To quit or not: a Covid-19 dilemma for Vietnamese workers

By Pham Nga   March 7, 2021 | 05:18 am PT
With the Covid-19 pandemic taking away millions of jobs, people stuck in undesirable ones are afraid of moving.

When his roommates turn the lights off to go to bed at 10 p.m., Hoang Minh is just starting his eight-hour shift at work.

Sitting with a laptop on his bunk bed, the 21-year-old enters information about overseas orders his company has received into the system.

"This job just needs hands and eyes," he says.

Because of the Covid-19 outbreak, Minh was allowed to work from his room in Hanoi's Cau Giay District.

But within two days the company required him to return to office since his output had been lower than normal.

His salary has remained at VND6 million ($260) a month since he began working here since 2019.

Hoang Minh doing data entry on his bunk bed in a boarding room in Hanois Cau Giay District. Photo courtesy of Minh.

Hoang Minh doing his data entry work in his room in Hanoi's Cau Giay District. Photo courtesy of Minh.

After dropping out of college, the young man from central Vietnam had been dreaming of working in the technology field, a job he perceived as "computer-related."

But instead he ended up with a data entry job.

After two months of working through the night and going home to sleep in the morning, he quit just after the 2020 Lunar New Year (Tet) just as Covid-19 first appeared in Vietnam.

He began to apply for all sorts of jobs.

However, the pandemic was causing a huge number of layoffs. According to the General Statistics Office, the employment rate in the first quarter of 2020 was the lowest in 10 years.

Minh got a job as a bank credit officer, who had to persuade individuals and businesses to borrow. But there was no salary and instead employees got paid based on performance. This time he quit after just one month.

He then worked as a real estate agent and quit again when he could not find a single client in three months.

During that time he had to borrow money just to eat.

Around this time a former colleague and friend also wanted to quit his data entry job, and Minh texted him saying: "Don't be foolish to quit your job at this critical time. I really regret my action now."

Luckily for him, his old company again recruited people for data entry, and Minh immediately applied and got it.

"I have not paid off my debts yet," he says.

Minh opted to stay and work through Tet this year. He took a few minutes off on Lunar New Year's Eve, a time when the whole country celebrates, and sat with his roommates to eat instant noodles.

"The noodles tasted bitter."

His parents have urged him to return home and learn vocational skills or become a blue-collar worker, but Minh wants to decide "his own fate."

Feeling depressed on the second day of the new year, he called his father to say he would go visit home for two days. But his boss warned him saying if he failed to fulfill his contract the company would not accept him back when he returned.

Being unemployed for four months in 2020 had taught Minh to be patient, and he decided to stay.

"As a 21-year-old, I don't have time to date or hang out with friends since everyone goes to school or work during the day."

But he does not dare quit his current job, knowing that Covid-19 has put paid to employment opportunities.

A woman filling for unemployment benefits at the Hanoi Center for Employee Service in Cau Giay District. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

A woman filling for unemployment benefits at the Hanoi Center for Employee Service in Cau Giay District. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

But people can be dissatisfied with their current jobs but dare not quit amid a global pandemic or not.

Pham Manh Ha, an associate professor of psychology at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, said this is most common in the 30-45 age group.

"These people are frustrated with their current jobs, have no opportunities for advancement, are not interested in a career, and have difficulty finding new jobs. They fall into a state of internal frustration and constant stress, resulting in poor performance and unexpected outcomes."

Minh Huong, 32, of Saigon's District 1 identifies herself as one such person. For several months now she has been crying every day on the 5km trip from her rented room to office.

The admissions officer at an English language center says: "I am shy and have an inferiority complex. I dare not speak up when I have a grievance. I do not dare express myself, and so I am locked in a vicious circle."

Huong was an excellent employee in 2019, but got a Tet bonus of just VND500,000 ($21.68), just like her roommate. Since reward was based on collective performance, just one team member performing poorly could affect everyone’s year-end bonus.

Her labor contract said, unless she violated rules, she was entitled to a salary increase every six months. But it took her a year to get a raise of just VND450,000 ($19.52).

Feeling unhappy, she resigned.

"But since our center lacked manpower and there was no one to fill my position, my boss asked me to stay for another two months. And then the pandemic broke out."

She continued to work there because she had applied to five language centers but either received no response or canceled her scheduled interview due to the outbreak.

The fact she had resigned but decided stay on because of the pandemic did not endear her to her boss or colleagues.

"I emailed my boss to suggest adding a few designs in the classroom to attract students. But my boss dismissed it saying it would be approved if a teacher suggested it. But the next day a colleague in the room suggested it again and got approval."

The office has more than 10 employees who eat lunch together, but no one wants to sit next to her. Her boss only gives her minor work.

Huong is terribly depressed, and does not know how she can carry on much longer.

"I plan to find a new job around mid-June; I hope the outbreak will be completely under control by then."

Vu Quang Thanh, deputy director of the Hanoi Center for Employee Service, said there are more job opportunities now than in the early part of last year, with enterprises’ demand for workers increasing by around 5 percent.

At his center, 207 enterprises in the telephone components, machinery, textile and other sectors have registered to recruit more than 5,000 workers.

But he said people who want to find new jobs should assess their capabilities, recruitment demand in their field, salary, and other factors.

The pandemic has made it difficult for many businesses and so salaries are down, he said.

So, instead of worrying about their income, people should try to stay back and share the difficulty with their employers instead of jumping to other jobs, he said.

Besides, people need to accurately assess the cause of their current situation. If the problems are caused by technology changes or a mismatch between their abilities and job requirements, they need to improve their personal skills, he added.

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