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6 minute read

How to Make Better Manpower Planning Decisions in Times of Crisis

According to MOM, employers should opt for retrenchment as the last recourse when managing their manpower during crises. Effective manpower planning to forestall lay-offs will thus require a critical assessment of the present and future workforce demands against changing economic climates. We take you through the process.

In May, local bank DBS announced its plans to hire more than 2,000 people to protect and create more jobs amid the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. These not only include apprenticeships for fresh graduates but also specialised roles for seasoned professionals in growth technology areas, such as fraud detection compliance and data science. DBS’ commitment comes as a glimmer of positivity in a time when fear of job losses are at an all time high. It is a perfect example of a futurist organisation, one that understands the power of effective manpower planning in meeting changing workforce landscapes of today and tomorrow.

What is manpower planning?

For every organisation to remain successful, it needs, first and foremost, the right amount of talent at any given economic situation to fulfil the company’s goals. This requires foresight and strategic development of the workforce which in essence is what many management experts define as manpower planning.

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But why is manpower planning important?

Employees are the golden resource of any organisation that effectively drives its operations. To sustain this, organisational leaders must take relevant steps to protect employee wellbeing (to keep them engaged in the job) while strengthening job security (to protect the employees’ bread and butter), in ways that prevent possible lay-offs.

These require organisations to consistently review manpower structures, by identifying, for instance:

  • Shortages or surpluses across job categories
  • Skills gaps vis-à-vis developments in technology
  • Recruitment needs and opportunities to address changing industry demands and trends

Alongside government initiatives, such as those from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), that act as support mechanisms to help organisations efficiently plan their human resources, employers must also explore innovative ways to fully optimise their workforce. These include, as we see in DBS’ case, upskilling employees to enhance their competencies, reskilling others and training talent for new roles.

Regardless, there is always a pre-existing caveat – events that have not been anticipated.

Using the term coined by American scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb, social scientists would call them the ‘black swans’, what we could possibly describe the recent pandemic as.

How then do employers better manage their manpower during these events?

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Relooking at manpower planning strategies during crises

Unexpected events, led by internal and external factors, can shake up manpower planning strategies exponentially. More importantly, due to the economic volatility we interact with in this globally connected world, organisations have a higher chance of being impacted by challenging developments in a country miles away. When such developments turn into global crises and reach our shores, the impact is more powerful.

The COVID-19 outbreak is only one example.

Whether it is a company acquisition, government takeover, protests, wars or disease outbreaks, businesses can find themselves caught in the mayhem of such crises. These inadvertently disrupt daily operations and impact company revenues, putting jobs at stake. Crisis management plans are therefore crucial to protect the organisation and its people during such troubled times. These plans typically include strategies to anticipate and identify crises, prevent them, reduce impact in the event they occur, prepare for recovery and manage future disasters. In all these, manpower planning is a significant priority.

Even so, these policies must be reassessed each time before implementing to better address the specific crisis the company is facing at the present moment. This ensures that manpower planning decisions have taken into consideration all aspects of crisis impact on job security and employee wellbeing. Below, we discuss what employers can do.

Analyse current manpower situation

1. Analyse current manpower situation vis-à-vis crisis

Employers like yourself can first analyse where the existing workforce stands amid the crisis. Such an analysis is best done at the onset of the event. This involves studying the:

Type of service/organisation

By understanding the type of organisation or the services provided, you can better assess the potential impact you might face as a company. Do you have a higher chance of providing more of your services to help the community pull through a societal crisis or are you at the losing end? Do you have the potential to change business direction temporarily or even permanently to stay afloat?

Number of departments and quantity of employees in each department

Essentially, this is an important statistic to tally before considering any form of reorganisation and perhaps retrenchment. The former is typically a recommended option. However, if there is a need to make certain roles redundant, they must be decided after very careful analysis and justification. For instance, MOM stipulates guidelines on responsible retrenchment to protect employees if retrenchment is the most appropriate way forward for a company to survive the pandemic-induced economic downturn.

Job categories in the organisation

Large organisations will often have many departments. These departments can have cross-cutting job categories such as managers, executives and officers, each having comparable responsibilities. By defining these categories, you can study the crisis impact on job functions more effectively. Smaller organisations can also categorise employees in a similar way. By doing so, you can ascertain which jobs can be restructured, the departments that require more manpower to address the crisis and the functions at risk of declining.

2. Make manpower forecasts vis-à-vis post-crisis

Every crisis will leave an impact so it is always important to be ready for a different future than anticipated previously. At this stage of manpower planning, you must apply foresight and deliberate on how your workforce may be affected by the post-crisis situation, by studying the:

  1. Relevance of services and size of workload
  2. Relevance of job categories and responsibilities
  3. Need to expand manpower for job categories
  4. Skills required to adapt to the new situation

3. Adapt the workforce accordingly

After a thorough situational analysis of the present workforce strength and its possible future, employers can make manpower planning decisions that support both organisational goals and protect jobs.


Instead of choosing to retrench workers, you can consider reorganising manpower structures to match the present economic situation and work capacity. As a long-term strategy, for instance, you can reshuffle employees between roles that require similar skill sets or create new roles and provide training accordingly. For shorter fixes, split teams, work-from-home policies and compulsory paid/no-pay leave allocation can help your business tide through the phase.


On training, you can take a long-term approach by implementing effective skills upgrading plans to develop your workforce capabilities. This not only tightens employee job security during a crisis but also enhances their employability, making them eligible for future opportunities within the organisation and those in the industry after the crisis ends. This can also include traineeship opportunities for new recruits.


While recruitment may not sound like a helpful solution during a crisis, recruiting the right talent who can help meet new organisational goals post-crisis will be a valuable investment.


MOM, alongside its partner agencies, have specifically indicated that retrenchment should always be the last resort for employers. Should this be an inevitable outcome, you must follow the strict MOM guidelines on retrenchment which require you to consider employee needs as the top priority.

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