. In other words, ‘What are your capabilities and how have those resulted in achievements?’.

– Presentation – Once you have managed to secure an interview, the way you present yourself on the day can make or break it for you. It may sound simple, but make sure you look the part for the job you have applied for. Do your research on the company and ask well-informed questions about what they do, what your daily responsibilities would be, company culture, etc.

21st Century has also recently partnered with I Got Hired, which is an innovative global employability and retrenchment platform that provides a ‘job seeker’s dashboard’ that helps make the job-hunting process easier.

“Tools like these can help make more sense of the retrenchment process and many employers and exiting employees are using them to help ‘package’ their job-hunting experiences. This is a time when the technology we have at our fingertips can really be useful – in communicating, selling ourselves, and getting ourselves hired.

“Finally, retrenchment is a reality of the economy we are currently faced with. So, always remember, being retrenched is not a reflection on your abilities and it is a global problem in our current climate. There are many highly qualified and professional people around the world who are facing the same problem. It’s important that you try not to take it personally. Don’t lose heart and don’t lose hope.”