Shawn Lim
Jul 7, 2023

Circles.Life faces more layoffs amid allegations of toxic workplace culture & internal politics

A grim picture of Circles.Life has emerged, with allegations pointing to a company plagued by deep-seated issues that go beyond financial struggles.

Rameez Ansar, co-founder and CEO of Circles.Life
Rameez Ansar, co-founder and CEO of Circles.Life

Singapore-based digital telco Circles.Life has reportedly once again, experienced another round of layoffs following a previous wave in May, Campaign understands. 

According to sources close to the situation who wish to remain anonymous, approximately 20-30 employees were affected in this recent bout of job cuts, adding to the 50 individuals who were let go just a few months ago. Most of the cuts appear to impact its Singapore headquarters.

Campaign has come to understand that the impact of these layoffs have reportedly been felt across multiple departments, including marketing, engineering, product, people and culture, and the entire Circles X team, its cloud platform. Reportedly one of the company's co-founders was also asked to leave after pressure from the board, and his position changed to a non-executive director. 

The company's struggles to be profitable are not new. Circles.Life previously underwent a round of job cullings in 2020. At that time, the company claimed less than 5% of its global headcount were affected.

The underlying cause of this fresh round of layoffs appears to be cost cutting according to sources, with Circles X, the company’s cloud platform, being singled out as the biggest contributor to the company's financial struggles. 

The company does not report its earnings as it is aiming for an IPO. However, co-founder Rameez Ansar has previously said in a September 2022 interview that the company expects half of its revenue would come from the Circles X platform business by 2023.

Campaign understands that partnership deals by Circles X expected to materialise, have failed to close, leading to an alleged loss of confidence in Circles X and prompting the need for cost-cutting measures. 

Toxic workplace culture

Campaign has accessed screenshots from what it learns was a recent Circles.Life townhall posted on Pigeonhole—here, the staff reportedly questioned the management around the toxic workplace culture prevalent within the company. Complaints about late-night calls and being made to work despite being on sick leave are highlighted (see below).

An anonymous comment left by a member of staff stating, “Can we start committing to respect annual leave, weekends and sick leave? A lot of us are expected to join calls, prepare decks and do work when we are on leave,” received 20 votes according to the Pigeonhole screenshots.

According to sources, complaints were made about a complete communication breakdown from senior management about how the company plans to deal with dimishing manpower and the lack of clarity around layoffs.

Amid these turbulent times, former chief financial officer Chee Kiong Mak departed in February and former chief growth officer Nelson Allen left the ship in June this year, without their replacements named. 

Another anonymous comment on Pigeonhole, that received 12 votes, stated: “Are we expected to accept reduced manpower, budget with zero focus on employees’ wellbeing and development all while there is only an increase in workload?” 

Other alleged workplace incidents that Campaign has learnt from reliable sources who were part of the recent redundancies, include instances of aggressive behaviour such as table-slamming, alcohol-induced misconduct, and the imposition of unreasonable work demands and timelines.

Internal politics

The hires of Allen and Chee were seen internally as a coup for Circles.Life. Allen spent more than a decade leading global marketing for Samsung, and also spent time at Microsoft and Expedia. Chee joined Circles.Life from Singapore telco giant Singtel, where he was CFO of Singtel’s digital life group. 

However, sources have told Campaign that long-time Circles.Life senior employees allegedly felt threatened by Allen and Chee, resulting in both being forced out after their performance reviews stated that they were "not a good cultural fit". 

An anonymous comment on Pigeonhole, that received 17 votes asked: “Why does the company employ professionals who are experts in their respective fields but fail to take their advice into consideration?”.   

Circles.Life has also been accused of having discriminatory hiring practices that favour a specific culture. According to sources, there are reportedly unethical manipulations involving employment passes, suggesting a "gaming" of the system.

Campaign reached out to Circles.Life for comments but it denied all the allegations and the layoffs.

The company said in a statement: "We are a people-focused organisation and conduct frequent employee engagement feedback to proactively keep a pulse check of our employees’ satisfaction and well-being.

"Additionally, we also work closely with any Circles employees who may need support for a career transition and continue to hire new talents whose purpose and values are aligned with our company’s vision."
The company also said it takes workplace discrimination very seriously and does not tolerate such practices.
"As a global company with operations across 14 countries, we work with people from diverse backgrounds on a daily basis. All hiring processes are conducted according to all local regulatory laws in each country," said Circles.Life.

"The company is laser-focused and making good progress in our expansion plans. We have recently announced a joint venture with a Middle East telco giant and how our partner telco brand in Japan has recently achieved a high customer satisfaction score."

In regards to Chee and Nelson, the company said: "Both CK and Nelson are very esteemed alumni without whom the organisation would not have grown to where it is now."

Campaign Asia

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