With all the press on the contraction of the economy and companies in the news that are tightening their belts, freezing hiring and laying off employees, it’s natural to feel a little skittish. Employees have had a terrific run of job growth, new opportunities, and plenty of perks. But that may be about to change.
So how should you handle it if you hear your company may be reorganizing or downsizing? While it can be scary, there are key steps you can take in order to cope with the stress and survive the threats.
First, if you’re feeling concerned, you’re in good company. New data from ResumeLab found 40% of respondents were feeling pessimistic about the future, and 46% feel less secure with their jobs as compared to a year ago. In addition, 58% of people believe they are likely to lose their jobs going forward.
Stick to what’s real
But with all the anxiety, it’s important you separate fact and fiction, and keep your cool. Just because you’re seeing articles about the pain in your industry or your region, your own company may not be restricting itself. Keep your ear to the ground and learn all you can about what’s actually going on.
The rumor mill can be alarming, so stick with facts and don’t let yourself become anxious about things that aren’t real. Ask questions, but don’t obsess. And don’t participate in gossip or commiserate too much with colleagues. These can sap your energy and contribute to obsessing about the wrong things. Also, keep calm by reminding yourself of your capability and your value.
When you keep a cool head, it’s better for your own well-being, but it’s also better for your credibility. Employers value people who can stay in command of themselves and not lose themselves to panic or excessive emotion in the face of challenges.
Once you have the facts about the pressures your organization may be facing, you can use them to your advantage—starting with staying focused on your work and your results. Be consistent in performing brilliantly. When companies are assessing talent—in good times and bad—they will look to your track record and your consistent performance over time.
You might also consider how you reflect your work with you boss. Perhaps you keep a list of what you do, since chances are your boss may not know everything you accomplish. Or when you have one-on-ones with your boss, you can make a point of sharing three things that you’ve accomplished for the month, along with three new ideas you have, and one area in which you need help. Be subtle and professional, but find ways to ensure your work is visible.
Focus on your customers as well. In tough times, the people who serve the customer best are usually least at risk. A wise leader once said, “If you’re not serving the final customer, you better be serving someone who is.” When you’re focused on how your work impacts the people who receive your output, it will focus you on your performance and the value you can deliver—both of which are good things for job security. With the customer top of mind, you also reduce worry. Avoid thinking about risks or job insecurity, and instead keep the customer as your true north—also, avoid putting too much attention on non-customer-related topics.
Organizations value people who deliver results, but they also appreciate people who are great team players and who are positive for the culture. When you’re feeling under threat, it’s natural to focus in on yourself and how you can protect your own interests, but it’s actually better to stay focused on how you can make contributions to your colleagues.
When you do your best work for others on the team, it adds to your credibility and also your own sense of esteem and value. When you ask others how you can help and support them with empathy and caring, it impacts on your happiness because you’re plugging into the community, and taking the focus off yourself. When you consider others’ needs, it reduces your own stress because it expands your perspective.
Shore up your network
When you’re facing potential threats to your job security, you’re also wise to shore up your own network, both within your present organization and outside. Be present at your workplace when the work demands it, and invite coworkers for coffee so you can stay connected. Progressive companies are assuring employees they will have promotion opportunities even if they don’t work in the office, but it’s human nature to remember and value what we’re exposed to more frequently—and people are no exception. It’s pragmatic to stay visible and stay in touch—either virtually or face-to-face—so you stay on the radar screen.
Also, connect with new people you meet at external meetings or conferences. And reconnect with contacts you may not have been in touch with for a while. You don’t have to ask for anything, you’re just ensuring you have a wide array of people around you—through your personal life, your professional life, your volunteering, and more.
People appreciate the value of the network, so they won’t be offended when you reach out and want to connect or reconnect. Building, maintaining, and sustaining your network is wise no matter what your job situation, but especially when a change could be on the horizon.
Join an association or interest group in your field. By getting involved in professional organizations, you can create meaningful relationships as well as stay aware of where new opportunities might be. In addition, you get to learn more deeply about your profession. Often, when your job changes, your professional association is a source of continuity. Your people are at your workplace, but they can also be within your professional groups.
Make a backup plan
At the same time you’re investing in your present role, doing your best work, and being attentive to your colleagues, you are also smart to create a backup plan. Even if you never need it, the actions you take to think about your options tend to build your sense of empowerment, strength, and resilience.
Polish your résumé and explore the kinds of jobs that may be available to you. Even though there is some contraction in the economy, the job market will still be healthy for a while because of the pent-up demand for workers. Give thought to what you love to do and how you might be able to do even more of that in your next role. Also, consider the areas in which you might like to develop.
Often, challenges in your job security can result in terrific new options you might not have otherwise considered. Even if you don’t take action on anything, be ready when opportunity knocks and empower yourself by learning what’s out there.
Also, seek opportunities to do volunteer work. Statistically, you’re more likely to have greater pay and more career opportunities when you do more work within your community. This is because you tend to build your skills, your confidence, and your network.
Volunteering is wonderful for the people you serve, and also for you. So look for the opportunity to be part of the home-building project in your town, or the chance to join the nonprofit board, or the committee that serves needs you care about. Having a great volunteer role can be a bridge to your next opportunity.
Avoid impulsive reactions
You’ll be most successful through a potential job challenge if you can stay the course. Panic could lead to an impulsive decision. For example, you wouldn’t want to jump out of a great company into a less prime opportunity just because you’re on edge.
Stay focused on the facts. Stay confident. Keep a cool head and remind yourself of all the value you offer to your present organization. And reassure yourself that if you do have to make a change, you have the capability and resilience to land on your feet with a great new opportunity.
Tracy Brower is a sociologist focused on work-life happiness and fulfillment. She works at Steelcase and is the author of two books, The Secrets to Happiness at Work and Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work.