Because the nation currently enjoys a low unemployment rate, the temptation exists to ignore predictions from economists that a recession looms on the horizon. The time to increase your chances of maintaining professional success during an economic downturn, however, is now – before hiring freezes and layoffs begin becoming commonplace.
For those dissatisfied with or nervous about their current position, a career switch may be in order. (See our helpful articles on perfecting your resume and cover letter before heading on the market.) For workers who are content at their jobs, the goal should be to take action to solidify their employment with their company.
Signs layoffs may be coming
Before delving into how to stay successful during a recession, let's explore how to read the writing on the wall. The Internet and TV newscasts certainly will abound with stories on an economic downturn when it becomes widespread, but looking at what's happening at your own place of employment can provide motivation to get serious immediately.
"One sign that indicates a company might be headed towards making layoffs is budgetary cuts, especially regarding less important expenses, like business travel or employee breakroom stuff," says David Bakke, career expert at Money Crashers.
"If growth initiatives are cancelled or shelved, that's another indication. If top-level employees are leaving the company, that could be another sign. If vendors aren't getting paid or general business expenses are falling behind regarding payment, that's also telling."
Other potential signals of trouble include:
- Greater talk of "restructuring"
- Fewer postings on the company's job board
- Department mergers or eliminations
- Increased visitors and tours of the building (especially if nobody introduces the guests)
- More closed-door meetings among management
- Sudden company efforts to rebrand itself
- Less solicitation of input from staff regarding organizational planning and objectives
Maintaining professional success during a recession
Recessions leave management with tough decisions to make, especially when it comes to staffing. While no sure-fire way exists to guarantee that you'll keep your job, some people will be less prone to layoffs than others. Make certain you're one of those individuals.
An economic downturn may force companies to dismiss even high performers. However, a solid track record of quality work delivered on time, every time does provide a leg up over less productive colleagues.
Other ways workers can make it harder for their employer to issue a pink slip include the following:
"If you want to hold on to your job, my suggestion is to become indispensable," says McKinzie Bean, creator and owner of Moms Make Cents. "One of the best ways to solidify your status in the company in the face of economic uncertainty is to upgrade your skills and make bosses know they could not perform the job without your help."
Bean says that bringing knowledge and skill to the company — ideally ones that only you possess – will make you irreplacable.
"Make yourself the go-to person who gets the job done," she says. "That way, your boss will not think about replacing you."
Matthew Ross, co-owner and COO of Slumber Yard, offers this true story about the value of mastering a skill your co-workers lack:
"A couple of years ago when we were downsizing our video production department, there was one guy we needed to let go for financial purposes but simply couldn't because he was the only person on the staff that had a specialized skill."
Specifically, Ross said, the employee was the only video editor with a mastery of motion graphics. As such, the company had no choice but to keep him on staff.
When downsizing must occur, team members capable of wearing many hats often stand a better chance of staying successful during the economic downturn. Employers want the most bang for their buck, so workers able to assume multiple roles gain an advantage. Consider taking classes to expand your knowledge base, or complete a certification that qualifies you to take on more responsibilities.
Similarly, a flexible mindset shows management that you can adapt to duties beyond your current position. Life coach Erica McCurdy suggests always glancing at internal job listings:
"You might love your job, but keeping an eye on openings across the organization lets you keep tabs on how much the company is expanding or contracting. When you see something interesting, have a conversation with the hiring manager or HR director coordinating that position. You don't have to have a formal interview for people to get the idea that you are flexible and interested in growing with the organization. In times of downturn, that flexibility tells management that you are someone who would be willing to move around in order to stay instead of a one-note-wonder who management sees as only fitting for a single purpose or role."
Finally, success during an economic downturn may hinge on efforts to be informed and visible before a recession begins.
Bakke suggests possibly scheduling a meeting with your boss to respectfully inquire as to how the company is doing and what might change if troubling times are on the horizon.
"During these conversations, it will be important to highlight any other roles you might be able to fulfill if layoffs and a hiring freeze become a reality," he says. Bakke also notes that offering to train newer employees, take on additional projects, or even volunteer for overtime can make an impression.
McCurdy summarizes it this way: "Don't wait to network until you need people. This principle doesn't only apply to finding a new job, it applies to keeping your current job. Unless you are the top salesperson, the decision whether to keep or let go of an employee is more than a numbers game," he said. "You need people to know who you are and to advocate for you when the tide turns. Attend company events, make friends with people across departments, and take steps to increase your value while times are good so that when the economy turns, you have built credit in the corporate bank."