Travel Magazine

That Time That I Was Retrenched

By Saicho18

Let me relay to you my experience of being retrenched from work, not because of the pandemic, but because life is hard and at the end of the day, businesses are there to make money.

The Never-Ending Rumor

Ever since I joined the department that specific department way back in 2014, there was already talk of the department being shut down.  This specific department was as old as the company itself; a lot of the more senior members of the staff have been working there since the early 2000s and while they seemed concerned, they also seemed unfazed by the news of the section being shut down.

There was a clear dislike for the Operations Manager at the time; later I learned that people were distrustful of him and everything he says because he’s apparently shut down all the departments that he’s managed previously.  He was a nice enough man, one who kept saying that everything was going to be okay and that there were “big plans” for our section.  While distrustful, people mostly sort of believed him because we did take on more work from the Asia Pacific region and how could they close a department that was producing so much work?

Since no one else seemed to be panicking, I figured that everything was going to be okay.  I tried my best to live my best life at the time; the pay was good, I got to travel to a lot of places, and I made good friends.

The Gossip That Confirmed It All

A brief background for the company that I work in: it hosts ex-pats.  The ex-pats get assigned to Manila every couple of years and then they either move back to their home country or they move to a different location.  It made for a very different working experience than working in a call center because in this company I got to actually work with people of a different nationality.  It was a bit frustrating sometimes because there will always be cultural differences, but at the end of the day, it was very fun to work with these very sarcastic people.

Anyway, the rumor of our impending closure was finally confirmed because of gossip.  It seemed fitting since there was a lot of gossiping in our department; apparently, both races enjoyed gossiping as a pastime.

Back in 2018, there was supposed to be an ex-pat that was in line for an assignment here in Manila.  This person, apparently, was very excited about being assigned here because we have beaches, and the Philippines is a perfect jump-off point for exploring other Southeast Asian Countries.  Well, this person’s dream of having a permanent tan was crushed when this person was pulled aside by their supervisor to tell them that the Manila assignment wouldn’t push through because the Manila department would be closed down in 2021. There just wouldn’t be any point in sending another person just for less than two years.

Luckily (or unluckily) this person told his co-workers about this news – I’m not sure if they weren’t told not to tell anyone or if this person just didn’t care.  And then poof!  Our department’s closure was confirmed.  The management took swift action because they were afraid of the news reaching us employees first and inciting a riot.  The very next day, there was a very lengthy email from the very tippy-top of the management chain explaining the closure plans.  We were given a concrete end date of March 2021.

Mind you, this news broke a few days before the company Christmas party and while the local management tried to do their best to do damage control by going down to our floor and personally talking to the staff about the news, it was just too shocking for most of my colleagues.  I think during the party there were just two tables filled by our department.

Still, I was positive about the news.  Hey, at least we wouldn’t have been blind-sighted by the news and in my head, I was busy computing the gratuity package that the company would be handing out to redundant employees.  I wasn’t worried.

An Uneventful 2019

After the holiday break of 2018, people went back to work in 2019 less shocked by the news.  The main question that was in people’s minds was how much am I going to get when we close?  There was a computation laid out in our HR handbook, but we would be the very first ones in Manila to be retrenched and we wanted to get a concrete computation.

Unfortunately, since the closure was (at the time) more than two years away, nobody from the management could really answer any of our questions.  So, life at the office went back to normal.  Our department still took on additional work from the region and we still had overtime for at least 5 months in 2019.

For my part, I quickly drafted a budget for myself and assigned a savings target just so I’d have a nice cushion of an emergency fund.  2018 was the year that I went to New Zealand, and I figured I could use some of the savings and also the gratuity package to take my family there.  I figured that taking my family for a two-week vacation to the most beautiful country I’ve ever been to would be a good bookend for my career at this company.

I also made plans to take a break after being retrenched and just travel around for a while.  I had no qualms about spending the retrenchment money on travel.  I even made a semi-formed route in my head: fly to South Korea, take the ferry to Vladivostok in Russia and start on the Trans-Siberian journey across Russia, have a stopover in Mongolia, and then maybe explore the cheaper countries in Europe before flying back to the Philippines.  I was all set to do this and dedicated the whole of 2020 to arrange the required visas.

The Other Shoe Finally Drops

All of my plans screeched to a halt when the pandemic happened.  Suddenly the borders of the countries that I wanted to visit closed down.  We had already booked flights to New Zealand for the whole family and managed to book rooms at the Novotel in Queenstown when the pandemic hit.  We were supposed to go there in October 2020.  Thankfully we got refunded (partial) for the flights but the hotel couldn’t give out cash refunds.

Not only did the borders close down, but the job market also got significantly more cut-throat.  I was fine getting a lower-paying job pre-pandemic but given the potential hospital expenses caused by Covid-19, I realized that getting a salary lower than what I was getting right now would cause me financial difficulties.  While I still had my savings (I achieved my savings target by the way), I knew that it would be gone in a snap if I caught this thing and got hospitalized.

I was low-key panicking about the situation and being cooped at home certainly didn’t help.  I figured that I needed to get a job very quickly after being retrenched because it could potentially be ruinous for me financially if I don’t get a stream of income right away.  I was trying to manage my fraying nerves by journaling, an activity that I haven’t done in at least five years.  I began to write an entry at least every couple of days just trying to word vomit on the page everything and anything that was in my head.  It was actually very helpful, and I can’t recommend it enough to people who feel that their heads are going to burst.

I also took solace in this quote from this fridge magnet that was given to me as a freebie by the supplier (I organized the company Christmas party a few years ago).  I had kept this magnet buried in my office pedestal and only came across it when I was cleaning it out to take my stuff home.

That Time That I Was Retrenched
a random message from the universe or maybe God himself

I’m not particularly religious but it did seem like a direct message, you know?

That Time That I Was Retrenched
look, it even had a personal message!

An Unexpected Plot Twist

The top management for our department decided that they wanted to retain a small residual team in Manila.  Late last year, they opened slots for applications and at first, I wasn’t interested in submitting an application.  In my head, I had already allocated the money that I was going to get to different investment vehicles, and I had been going through the closure process for over two years at that point.  I was ready to leave.

But then my mother said, “why not just try?  Who knows?”  And that was enough to plant a seed of “what if” in my head.  So, I submitted an application, did the interview and I didn’t get either of the two slots that were available.  I wasn’t too down about this specific rejection; after all, I was still getting a gratuity package and I figured that this was indeed God’s way of saying that my time in this company was done.

I sent out job applications during the first few months of 2021 and even entertained the idea of starting a career as a virtual assistant just so I could keep working from home.  At the time, nobody knew when the vaccines would arrive in the Philippines, and I didn’t want to risk it.

It was kind of soul-crushing and very reminiscent of my experience in 2009 when I got rejection letters.  I tried not to take it too personally; after all, everybody was looking for a job because of the pandemic.  It was still tough though; I kept going back to how I felt in 2009 when no hospital would hire me.

But still, I held on to the thought that there was a greater plan out there for me and eventually, I did get two leads on the job hunt.  I had already submitted my exit clearance document before Manila went into lockdown in 2021 and I was just waiting for the payout as well as the callbacks from a couple of companies.  I was just chilling in my room, scrolling through Twitter (Astro) when I received an unknown call on WhatsApp.

The thing is, only people at the office knew my WhatsApp number and for a second, I was scared that I had done the clearance form wrong, and my payout would be delayed.  I picked up the phone, and it was the head of the section.  He called to say that one of the people that got hired for the residual team slot backed out and would I be interested in taking over?  And then he gave me an extremely tight deadline of two hours to decide.

I called my friends right after that call and then talked to my mother about it.  She said that maybe this was what was meant to happen; after all, I was waiting for a call from two very different companies at the time and then this was the first offer that came up.  I weighed it out and I figured that while the pandemic was still raging, I couldn’t afford to let go of the company health care package, plus the company had access to vaccines.  Also, I figured that this new role would be a good stretch experience since the job is so totally different from what I used to do in the section before.

So, yeah, right now I’m still employed by the same company and I’m working in the same section but under very different circumstances.  I know that the title was a little clickbaity because I didn’t technically get retrenched, but I still went through the retrenchment roller coaster and the experience will forever be ingrained in my person.

I figured I would write this down here for posterity’s sake as a sort of sequel to my 2009 experiences.

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