Retrenched. Now what?

Retrenchment: tips and labour law - labourflaws.comBy Barbara du Preez-Ulmi. Being retrenched sucks. Everything comes to an abrupt halt. I was retrenched myself in my previous life. And unemployed. And in-between jobs, waiting. And I volunteered. And I freelanced. And I started my own business. What I’ve learned is that whatever happens, you need to keep moving. Someone famous once said, Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.

If you’re dismissed, you usually know why. You may agree with it and move on. Or you may not. In this case, you probably decide to prove that your dismissal was unfair. (In South Africa, this most likely means seeking assistance from the CCMA, the Centre for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration).

When retrenched, you keep asking yourself why and why me, even if it is called a “no-fault-dismissal”. In South African labour law, retrenchment is defined as Dismissal for Operational Requirements, and is one of three permissible forms of dismissal. To quote John Grogan, “Operational requirements are in turn defined as requirements based on the economic, technological or similar needs of an employer” (taking reference to section 213 of the Labour Relations Act, LRA, Act 66 of 1995).

All good. But you’re most likely not reading this article to find out more about the law behind it. You may not even feel much empathy for the company who retrenched you. As it’s about YOUR economic and similar downturn now.

You’ve lost more than just your income

To lose a job is however not just about losing an income. Perhaps you feel like you have lost your “adopted family”, workplace friends even. But perhaps you also miss the routine, regularity and (perceived) safety of the job you had. You may feel like your career that you’d planned so carefully has come to an abrupt halt.

We all react to big life changes differently. It depends on how well we know ourselves, and if we have a safety net or not. To some of us, retrenchment may be a relief – especially if you have alternative solutions in place that help you survive financially and emotionally. But to most of us, it is coupled to anger, frustration, fear; maybe even panic.

This article is for those who have been retrenched – or are in fear of being retrenched – and ask themselves, Now What?

13 Tips on what to do when you’re retrenched

1- Fair retrenchment?

First of all, check if your retrenchment was handled fairly by your employer. Was there a consultation; were you given alternative solutions/ did you suggest alternative solutions? Was it the ultimate sanction that the company could make, in order to stay operationally fit? Was bumping suggested? (Read this great and easy to understand article by Ivan Israelstam which explains the South African context; if you’re in another country, refer to your national labour legislation).

2- Did you get your severance pay?

Did you get your retrenchment package? Was it the bare minimum amount as prescribed by law, or did you discuss voluntary retrenchment and negotiate your package? (To know more about this, refer to the Basic Conditions of Employment Amended Act of 2014 – BCEA – section 41). Note that if you’re in senior management, work less than 24 hours a week, earn more than the ministerial annual threshold of R205,433 and in some other cases, the regulations in the BCEA may not apply to you; yet your employer may still honour them.

3 – Get your letter of reference

You are entitled to a Certificate of Services. Better yet, ask for a Letter of Reference. The difference? The certificate usually just states your length of service, designation and similar facts; a letter entails a personal recommendation of not just what you did, but how you did it, and is signed by someone who may be contacted personally by future hiring companies. If need be, write it yourself and have your manager-in-line or anybody else of authority read and sign it. Also ask for their personal email address and phone number and if you could list them as references on your CV.

With the legal check points out the way, let’s get down to getting practical:

4- Set up a routine

Your first day after being retrenched. You’re at home; you might even love it for a short while, as you needed that break. While it’s great to cut yourself some slack, I learned that it’s important to set up a new routine and stick to it.

Project-manage yourself: Allocate time slots to admin/ job hunting or similar; to sporting activities, even if it’s a brisk walk; to learning something new; to meditate; and anything else that is important to you and helps you keep a clear mind. A tip from Mark Twain: Eat the frog first – do the thing worst to you first, in the morning. Then everything else looks like a breeze. This way, you use your optimal willpower.

5- Do a financial health-check

How long can you survive on your available funds? Can you perhaps invest some of your money? If you have very little to get by, can you freeze some of your debit orders until you have the upper hand again (discuss this with the relevant service provider  or financial institution).

If you pay school fees for dependents – can you speak to the educational institution to get financial help or a bursary?

Can you trim down? Do you need the gym contract, the clothing account, can you use the bus instead of your car? If you have debt, speak up – seek the assistance of a financial adviser, a knowledgeable friend or a consultant at your bank. Maybe this is your time to get out of the traditional system and start crypto-mining

6- Who do you want to be?

Use the time to tackle the deep stuff: Find out how you would like to make money going forward. Do you still want to be employed? Do you want to start your own consultancy? Freelance? If you don’t know where to start with this soul-search, check out the principles of visualisation. Check out this video on Ted x that explains the concept well.

7- Find employment again

Start by updating your CV. A curriculum vitae says little about who you truly are, what you have gone through, what you feel your vocation and purpose in life is. But it is still a vital tool to have when you hunt for a job.  Remember that subject to what country or language-region you apply for a job in, the format of a CV may differ. Read up about formatting of resumes.

Learn to write great letters of interest grab these cover letter writing tips on my previous blog article.

Careful: Don’t just submit your CV via the countless job portals and sites out there. Investigate companies and organisations you would like to be part of. Follow them on social media, read their news, check out their teams. LinkedIn is a great place to get information on people who work at businesses or organisations that you love.

8- Register your own company or consultancy

These sites will provide you with the necessary information to get started: 8 startup tips from global entrepreneurs;; 10 tips for female founders from women MCs; once you start digging, you’ll find plenty of information. You may also want to join a local network of small business owners, or rent some shared, co-working office space – a concept becoming more popular internationally – my local recommendation is TheBureaux.

9 – Become free and self-managed

Freelancing comes with its very own  set of pros and cons. It’s all about how much effort you put into it, if you’re able to self-manage well, and how well you network – plus a good streak of luck. Great freelance portals to subscribe to:, Flexy Skills, and

10- Travel and teach

Do you have some money on the side? Depending on how much it is, take a sabbatical. Go travel. Perhaps you combine your traveling with doing temporary work, such as TEFL language teaching in Cambodia, South Korea or other great destinations.

11- Volunteer

Give and receive, learn new things and grow your network. Volunteer while searching for a new job or starting your own business, or while you freelance.  Volunteering makes you feel part of something bigger than yourself; you acquire new skills, and perhaps even make new friends.

It also shows prospective employers your resilience, and that you are willing to help. Volunteering may be in person, but there are also online volunteering options. My favourite one is United Nations Volunteering. You may also register as an onsite volunteer (VMAM).

12- Learn and grow

Take the time to learn something new. There are countless free online courses – or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). They range from one-day events to obtaining full diplomas and certificates. If the courses are fee-based, and you can’t afford them, see if there are (partial) bursaries available. I love the courses offered on UNITAR, Canvas, GetSmarter, OpenUniversities and many, many more.

13 – Find peace

When one door closes, another one (eventually) opens. While I have always found it helpful to keep moving and be practical about things that upset me, I have found it equally important to allow my feelings to catch up with a stressful situation.

Allow yourself the time to just be quiet. Enjoy life, and laugh as much as you can. Ask for help with family and friends. While you are waiting for your next opportunity, keep your body, soul and mind happy. Now that you (temporarily) have more time, don’t waste it by sitting on the couch moping, and watching soapies.

I wish you good fortune.


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