What should companies do with staff during the downturn? Retrenchment?

As companies come to grips with a slowing down of the economy, they should not overreact and dig themselves into a hole. While tightening the belt such as retrenchment looks attractive, companies should not unwittingly restrict their capacity to respond to challenges.


Companies should not limit their capability to grow their businesses.

While companies cannot predict or prevent an economic downturn, they can build a more resilient organisation to successfully go and grow through every evolving challenge and situation.

In the process of battling real and potential problems, top executives should be mindful not to affect employees’ self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy refers to employees’ belief in their ability to learn or accomplish their jobs at a desired level.

Research shows that self-efficacy has a major influence on employees’ motivation, well-being and achievement.


Therefore, companies should continue to inspire their employees to enhance commitment, confidence and courage to imagine and articulate future scenarios and fight for a desired future.

Help employees develop a passion and ability to learn, improve and achieve better results on an individual and collective basis.

When employees are cautiously optimistic about the business and its desired outcomes, they are in a better position to achieve better results and thrive in an unpredictable future.

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By forging a more able, agile and adaptable team, they can strengthen their value-additions to customers and capitalise on bright spots in every storm.

Business is not just about expanding market size but also about enhancing market share.

Therefore, employees can capitalise on competitors’ fear and cautiousness to entrench and grow their stakes in the market.

Employees can proactively identify business gaps that cannot be fulfilled or be adequately fulfilled by their competitors.


Employees can value-add on these gaps to develop more stable, secure and sustainable business, work and contribution.

The Labour Movement has reminded companies in past financial crisis and in this downturn, to train workers and tap on government initiatives like Workfare Training Support Scheme to finance the training fees and absentee payroll.

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So when the upturn comes, workers are ready and businesses can seize the opportunities to expand.

Economic downturns can frequently offer some of the best opportunities for companies to motivate employees to redesign their business models and streamline and automate operations to improve productivity and results.

Companies can make use of lull periods to expand their range of offerings and expand into new markets and businesses and prepare themselves to rise to a higher level during an upturn.


Liew Mun Leong, the CEO of Capital and Group who famously took a 20% pay cut in 2008 to save jobs, said,

“From our perspective, loyalty between company and staff is a two-way street.

Unless the company is loyal to its staff, they cannot be loyal to the company.

You cannot treat people as dispensable items — in good times, we want you; in bad times, we don’t want you.

Our staff are an asset on our balance sheet and we must treat them as such.”

Dr Patrick Liew is a founder of Worldwide Transformation Ltd, a charity that looks after migrant workers, helping them to have a meaningful and memorable time in Singapore.

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