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I’ve avoided the axe. But I’m working flat out and my bonus is looking bad.

I’ve survived layoffs at a Singapore bank, but my job is now a nightmare

I’m a junior banker in Singapore. While some firms have been hiring recently, my one has been making quite substantial layoffs over the past few months.

You won’t be surprised to hear that morale here has deteriorated. But I think it’s declined more than it should have because there’s been a total breakdown of trust between rank-and-file staff and management.

This is partly because there have been two rounds of redundancies quite close to each other. We’ve now been given assurances that the layoffs are over, but we don’t really believe this because the first round was followed by a second…so who’s to say there won’t be a third?

Most people here realise that the latest assurances are paper thin and are merely tools to try to motivate us to deliver results for the bank. There is still a great deal of uncertainty in the air. My job has become much more stressful and I'm working harder than ever.

The worse thing is that even if we do perform well, this won’t be reflected in our bonuses. Among the survivors here, there’s a sense that we just have to continue to slog long hours and churn out revenue with no proper reward in sight. After all, job losses are cost cutting exercises, so we can’t expect to be paid handsomely despite being chosen to stay on. I accept that costs still need to be controlled even after redundancies. But it’s still not a great feeling to know that however well you perform, it will have no or little impact on your pay.

Moreover, if you have a lapse in performance, it feels like you’ll be next out the door in the current environment. I don’t feel like I’d be cut the same slack as I would at most banks.

I realise that during a restructuring some people always have to be the “cops” who determine who gets cut. But the problem at my bank is that the cops are frequently at the root of the problem. If and when the next round of layoffs come, recent history shows that managers will make decisions based on personal as well as performance aspects. Their personal agendas will soon surface, as they have done in the past, and this is what worries me and my colleagues.

The above all means that there’s a lot of gossip going on within rank-and-file employees. Management can’t control this, try as they might. This gossip can potentially become a negative feedback loop as people reinforce negativity to each other. But overall I think it actually helps us. People look out for one another and give the heads-up if they hear of more layoffs.

Inevitably, to avoid future cuts and to escape low-morale teams, many people are looking to leave the bank, and many already have. When we hire to replace critical roles, no one wants to join us unless it’s a last resort. The bank itself is suffering by not managing the redundancies as well as they could have.

I’m keeping my eye out for new jobs. But in the meantime, I’m coping by keeping my head down and working hard. I’m (hopefully) shielding myself from the axe by delivering on my targets. And I’m trying to stay on the good side of most people, including the more powerful bosses, who hold my future in their hands.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Tatiana Shao (not her real name) is a junior banker in Singapore.

AUTHORTatiana Shao Insider Comment
  • Mo
    5 January 2022

    I sympathize with your difficult situation. But to be honest, this is not just a financial sector problem. It’s the same in most places, and the financial sector alr have the benefit of being the “favourite” that the sg authorities try to groom. As much as we say we are now an independent country free from colonial slavery, the truth is we are still ever dependent on foreign MNCs with foreign overlords. The only sector with local control is public sector and govt linked companies. If we don’t take care of our remaining local middle class or local youngsters entering the work force, we will have no local middle class in the future , and then we will really be at the whim of foreigners and foreign MNCs. Hoping our policies will help to groom the locals instead of foreigners or foreign converts only.

  • ab
    12 June 2021

    Shao, your predicament is all very real. The obnoxious part of the deal with Singapore employers and senior management are they are oblivious to the many sub par performances from the legions of ' foreign talents' amongst the ranks. That said, if you are a Singaporean, it adds salt to the wound.
    I have been observing this trend over the years and is aghast at how terribly adverse, the hiring of sub par foreign talents are eating the lunches of Singaporeans. They not only bloat up their departments by bringing in their village of relatives and friends, but skew the hiring against the local Singaporeans with redundant competency questions at interviews that has little to no bearing to the responsibilities relative to the job. Only an insider that has process knowledge in that company could possibly offer a reasonable response. These aren't jobs that require 'strategic analysis' but anyone with reasonable skills, experience in the respective industry domain should be able to handle.
    My message to Singaporean Managers and recruiters, start thinking in-the-box, about the problems within your eco system. Talent, Human Capital, have been overused cliches; try pitching the question - with what I have, how do we work the platform to deliver better for our customers?

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