In response to growing concerns about financial survival, the news media is full of information about ways to save money, conserve energy, etc., but very little is being said about people’s biggest worry—secure employment!
Work, either through job-employment or self-employment, is the levee that protects us, and as long as it holds, we can weather the storm of uncertainty. But what if the traditional approaches to sustaining and finding work can’t stand up to the current surge of events?
Hard times require more vigilance in taking care of your professional future—or as I said to one of my clients recently, “Being wishy-washy or needy isn’t going to cut it!”
There’s nothing more attractive than someone who manages, despite very real problems, to manifest genuine optimism.
To stay safe you will need to know your worth, demonstrate it on a daily basis, and be prepared to articulate why you are valuable to the organization you work for—which, incidentally, is the backbone of effective career management even when there isn’t a financial crisis going on.
Now, when the stakes are high, is the time to up the ante and take responsibility for raising your professional well-being to new level.
1. Change your attitude.
There are always things we don’t like, and it is natural to complain about them. But Dilbertian negativity in the workplace has become so pervasive that we have lost our capacity to see the effect it has on the way we are perceived by our peers and supervisors.
Now is not the time to speak disparagingly. Saying, “I’m happy to do it,” with a tone of voice which expresses sincere willingness, to anything that’s thrown your way as a result of cutbacks, restructuring etc. will go a long way toward keeping you on the “save” list.
But saying yes and then acting burdened or neglecting the new task is counterproductive. Your words must be supported by your body language and with follow-through, or else the message you broadcast will be one of passive non-cooperation.
2. Work through your fears away from the job.
Yes, the times are scary, and yes, you need to talk through these feelings, but not with your co-workers. Just because they are buzzing with one rumor or another doesn’t make participating in their discussions a good decision. Not only does it drag you down when being productive is important to your security, it also risks making visible in subtle ways—a worried look, an offhand remark expressing personal vulnerability, a put-down of a colleague to make yourself look good—a lack of self-confidence. As one of my clients observed, “Walking around as if you’re about to be axed impedes your performance.”
If you don’t behave as if there is every reason you should be retained, why would anyone else believe it? The “crisis of confidence” extends far beyond the trading floor. It’s in every office where people are acting scared, and panic is just as unwise as a career strategy as it is as an investment strategy.
3. Know what you’re good at and make it known.
If ever there were a time not to assume people know what you bring to the table and to speak up about your contribution, it is now. This is not conceit—it’s survival.
Sit down and think of everything you do that has an impact, directly or indirectly, on the bottom line. Is your skill at resolving billing issues instrumental in keeping large accounts? Has your skill in recruiting talent helped the organization be more innovative or competitive? Do you bring a unique capacity or perspective to a team working on a project of vital importance to the company’s future?
Whatever it is, name it, write it down, and get comfortable enough saying it that you can bring it up in the next conversation with your boss. When the ship is heading into a storm, you want your best hands on deck, the people who know exactly what to do and how to do it. It’s your job to make the connection between what you have to offer and the company’s viability.
4. Stay visible.
There’s no greater tendency when under attack than to want to hunker down. But duck-and-cover is just as ineffective a safety measure in the workplace as it was during the Cold War.
Having spent many years in outplacement, I’ve witnessed first hand how managers who avoided talking to their staff because they knew what was coming created more unrest and animosity than those who were courageous enough to keep them informed, even though it was sometimes uncomfortable. Hard times are a test of leadership, whatever level of the organization you occupy.
Your way of being visible could be a simple as offering to help a colleague who is understaffed meet a deadline. The point is to look for gaps that the economic crisis has created and use them as an opportunity to shine.
5. Hope for the best.
There’s nothing more attractive than someone who manages, despite very real problems, to manifest genuine optimism. People who can find a way to get past their own fears are an asset to any organization.
I am not suggesting this is easy, only pointing out the importance of trying to get yourself to a better space about the future. To do this, it helps to be selective about what you listen to and read, and deliberate in choosing to associate with people who help you gain perspective rather than feed your sense of gloom and doom.
In “The Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Optimism” (Gestalt Review, Volume 9, 2005) psychologists Joseph Melnick and Sonia Nevis talk about what they call the “optimistic stance.” They see optimism as “an orientation to the future and a way of encountering the unknown” that consists of two components, hope and courage.
“We view hope primarily as a wish,” the authors write. “It is vague and unfocused and does not fuel an interest in doing.” This is where courage comes in, by providing the energy to act. “A courageous person sees possibilities and can experiment. If you have the courage to live out your hope, you can then let go of the old and enter the void of the unknown. You are able to let things fall apart … supported in the belief that something good will happen.”