Dealing with a declining or unstable economy
It’s probably safe to say that even if we had been saving for a rainy day, most of us had not expected to be faced with an unprecedented pandemic that reaches across the globe. Although our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents may have experienced economic recessions or even the Great Depression, the recent immediate, abrupt closure of many businesses and our tumbling economy are unique to anything that people in the current workforce have experienced.
Having a goal is making it easier to get a grip on these very surreal circumstances.
We are experiencing challenges in areas previously never considered by those of us in the workforce. Each day we are faced with questions about what will happen next. Circumstances are changing at warp speed, and we are faced with a plethora of decisions and adjustments to make. Even our trusted Google Maps isn’t able to help us navigate the road that lies ahead. Change is happening fast, and there are bigger stakes involved. Financially, we’re all being impacted. Naturally, the degree of impact is substantially different for everyone. I am not an economist, so I’ll stick with what I know about, and that is finding rewarding work and staying on course with your goals. The process of goal setting and planning I guide my clients with might seem to be for naught during a time when so much is changing outside of our control. Yet personally, I am seeing that after the initial panic, having a goal is making it easier to get a grip on these very surreal circumstances. And so far, what I am finding with many of my friends and clients is that there is a high percentage of them who are still able to guide themselves around the bombs dropping each day by making adjustments to their course and continuing to look forward with their eye on the longer term.
In contrast, the stress has heightened unnecessarily for those who chose not to or just didn’t get around to making a plan at all. (Note: I am not referring to the many people who had been making poverty level wages, living paycheck to paycheck out of necessity and have now been abruptly laid off. That is an entirely separate subject requiring more complex solutions.) I’m referring to people who weren’t happy about their careers but really had a choice about where they work and how they spent their time and money in the past five years but just didn’t take steps to make a change. Now they are facing the burden of unfinished issues from years past that have been severely compounded by this crisis. Leaky roofs, broken cars, faulty appliances are a clear illustration of havoc created because it may be impossible to get needed repairs done today vs. last year, when it was only a question of making the time to get them done. If it was hard to find the energy before, infusing energy into an already stalled or unfocused career may seem like an impossible challenge now, especially at a time when attention may need to be focused on feeding and educating stay-at-home kids. But it is possible!
If you were already in a stalled or unfocused career at the start of this year and did not have a plan, your circumstances were unlikely to change without a major event impacting you (usually bad) or you adopted a revised outlook and approach. Well, the major event has happened. Making a change now is certainly harder than if it had been done a year ago, but there is room for hope. If you can pause and take time to examine history and the course of our economy and pay close attention to your previous choices along the way, you will find consistency to the trends. What goes up ends up coming down. And when things are down, we can count on them going back up. The exact timelines for the absolute bottom or the rise up aren’t known, but we can learn from our past reactions to them. There will inevitably be more jobs lost or at risk later when the currently downsliding economy tries to correct later this year or next. Now may be the perfect time to change how you approach adversity and start putting a plan in motion.
To begin your new approach successfully and to survive the decline, it’s important to take care of things that are within your control before it gets worse. Here are some tips for staying ahead of the curve.
Set goals. Although it may seem impossible or unrealistic, the purpose of your goals is to help you stay aware of what really matters. Your professional goals need to support your personal goals. Even though your approach and the path getting there may need to change, you’ll still be able to keep your eye on the prize if you have a clear picture of where you are ultimately headed. That is more likely to be in the picture of your life vs. a title of a job in the long run.
Create a budget. Know where your money must be spent first. It’s amazing to me how many people do not know what it costs to support their household. Having a budget requires you to evaluate your income to see exactly where it goes vs. getting stuck on the number you think you need. Once you see the real numbers, then you can decrease your spending wherever possible. Lowering your income requirements allows you to be more flexible when an opportunity to make a shift in a new direction presents itself. It’s sometimes necessary to take a step back to move forward on a new path. Without the handcuffs stemming from debt, it’s easier to make the change and build back up to where you were, sooner rather than later.
Look at the big picture. Going forward, it may be necessary to look at new avenues to stay afloat while continuing to keep your eyes on shore. Making ends meet may be a priority. When looking at a “bridge job,” consider the industry and the doors that can open later. Learn about the functions that will remain in demand in spite of everything closing up around us. Look beyond a title and recognize the work that has to continue to get done to keep the world turning. It’s obvious to everyone that anyone currently working in healthcare is in demand. What may be less obvious is how many other support roles are needed. Data analysis is in high demand because it is needed to support the decisions made by all businesses. Human resource professionals with an understanding of employment law and benefits will continue to be invaluable as businesses decline, then again as they return to full force.
Build skills. During downtimes, RELEVANT skill building is a great investment. I stress “relevant” because many people think that getting a certification in something will make all the difference in getting a job in a new department or new industry at any time. The reality is that in a downturn, there will be a million experienced people competing for the same job, and if you don’t have experience in the same area, the certification isn’t going to magically make you more competitive than those with experience who may also have the same certification. For that reason, during a downturn, skill building needs to be around something you can tie your experience to in some way. For example, if you currently use Excel for accounting and you are accustomed to gathering data to create reports, then building on your Excel skills can allow you to move into data analysis role in a different realm. Or, if you have worked in a warehouse and invest in learning an ERP system, then you can advance from loading supplies to planning when to order them. In each case, there is a reasonable connection between what you have done and what you want to do. It would be harder for an employer to connect the dots if you were working in a warehouse and decided to build skills as a computer programmer. In addition to online training, cross-training in other departments of your current company is another way to prepare yourself for making a change down the road. Your inside knowledge can make you a more attractive candidate for a higher-level position or a lateral move inside that company than an outsider might be. Or, you can build the experience internally and bounce to another company when things start picking up.
Worst case – be flexible. If your income has been reduced, now may be the time to take on a side hustle. In an unpredictable economic environment, the number of contract and temporary jobs increases. Employers aren’t sure of what they can commit to. They may also be less picky about having specific technical skills if you are able to demonstrate your willingness to learn. Or, if hired for a lower-level job, you may be able to learn enough to be bumped up quickly and be hired as a full-time employee down the road. Although what you start with may not be what you had envisioned as a “career move,” it could be a job that allows you to start a path in a new direction. By being flexible and willing to make the initial investment of a reduced income, now could be the opportune time to make a much-desired change. Even if the side hustle turns out to be unrelated to your career choice, this may be the only year that I can emphatically recommend that if down the road anyone asks you why you were doing something out of line with your career goals, you can simply look them straight in the eye and solemnly remind them it was 2020, the year of the pandemic.