The day I signed more Termination Letters than Offer Letters

Morgan McKinley November 15, 2013 4 mins read

That was a dark day. In one of my previous roles, our team takes on the full outsource engagement in managing contract employees for a multinational company.

That included full spectrum of HR functions such as presenting signed Offer Letters and the occasional Termination Letter.

During the heydays, a normal week included presenting about 20 Letters of Offers in a week, and maybe 1 Termination Letter a month, i.e. 1 out of 80 in a month (usually performance related). That dark day, a short and curt email received resulted in a mass preparation of 80 Termination Letters: Due to repercussions from the financial crisis and the decision to outsource some support operations, 3 departments were made redundant. No one was spared, not even permanent employees (i.e. non-contract). Overnight, an estimated 200 people were told that the job that they have been going to for years would no longer be there for them.

The degree of tears, indignation, fear and anger varied across each and every one of the employees when we met them to deliver the bad news. But the one emotion that appeared every time was a poignant sense of loss: Where do I go from here? How do I feed my family and send my kids to school? While there’s no way to foolproof one’s job and avoid redundancy, there are ways to ensure that if and when it does (unfortunately) happen, we can be better prepared for the next step.

Globalization, Automation, Technology and Outsourcing

These are terms that many economists and specialists had coined and re-hashed in different variations for the past 2 decades, and it is important to watch their trends. Take note of new developments in your area of specialization, especially for those in support roles. Watch for new software development and systems that could potentially take over your job. To quote an example, the increasing adoption of Salesforce.com as a global sales management tool in addition to the wider adoption of Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) systems had almost negated the need for Sales Administration staff. Instead, businesses may hire Business Analysts to crunch data and take on a strategic support role (..but even that is changing). Keeping your ears and eyes on these development is critical to anticipating any major corporate decisions made miles away.

Network, network, network

And don’t just network with people in your circle. Keep a close watch on industries that can utilize your skills in a lateral move. Many times, I’ve heard of people who are only socializing with people in the same industry or in the same specialization, only to discover that when the crisis hits, the entire network is affected. For example, if you are trained to be an expert for a software or system, it is just a matter of asking the sales consultant/trainer which other companies are also using the same software when you meet them next time. Keep in touch with a trusted headhunter, who will be able to bring news, latest trends and “what’s hot in the market”, ensuring that you will not miss a suitable opportunity.

Mindset: It’s futile to resist change

Let’s face it. There’s a reason why some corporate mantra these days is: Change is constant. Just because something has been done in a certain way for a long time does not necessarily means that it will stay that way for eternity. Most importantly, keep an open mind and never stop learning. Every change presents an opportunity to learn new skills, and trust me, people do notice when an employee embraces change positively or negatively.

Permanent job is really not that permanent anymore

In some markets, contract or temporary opportunities are still perceived to be a second-class citizen. However, bear in mind that sometimes, these may turn out to be the most stable roles! Whenever an organization need to hire a temporary or contract employee, more often than not, that particular department has active projects or tasks that are (usually) time-critical and/or important. In addition, these provide great opportunities to step into a company you’ve always wanted to join, or to glean insight into the inner working of an organization before you decide to commit for the long haul. Besides, with my very first example, it is apparent that when the hammer hits, it hits broadly across all types of employment status unless legislated.

Hopefully, by sharing these tips, we are able to own our careers and steer it well, and not have to bear the brunt of that dark day.

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