There are many forms of career transition in a working life: starting new jobs or careers, moving geographically, becoming a trailing spouse, taking maternity leave, having a new boss, promotions, retiring and experiencing re-structuring. And of course, in today's climate, losing jobs. But in a downturn, career transition doesn't just cover the people who have lost their jobs or are looking for new ones. It also covers the ones left on the "island".
“Survivors” are in a category which is quite often overlooked . These are the people who are actually still lucky enough to be employed. So what's the problem, you might be asking? They're OK. Why should we care about them?
Well, perhaps they are the ones making the cuts. They might be sending long standing colleagues or employees into uncertain professional and economic futures. Those very people might share social and professional networks and even live in the same local communities.
These “survivors” are possibly expected to meet established or even tighter deadlines and targets, with reduced teams and budgets and no immediate rewards. Perhaps they have taken pay cuts, voluntarily or otherwise, but with the same personal financial commitments. Bonuses are a thing of the past and all motivational programmes have been cancelled. So, no more trips to exotic places, “Dinner for Two” vouchers, employee of the month receptions, or company outings. Travel privileges might have been down graded, inter-continental flights are in coach and even free coffee in the office has been abolished.
In some sectors,banking and finance for example, public opinion is negative towards all employees, not just those senior directors accused of negligence. My daughter, a "survivor" in a London legal firm, has been openly harrassed on the way to work, just because she happened to be walking past a bank wearing a business suit. In manufacturing companies, management teams have been locked in their offices by angry ex-employees in many different countries.
"Survivors" might be fearful of taking vacations, or sick leave, in case their absence makes their jobs vulnerable. This culture of “presentee- ism” means spending longer hours in the office, just to be visible. Other key relationships might be suffering because of this. Partners are getting mad, dinners end in bins and the kids feel neglected. There might be instances where challenging projects have been cut or put on hold, leaving only routine tasks. Perhaps they are managing teams who are de-motivated, leaving a tense atmosphere between colleagues or even direct conflict. Information sharing might be reduced, resulting in lack of trust.
Perhaps protectionist strategies are in place, sometimes completely unconsciously, to safeguard workloads, business practises or seniority, all to the detriment of the organisation as a whole. Health issues are on the increase. Client or customer feedback is starting to become negative or impatient and profitability is falling further. All of this impacts the bottom line. All hard to audit.
They daren't complain because they know what the alternatives are. They certainly can't complain to you, can they? So how do they stay motivated in a such a stressful working environment? If you are a survivor what can you do?
Well a good idea might be to borrow from Einstein. His 3 rules of work would seem pretty sensible here: "From clutter find simplicity. From discord find harmony. From difficulty find opportunity".
Here are some very tip of the iceberg suggestions:
- Simplify: Break your situation down into manageable, measurable parts. Strategise. Formulate a mission statement, set yourself some achieveable positive, action -orientated, time -bound goals. Include all aspects of your life, but also make fall back provisions. Nothing in life ever works perfectly - well not in mine anyway. As someone said, the most successful people are good at Plan B.
- Harmonise: Choose how you react to your situation. This gives you control. Communicate, be open and engage with your team and colleagues. Assess your own performance, try to get a clear understanding of your professional responsibilities and know how you will be assessed. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. What can you do better? How can you achieve that?
- Maximise: Extend your professional network not just for support, but for information and experience exchange. Gain new skills. Refresh old ones. Set up a plan for personal development and make sure you take care of yourself physically and psychologically
And because you can't dance ( always good for the soul) to either Einstein or Huxley, try Gloria Gaynor ... "I will survive"