'A job is not the source of my self-worth': Lessons from Covid-19 retrenchments

  • Analysts warned of the negative impact Covid-19 would have on the economy and jobs, but retrenchments have still come as a shock to some.
  • The job market currently leaves much to be desired, and some say receiving UIF benefits has been difficult. 
  • However, one interviewee says retrenchment taught her that her self-worth is not tied to her job.

Treasury and a number of economists have projected how badly Covid-19 will impact the SA economy, but the effects are now starting to be felt with a number of companies announcing retrenchments as part of cost-cutting measures to stay afloat.

No industry is untouched.

Several media groups, including Media24 and Primedia, are looking to restructure their businesses, while fleet management and logistics company Barloworld has instituted group-wide retrenchments. Businesses, which were already struggling before Covid-19, like clothing retailer Edcon and national carrier SAA, are on the edge of collapse. 

"I knew people were losing their jobs, but you never think it is going to happen to you," says Caryn Welby-Solomon.

The journalist, by training, has been searching for a permanent job for the past two months. Her employer, Associated Media Publishing, is one of the many companies in South Africa which had to close their doors due to the disruptive impact Covid-19 has had on business.

Welby-Solomon has been freelancing in the interim to help cover costs, but the job search has proven difficult.

"There is nothing. It is a hopeless feeling," she said.

"A global pandemic has not happened in a long time, so no one can truly advise you on what you should be doing… Should I wait for a pandemic to pass before I apply for another job? Or should I just be taking whatever I can get because I do not know when it is going to end? It's a lot."

Welby-Solomon said she moved in with her parents a month before lockdown, which has helped her manage expenses.

Applying for benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has been "an absolute nightmare", but she is working with an agency to help her with the burdensome application process.

But this journey has provided her with an opportunity to learn more about herself.

Working with a life coach, she found that a lot of her self-worth was attached to her job.

"Without a job, I felt like I was worthless. Now I am trying to develop myself outside of my job, so that my job accentuates who I am, instead of me just being what my job is," Welby-Solomon said.

"I can actually work on myself … I have way more time to think of what I should be doing and the person I should be."

Trying times

Although the future is uncertain, Welby-Solomon said she is optimistic.

"In trying times, we are forced to think about where we want to go and who we want to be. It is a time for everyone to develop or change or just discover … There is always something we can learn from every experience."

Lydia Bonakele* was the single breadwinner in her family, and has been struggling to make ends meet for four families after being retrenched in June.

Bonakele had been working as a communications officer for a year-and-a-half, before being notified that her position would be made redundant due to the company having lost income during the lockdown period.

She had to make do without her annual leave being paid out, as her company had opted to use those days over the initial 21-day lockdown.

Despite having worked remotely from home over that period, Bonakele was told that this policy would be applied to all employees.

"I queried my retrenchment a lot," she said. "I made a long list of everything that could be cut and minimised, so as to preserve my job. The only response I got is that they [employers] would look into it."

Her company had been hiring at the time her retrenchment was announced.

"Why am I not being trained to move to another position to save my job? I never got a response [from my employers]."

Bonakele said that job opportunities are limited. She has not received any feedback for the jobs she has applied for so far.

"Most do not pay well," she said.

Some jobs are far from where she lives and the transport costs would outweigh the salary she would receive.

"I am literally applying for PA jobs and reception work. It is bad. [I am applying for] anything that can give me income."

She is not hopeful about the UIF payment process either.

"I am hearing a lot of people say they are not getting money out of UIF. It takes forever to get that. I can't depend on that … For me, that's not really a plan B. I would rather look for a job and get something," she said.

In terms of the lessons she's learnt, Bonakele said it is not to get "comfortable" anywhere.

"If a company tells you, you are family, it's probably not true."

Rachel Du Plessis* was working as a head researcher at a consultancy for less than a year when she was informed that she would be let go.

Covid-19 led to clients stopping contracts as part of cost-cutting measures and, as a result, the company had to opt for downsizing, she said.

But Du Plessis has been lucky to find a new job, while she is still serving her notice period at her current work.

"Some companies are looking and have strong cashflow. There are those who are prepared, and those who are not prepared for situations like this," she said.

She is moving to a technology-driven company, which has a small labour force.

"It is not going to be forever [the pandemic]. It feels like it is, but it's not. Eventually, it will pass and the economy will stabilise," she said, with more than a hint of optimism.

*Names changed to protect their identities and those of their former employers.

Fin24 is part of Media24.

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