Protecting your Job in Turbulent Times

With the Coronavirus COVID-19 induced crisis and a general slowing of the economy it is at times like this we need to most careful of protecting our financial livelihood, which for most people is derived from their jobs. Positions that seemed safe just a few months ago are at risk due to company collapses and corporate cutbacks. Here are three effective and simple strategies to protect your job in times like the present, despite widespread panic and a feeling of helplessness to change things.

Act Like a Survivor

During a recession, you have to start acting like a survivor if you hope to escape the axe. You are no longer in a position of power and as a survivor you may need to go outside of your comfort zone to make it through. You also need to show a positive attitude, despite internal turmoil, and be confident and cheerful. Research shows that being fun to be around really matters. When people need help getting a job done, they’ll choose a congenial colleague over one who is more capable but less lovable. A drastic personality change is not required, just don’t be the guy who’s always in a bad mood, reminding colleagues how vulnerable everyone is. Who wants to be in the trenches with him?

Of course, putting on a good face can be psychologically exhausting when rumors of downsizing spread. Change always stirs up fears of the unknown. Will you land another job? How will you pay the mortgage? Can you find affordable health insurance? Those are all valid concerns, but if you stay positive, you’ll have more influence on how things play out.

Survivors are also forward looking. Studies of concentration camp victims show that people made it through by imagining a future for themselves. The power of focusing on the times ahead is evident even among people suffering the blows of everyday life. In your job, there’s no better way to look forward than to stay focused on customers, for without them no one will have a job in the future. Anticipating the needs of your customers, both external and internal, should be your top priority. Prove your value to the firm by showing your relevance to the work at hand, which may have shifted since the economy softened. Your job is less likely to be eliminated if customers find that your contribution is indispensable.

Finally, survivors are willing to swallow a little pride and lower expectations. You may have been expecting a promotion or raise for the hard work you put in when times were good, but as the economy tanked the company quickly froze compensation budgets and hiring. This includes the promotion you were expecting or “unofficially” promised. However, now is not the time to complain and raise a ruckus. Let your manager know how you feel, but tell him or her that you understand the company comes first and that you are willing to do what’s needed for the team to keep the “ball” rolling. However make sure you document all your achievements in writing and get them validated by your manager, so that in good times all your hard work is not forgotten.

Support your Leadership

It’s important to recognize that times of uncertainty are also tough for leaders. They don’t enjoy having to lay off their people; most find that task agonizing. It can be stressful and time-consuming for them to sort through the various change mandates they’ve been given and then decide what to do. So rather than rebel against your manager, try to help them defend your department. If the boss is working on a restructuring plan and asks for ideas, offer some realistic solutions. Don’t fight change; energize your colleagues around it. This will improve your standing with management, and the better your relationship with your manager, the less likely you are to be cut, all things being equal. Your ability to empathize can demonstrate a maturity that is invaluable to the company, not least because it models good behavior for others.

Become a Corporate Citizen

Remember Woody Allen’s remark that 80% of success is showing up? That is especially useful advice in a downturn. Start going to all those voluntary and informal meetings you used to skip. Be visible. Get out of your office and walk the floor to see how folks are doing. Take part in company outings; if the firm is gathering for the annual golf tournament and you can’t tell a wood from an iron, then go along just for fun. In tough times, leaders look for employees who are enthusiastic participants. It’s not the score that counts.

Of course, changing your behavior or personality to survive may rub against your need for authenticity, and you may decide that it’s time to move on. In that case, you can be both true to yourself and the ultimate corporate citizen by volunteering to leave the organization. Despite what the policy may be, companies will cut deals. Deals are even welcomed. It’s much less painful for managers if they can help someone out the door who wants to leave rather than give bad news to someone who depends on the job. If you’re a couple of years away from retirement eligibility and want to go, ask the company if it would be willing to bridge the time. Float a few balloons, but don’t get greedy. Keep in mind that even if you choose to go, you may need to get another job and you’ll want good references and referrals. If you’ve exited gracefully, odds are, your boss and others will do whatever they can to help you land on your feet.

Many forces are beyond your control in a recession, but if you direct your energy toward developing a strategy, you’ll have a better chance of riding out the storm. You have to be extremely competent to make it through, but your attitude, your willingness to help the boss get the job done, and your contribution as a corporate citizen have a big impact on whether you are asked to stick around. The economy will bounce back; your job is to make sure that you do, too.

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