Tips to help navigate rough road of retrenchment

Published Sep 5, 2023


Gugulethu Shinga

THERE’S no sugar-coating it – losing your job through retrenchment is traumatic. And with South Africa’s stagnant economic growth and worsening unemployment crisis, not to mention the evolving impact of automation and digital technologies, it’s a possibility being faced by more and more. Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) permits employers to dismiss employees for operational requirements. In basic terms, this means that if a company can prove that it has to restructure its operations and reduce its workforce to remain afloat, then it is allowed to dismiss (retrench) employees whose jobs will no longer be needed.

The steps an employer is legally obliged to follow and the rights afforded to employees during the process are all specifically defined and set out in the LRA, and there are many useful websites and resources that cover these in detail (see list at the end of the article). While this kind of information is helpful and can provide a certain measure of clarity on the work front, surviving the personal impact and consequences of retrenchment may require you to do some restructuring of your own.

According to Mark Dempsey at CareerJunction, the best place to start is by facing the process head-on. He shares the following tips for navigating the rough road of retrenchment:


Most current credit arrangements – your bond, overdraft, retail store cards and credit cards – have retrenchment or “loss of income” insurance clauses to cover your debt while you look for new employment. Even if you don’t have access to this type of facility, contacting your credit providers immediately is a proactive step on your part that will work in your favour if you need to restructure your payments.


You might feel like telling your boss exactly what you think of him/her as they turn your world upside down – particularly if the process is being handled in a less than empathetic manner. However, resist the temptation. The decision has been made. Your focus should now be on getting what is owed to you, maintaining positive relationships with your soon-to-be ex-employer, and preparing for your future.


The working world is always smaller than it seems – you never know who knows who, or when your paths may cross again. So by all means calmly ask the difficult questions and make sure you know and demand your rights, but don’t burn any bridges. Unless you feel that your employer has broken the law and you deem legal action necessary, it’s always best to keep the lines of contact professional, polite and above all, intact.


Being retrenched can be a stomach-churning, life-altering and at times, humiliating experience. In the face of such a stressful and significant change, the line between our professional role and personal self-worth can blur – leaving us particularly prone to negative thinking, depression and anxiety. Therefore, make a conscious decision to be kind to yourself. Realise that retrenchment is a fact of the market, not a judgement of who you are. Exercise, don’t drink too much and eat well. Be aware that no matter how mentally strong you think you are, the effects of retrenchment can be subtle, go undetected and then hit you like a train; and you have a duty to yourself and your family to guard against that.


Part of taking care of yourself is putting a plan in place for the foreseeable future. This plan should include various aspects:

  • A timetable of things that need to get done to consolidate your retrenchment. These include finalising your dealings with your previous employer, signing up with the UIF, and making new financial arrangements with your credit providers.
  • A proactive plan of action to seek out new employment. You may need to do things you haven’t done in years like update your CV, write cover letters and be active on job boards and networking sites. Make a list of what needs to be done, then set time aside, choose daily goals and tick them off on completion.
  • Sometimes looking for a job can be harder than having one, so include downtime into your schedule. Work out, meet friends, read. Don’t stop doing the things you enjoy – it’s important to keep a balance.


You should draw up a monthly budget that reflects your new financial circumstances, and start living by it from day one. The sooner this transition occurs, the more sustainable your position will be and the greater flexibility you will have when it comes to new employment opportunities.


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