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5 minute read

Career Resilience: How to Bounce Back From Setbacks in Your Professional Life

Even Singapore’s Members of Parliament have career setbacks! Here’s some advice on how to overtime tough times when things aren’t going smooth sailing professionally.

The Covid-19 pandemic was one of the greatest trials for many Singaporeans in recent years. Some got laid off, while others faced job insecurity due to the new and different skillsets required of them.

However, a report commissioned by global HR and payroll leader ADP revealed that Singaporean workers are actually amongst the hardiest during this period of crisis, ranking fourth in the world.

The Global Workplace Study by the ADP Research Institute surveyed over 26,000 workers in 25 countries to learn the impact of Covid-19 on employer engagement and workplace resilience.

“These findings reinforce the well-known notion that people can often emerge stronger after a setback or crisis,” said Yvonne Teo, ADP’s VP for in Asia Pacific. “It is heartening to know that Singapore has kept up high levels of workplace resilience.”

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But don’t just “keep calm and carry on”, Singaporean workers!

But this resilience does have a human cost – according to a survey on work stress in recent years, Singaporean workers are amongst the most stressed at work globally (at 92% compared to the global average of 84%), which can result in burnout, an occupational hazard recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

It certainly doesn’t help that Singaporeans in general have a stronger aversion to failure, which starts as early as our student days.

According to a 2019 study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for 79 economies, Singapore had the highest percentage of students (78%) who believe that failure makes them doubt their plans for the future, and 72% also worry about what others would think of them in they fail.

“Many people are conditioned from a young age to define themselves by what they do and how much they earn. I see many patients who experience a loss of self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness and guilt when they lose their job,” said Dr Adrian Wang, consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre to CNA.

So, what are the career setbacks that Singaporean workers tend to suffer more emotionally, and have trouble recovering from the most?

Fear of career failure weighs heavily on the Singaporean worker

We spoke to Raphael See, a career coach for AKG (formerly known as Maximus), a career matching provider under Workforce Singapore (WSG). According to Raphael, career setbacks affecting workers in recent include:

  • Getting fired or retrenched
  • Needing to start a career from scratch in a sunset industry
  • Building skillsets that are less relevant, needed, or marketable
  • Being convicted of a criminal offence, or developing a medical condition that limits one’s job prospects
  • Finding employment after an extensive period of self-employment or unemployment

Apart from these, slipping up in the rat race and failing to get the promotions they desire also tends to hit local workers hard.

Raphael shared: “Some of the common reasons for this happening can be due to a lack of awareness of your contributions: you didn’t highlight to your supervisors your achievements, or contributions to special projects enough.

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There can also be a disconnect between the employee’s perception on themselves as a worker, against their supervisor or employer’s perspective.

“It’s important for employees to work with supervisors to identify key performance indicators (KPI) and design an action plan that gets them to a level that’s agreed to be promotion-worthy,” Raphael revealed.

“Rather than waiting for a promotion to ‘step up’, you need to seize opportunities to demonstrate your ability to perform in your preferred role, show how you intend to contribute to it, and what else you can bring to the table.”

Imposter syndrome afflicts even our own Singaporean Ministers

Even for those who seem to be doing well at their jobs, a growing number are silently suffering from the weight of imposter syndrome: a feeling that your achievements are undeserved, that you’re not worthy of success, and that you are likely to be exposed as a fraud.

According to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, more than 70% of people are affected by workplace imposter thoughts at some point in their lives.

Locally, 74% of Singapore workers experiencing imposter syndrome in 2020, according to a global survey by workplace application tool Asana.

In fact, a local campaign kick-started by interns at creative agency BBH had notable public figures such as Members of Parliament Alvin Tan and Jamus Lim to also share their own experiences with imposter syndrome.

The former, who serves as the Minister of State for Culture, Communication and Youth, and Minister of State for Trade and Industry shared on a LinkedIn post: “When I was asked to serve my country as Minister (of State), it was as if all the cumulative fears of being an ‘imposter’ contrived to form a mountain of doubt that I had to reckon with.

“In each of these instances, I felt like an imposter. I tried my best to conceal it, in case I was found out. So I asked for help. I sought mentors to learn from, who would coach me, and whom I could emulate.

“Many agreed to take me under their wing and mentor me. I learnt how to speak up in class and at work (even though I still struggle as an introvert), drive projects and lead with and without formal authority.

“Over time, I got better, learnt more, got more confident in my role. And started mentoring others.

“Whenever I take on a new role, I struggle again. But that’s how we grow. We stretch ourselves, build muscle, get better, grow.

“So imposter syndrome is real. But it also keeps us humble and helps us grow. I hope this sharing helps encourage others as they struggle, learn and grow in their careers, and lives.”

Can’t find a suitable job? Here’s some advice

As career setbacks go, unemployment can really hit hard. “When removed from the role as a provider for the family, men may feel depressed and a loss of identity and purpose. Women in general experience higher rates of anxiety when their jobs are in jeopardy,” added Dr Wang.

A study on emotional-wellbeing found that the longer people remain unemployed, the more likely they were to report signs of poor psychological health. The rate of depression was nearly one in five in individuals who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more.

Raphael also shared insights for some of the common reasons some jobseekers end up failing to find the right job:

  • A lack of awareness on what help or resources are available
  • A mismatch in job goals and salary expectations
  • Ineffective resumes
  • Poor interview skills
  • Failure to network, or use the right job search platforms

Here are some of the tips he has to help below:

  • Conduct research to align your job goals and salary expectations with the hiring market, by familiarising oneself with various job requirements, job scopes and salary ranges
  • Attend workshops or utilise online resources to pick up the latest trends and best practices for an effective resume, and customise your resume to the needs of each employer you reach out to
  • Attend job fairs, workshops and talks, like the ones available on WSG’s Career GRIT
  • Try doing mock interviews with friends and family to sharpen your interview skills, and make sure you prepare before, and review after all interview
  • Learn how to maximise the way you use job portals, such as MyCareersFuture
  • Work closer with recruiters, career coaches, and your own personal network
  • Ask for professional help if you need it. Register for a complimentary session with WSG’s Career Guidance team

How to get back on your feet

Here are some tips from Vyda S Chai, Think Psychological Service’s clinical psychologist, on how to deal with career setbacks and strengthen your resilience in the future, from a CNA report on the topic here.

  • Connect with friends to remain positive, and have open discussions with family on matters such as finances, in the case of job loss
  • Set a routine for yourself, which will help you feel that you have some control over the situation. Schedule regular exercise, eat well, and get adequate sleep
  • Maintain your personal grooming – it lifts your mood and keeps you professional looking for sudden opportunities
  • Remember that life is about changes, and it’s what you’re going to do about these changes that counts!

Here’s also a list of other stories and advice we’ve got for those who need more career perk-ups below!

Emotional Resilience: This Guy Overcame His Troubled Youth and Became a Social Worker

How to Build Career Resilience to Get Through Any Crisis

What it Takes to Lead in a Time of Crisis and Disruption

How to Build Mental Resilience in Your Team During a Crisis

Engaging Initiatives That Improve Resilience and Well-being in the Workplace

Positive Thinking: How and Why to Adopt it for Career Success

Job Application: 6 Ways to Stay Positive and Keep Improving

Retrenched in Singapore: How to Deal With the Emotions and Move Forward


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