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Record numbers of people around the world left their jobs during The Great Resignation of 2020. Burnt out and unhappy, they searched for higher-paying or more satisfying jobs, while others quit for their mental well-being or to pursue personal endeavours.

But not everyone thought it was a good idea to quit during a global pandemic, perhaps due to instability or simply because they liked where they were and had no desire to work elsewhere. For the people who
stayed put, working through the pandemic came with a whole new set of challenges, from working from home to taking on additional responsibilities for the same or less pay.

A report in The Straits Times in January this year cites an overwhelming workload, a sense of isolation, and a lack of support at work as some of the reasons why people are increasingly disengaged at work. Furthermore, the emphasis on work-life balance had “gained significant importance during the pandemic”.

Florence (not her real name), a content marketer who works in an agency, says that while her job is fast-paced and stressful, it was easier for her to separate her work and personal lives before Covid-19.

“However, when WFH started, I found it hard to shut off even after working hours as my ‘office’ was right at home. The high-stress environment that I was in intensified, and I felt constantly wired even
on weekends.”

She adds that in the past, it was easier to move on if she felt that a job was taking a toll on her mental health. But the increase in retrenchments at the height of the pandemic made her decide to “hold on
until there’s a light at the end of the tunnel”, no matter how unhappy she felt.

According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), resignation rates in Singapore have “remained consistently low throughout the pandemic”. In a Facebook post, the MOM stated that the country’s resignation rate was 1.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2021. This figure is below pre-Covid levels (the quarterly average between 2018 and 2019 was 1.8 per cent).

Although they still have their jobs, many aren’t happy. A recent Employee Engagement & Retention Report, conducted by Canada-based Achievers Workforce Institute, found a high level of workplace
dissatisfaction all over the world, including Singapore, with only 15 per cent of respondents here saying that they were “very engaged” with their current job, and just 16 per cent claiming that they felt
a strong sense of belonging.

Don’t hang on just because — pivot if you have to

Someone who can relate is Shennon Chan, 35, an entrepreneur and the co-founder Elly Milley, an online boutique specialising in baby and toddlerhood products. The pandemic had a severe impact on her business; her emotional health was pushed to the brink as she questioned the viability of her company, and she almost gave up.

Luckily, she hung in there and decided to change her outlook and her business model. Now, she’s happier than ever and excited about her company’s future. Here, she shares how she breathed new life into her business and found a renewed sense of purpose.

“My company, Elly Milley, was born 10 years ago. My boyfriend – now husband – and I ran a little shop at flea markets on weekends, selling various products. The store was a side business and we worked
full-time on weekdays. Elly Milley continued to grow over the next several years, and in 2018, we opened a store at a popular shopping mall. We sold children’s toys, watches, gifts and other items, and in no time at all, our customer base expanded.”

“Everything changed after the pandemic started. People stopped visiting the mall and our sales were hit pretty badly. It was a scary, confusing and uncertain time for everyone. As the months dragged on, other shops in the mall began to close. My husband and I were terrified. The shop was our main source of income; we had two kids to feed and our bills were piling up. We felt so lost and depressed.”

“Eventually we had to close our store because the mall changed management and we couldn’t afford
the increase in rent. I was at a low point. All my friends had regular jobs and stable incomes, and I had no store, no walk-in customers and no network. I was emotionally drained and came really close to giving up on my business.”

“I knew we couldn’t continue as we were. We had to make some serious changes and look at the company through a new set of eyes. We decided to rebrand the business, focusing only on baby and toddlerhood essentials. We opened an e-commerce store, revamped our branding and marketing strategies, changed our business structure, and scaled back a little to avoid stretching ourselves too thin.”

“Today, Elly Milley is thriving and moving in the direction we want it to go. What was once frustrating and depressing now fills me with excitement and joy. I have a new-found passion for the business; I start work every day feeling supercharged and full of new ideas.”

“As a busy mum and business owner, I am conscious about pushing myself too far and burning out, so I make sure to schedule time just for myself. I’ll do yoga or go on long walks, or sit in a quiet cafe and enjoy a good book or people watch. Taking time to do the things I love renews my energy
and helps me reset mentally.”

“As competitive and challenging as the e-commerce scene is, it’s very rewarding. Throughout this journey, I’ve realised that, as an entrepreneur, you have to accept that failure is almost certainly guaranteed, but you can’t let it hold you down, and you need to keep evolving.

“We do what we can to keep our staff happy. We treat them as friends not as employees – this fosters trust and makes the working relationship more meaningful, which in turn results in happier and more confident team members.”

You CAN learn to love your job again, say career experts

Think about what job satisfaction means to you. We’re all motivated by different things, so it makes sense that everyone has different definitions of “career fulfilment” and “job satisfaction”, says Seraphine Ann Chia, academic manager of Aureus Consulting. A high salary, work-life balance and good working relationships are just some factors that may influence how we feel about our job. So, evaluating how happy you are in your position would mean figuring out which of your motivations are fulfilled. Find out what’s making you unhappy and try to address it.

“If you’re not fulfilled in your job, it might be time to talk to your supervisor about how you perceive your role. Then, review each other’s expectations of deliverables and try to realign,” says Seraphine.

“If you don’t think this will work or if your situation doesn’t improve after the discussion, you may want to assess whether the job, department or organisation is right for you. If resigning is out of the question, it may help to pursue interests outside of work.”

You should also ask yourself what’s changed, adds Lai Han Sam, founder of Lifework Coaching.

“If you used to be happy, why are you unhappy now? Is it your new boss, did the company undergo a restructure, or has your work environment changed? Do you want more challenges and experiences? You should also assume some responsibility by asking yourself how you can change to fit your current work circumstances,” he says.

“Resigning isn’t the only option if you’re unhappy in your job. You can also change roles or departments. Such a small but simple shift can help you find job satisfaction again.”

What the bosses say

We prioritise mental well-being and look after one another” – Eugenia Ye-Yeo, Her World Tribe member and founder of nail wrap label Nodspark

“Besides offering flexible work arrangements, our company organises biannual retreats for staff, to give them a break and help them recharge. We also check in with one another regularly to make sure we’re
all doing well mentally. Caring for and looking after one another are big priorities for us – this translates to higher efficiency and a better attitude during the workday. We celebrate one another’s achievements,
too, and catch up every fortnight for about an hour to share updates on our lives.”

“We found that offering this kind of flexibility as part of the job offer, rather than making it a ‘special arrangement’, results in a happy and motivated team.”” – Debbie Watkins, founder and CEO of Lucy, a mobile banking app for women in Singapore

“Our entire company mission is focused on female empowerment, and this is reflected in everything we do internally. Being mindful of our team members’ individual circumstances and well-being is key to this. To this end, we provide flexi-work roles for those who wish to balance their job with other commitments.

We proactively offer interesting and challenging roles to women who are unable to work full-time, but have a lot to offer. They’ve all said that previously, finding a role that enabled them to ‘use their brain’, while having flexible days or hours or a flexible location, was almost impossible. They were either told
that they’d been out of work for too long, had to take on roles where they were expected to work full-time all the time, or given menial jobs that didn’t enable them to leverage their past experience.

We found that offering this kind of flexibility as part of the job offer, rather than making it a ‘special arrangement’, results in a happy and motivated team.”