Take care of yourself first during economic downturns

Career Opportunities podcast logoTake care of yourself first during economic downturns
By Douglas E. Welch


Listen: Take care of yourself first during economic downturns

Whatever indicators you use, it seems clear the US economy is slowing down…some even say, stalling. Whenever the economy slows down it can put tremendous burdens on us all as we are driven to work longer hours with fewer people, along with suffering the stress of on-going layoffs, reduction in hours and more. Looking back on previous downturns, I see that taking care of yourself, physically, emotionally and economically, becomes extremely important. If you don’t, you can find yourself adding personal problems to the economic ones you already face.

Every economic downturn brings a host of layoffs over a wide variety of businesses. Even if you survive a layoff at your company, the added stress of trying to be more productive, with fewer people, can leave everyone feeling a bit shell shocked. Worse still, excessive overtime can leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained. This is an open door for colds, flu and other ailments that sap your productivity just when you need it most.

In order to protect your own health and well-being you must watch your environment carefully and act quickly to prevent becoming just another statistic. If you are asked (perhaps, required) to put in overtime, try to keep it below a certain threshold. You can’t work 80 hours a week, for months on end, and remain productive. If you don’t limit your work hours, your body or your mind will simply do it for you. You will wake up one morning unable to rise from your bed, no matter how pressing your deadlines might be.

If excessive overtime is becoming a regular occurrence, start looking for a new job. Excessive overtime is a sure sign that your company is in trouble. They are trying to survive by cutting costs to the bone without realizing that they are destroying their staff in the process. Riding a sinking ship to the bottom holds no nobility. It only destroys your morale, self-confidence and possibly, your health. In these events, you must do what is best for you. Look and plan carefully. If a new position presents itself, make sure you take the time to investigate it. You might feel too tired or too depressed, but this is exactly the time when you need to look for new opportunities. Don’t allow a bad situation to prevent you from moving on with your career.

Your emotions can take a beating during an economic downturn, too. Most importantly, don’t let anyone make you believe that the company’s problems are your fault. I have seen executives and managers try to shame their employees into higher productivity. The fact is, though, that it is usually these executives and managers who are the most to blame for the company’s troubles. It seems ludicrous to lay the blame on their employees who are already suffering more from economic problems. Emotional abuse, in all its forms, is another red flag that should send you looking for new opportunities.

Finally, protecting yourself economically during a downturn is critical. If you are suffering under mandatory overtime, make sure that that extra money is going into the bank or other investments. While any of us might be tempted to buy that new TV, car or computer with this “extra” money, now is not the time. No one is ever sure how their company will fare during an economic downturn and you need to protect yourself against the possibility that you will be out of job in a week, a month, a year. Build your nest egg now. In a few months, if and when the economic outlook brightens, you will be able to make your purchase outright instead of having to finance it. If the economy continues downward, you will be able to easily survive any troubles that might come your way.

When it comes to your career and the economy, protect yourself as much as possible. Don’t assume that others are looking out for your best interest. Remember, your employer will do what is best for them, even if it happens to be the worst for you. In most cases, they aren’t doing this out of spite, but rather they are doing it out of a desperate attempt to survive. For whatever the reason, though, it is up to you to protect what you have created and what you have earned. Otherwise, a troubled economy might just destroy your career.

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