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How to make yourself indispensable at work in a recession

Here’s how you can stand out during an economic downturn.

How to make yourself indispensable at work in a recession
[Photo: Peter Dazeley/Getty images]

The last few years have been tough to navigate—especially for younger workers. For Gen Zers, their first years in the “office” have been mostly virtual, marred by pandemic measures and related economic upheaval.

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Now, as employers implement return-to-office plans, it looks as though a recession may be on the horizon. While macroeconomic forces are beyond our control, there are ways employees, at every level, can help insulate themselves against economic turmoil.

As an entrepreneur and an employer, I’ve lived through the dot-com bust, the Great Recession and, more recently a global pandemic. Through it all, I’ve learned entrepreneurial thinking is key to weathering any economic storm, and the good news is you don’t have to be a founder or executive to think like one.

Here are three entrepreneurial skills that can help you step up during a recession regardless of your position or your experience on the job.

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Demonstrate your adaptability

Most people don’t know that YouTube started as a video dating site before founders Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim saw more potential in letting users define how the site was used. Nintendo started as a card-selling business and Nokia began as a wood pulp mill , and made rubber boots before moving to hand-held electronics.

There’s a reason the word “pivot” is so strongly associated with entrepreneurs. Founders need to be able to see where market opportunities lie and change course when necessary. This goes double in times of economic hardship.

Now is not the time to cling to the status quo and rigid ways of doing things at work. Recessions have a way of shaking things up—often in a good way. It’s highly possible your company will look very different coming out of a downturn than it does today. Employees who are open to embracing change, and helping it happen, have an opportunity to make a lasting impression. That means being willing to step outside defined roles and pick up slack elsewhere, as well as showing enthusiasm for new directions. Employees who go the distance to actively participate in their company’s evolution can prove themselves invaluable to the health of an organization, no matter what the economy is doing.

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Under-promise and over-deliver

Every entrepreneurial vision has to work within the framework of a healthy bottom line to be sustainable. When that doesn’t happen, we see the kind of reckoning playing out in the tech economy now where companies that have prized growth over profitability aren’t attracting the same kind of investment they did a year ago.

Regardless of a company’s size or financial standing, this will be a year of tightening budgets and departments that find ways to meet or exceed their targets without overspending will shine.

For employees, now is the time to think like a business owner. Even if you’re not directly in charge of your team’s budget or sales goals, you can brainstorm new market opportunities or ways to mitigate team spending. Being solutions-oriented is a quality that’s always valued, but particularly during a downturn.

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Even entry-level employees can be instrumental in helping control costs in an organization. Having a front-row seat to sales, services and customer interactions for instance, gives unique insight into where and how processes can be streamlined and made more efficient. You may even identify opportunities for new markets or revenue streams that aren’t as obvious to the people higher up. The key is to think beyond your individual job description and consider opportunities that improve the overall health of the organization.

Make your presence known

All the hard work in the world won’t make a difference if it goes unnoticed  n unfortunate reality for introverts who can have a hard time amplifying their crowning achievements. It’s why they are more likely to be passed over for promotions than their extroverted peers and even penalized for their tendency to put their heads down and work.

They’re not alone. When it comes to building important relationships and showcasing value, people in remote positions are also at a disadvantage — research shows those who work outside the office have a higher chance of being overlooked or forgotten ny managers when assigning tasks.

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It isn’t fair, but proximity bias is real. That’s why I’m a big believer in data and looking at employee track records when considering promotions or career opportunities. Not every company has these systems in place, however, and in a downturn managers may turn more to people they know and interact with often when assigning responsibilities or making critical staffing calls. Given all this, the instinct many people have to keep their heads down and avoid drawing attention to themselves during times of economic turmoil can actually work against job security.

This isn’t a cue to start dominating team meetings, but finding effective ways to communicate progress with managers does ensure your contributions and those of your teammates are noticed and can help bridge important relationships. Whether you share your daily task list (and what you’ve accomplished) every day through a Slack channel, or proactively schedule a quick touch base every week or two with your direct report, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open so your value isn’t lost in the shuffle.

There’s no doubt recessions make people nervous. But the good news is they’re temporary. Living through a recession is a rite of passage all workers go through. Additionally, our economy has never been more resilient or allowed for so many career paths, be it a full-time job, contract position, freelance or starting your own business. Thinking like an entrepreneur not only helps improve the odds of becoming indispensable in your current job, skills like fiscal responsibility, adaptability and self-advocacy apply to any career path in any economic climate.

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Roger Patterson is the founder and president of visual marketing platform Later and cofounder of accelerator Launch Academy

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