Recently, several big-name tech companies, including Twitter, Meta and Shopee, retrenched their staff. Local firms like Carousell haven’t been spared, either.
Some layoffs can be brutal, including employees being let go via Zoom or with just hours’ notice.
A former Straits Times (ST) reporter couldn’t help but recall how his colleagues were similarly dispensed with during a retrenchment in 2017.
He linked the “massive culling” then to the company’s current problems with falling readership and circulation data reporting inconsistencies.
In a Facebook post on Saturday (28 Jan), Mr Goh Eng Yeow shared his thoughts on something that happened some years back.
His trip down memory lane was prompted by an article in The Business Times (BT), which is published by SPH Media Trust.
Titled “Tech layoffs’ missing humanity”, it described how companies like Twitter and Singapore-based consumer Internet company Sea handled the layoffs of their staff.
An ex-staff at Twitter’s Singapore office said he was locked out of his company’s systems and informed of this via an email that didn’t even address him by name.
The BT article took issue with such “corporate callousness”, saying,
Layoffs are already painful for workers who are being let go, so why make it worse than it has to be?
However, Mr Goh, a senior correspondent who reported on financial news for ST, recalled that things weren’t too different when the then Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) undertook mass job cuts a while ago.
This happened soon after then-Chief Executive Ng Yat Chung took over.
Mr Ng, known for his “umbrage” remark in 2021, became SPH CEO on 1 Sep 2017.
Someone Added ‘Umbrage’ To Ng Yat Chung’s Wikipedia Page, It’s Now His Unofficial Nickname
In Oct 2017, SPH commenced the process of cutting 230 jobs, of which 130 were retrenchments.
The way some of the SPH staff retrenchments were carried out had parallels to the recent tech layoffs, according to Mr Goh.
Some staff came to work as usual, with no warning of what was going to happen to them that very day.
Then, they couldn’t log into their company-issued computers.
Unlike the Twitter staff who received an email, the retrenched SPH staff allegedly didn’t even get an email telling them that their jobs were at risk or already gone.
Some of the staff who were allegedly unceremoniously dumped in this manner were not newbies but long-serving staff who had been in their jobs for decades, Mr Goh said.
A Yahoo news report dated 12 Oct 2017 corroborates Mr Goh’s account. Sources told Yahoo that some staff came to work to find their work accounts disabled. They were then told to leave the premises by 6pm.
Staff who had to leave ranged from “relatively junior employees to veterans who had been with the company for decades”.
They also included 15 BT employees.
In light of this, Mr Goh took issue with BT describing some tech companies as “missing humanity” when retrenching their staff.
Criticising those companies seems like “the pot calling the kettle black”, he said, adding,
Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr Goh left the company in December 2017.
Mr Goh said the 2017 culling exercise left SPH shorn of “some of its best writers, artists and other content producers”.
He openly wondered whether SPH would have been better off keeping them.
That’s especially considering how the company’s newspapers have seen falling readership and profits since then.
SPH saw a massive 76.8% drop in profits from the first quarter (1Q) of 2019 to 1Q of 2020. At the time, Mr Goh said some staff retrenched were long-time marketing staff who would have been responsible for bringing in sales and questioned whether letting them go was a good move.
Ex-SPH Reporter Points Out 77% Profit Drop In 2019, Thinks Loss Of Salespeople May Be A Cause
The bad news continued with an S$83.7 million loss in 2020 for the first time in their history.
Though the newspaper business was hived off from SPH to become non-profit entity SPH Media Trust in December 2021, the problems didn’t end there.
Earlier this month, SPH Media said a review found that its circulation numbers were overstated.
In response to a netizen who asked him how BT should have written the article, Mr Goh said they should’ve mentioned SPH’s past retrenchment exercise.
In this way, they can be seen as having complete transparency and being above board, he noted, adding,
Otherwise, how to adopt a whiter than white attitude in preaching to the tech sector on how to handle its own culling exercise?
His views have been echoed by other former ST journalists like Bertha Henson, who said SPH must be transparent and accountable so that they can report the news without fear or favour while insisting that other agents be the same.
Hopefully, the former SPH staff who were allegedly let go in this manner will have gotten over the experience by now and will be at peace.
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