Don't Get Rattled: Adapting to Workplace Changes

Posted by Cara Scharf on June 16, 2011
Don't Get Rattled: Adapting to Workplace Changes

The struggle to find employment in today's ailing job market makes just having a job seem like a reason to celebrate--but the past two years haven't exactly been easy for those who've managed to hold onto their jobs either. 

As employers implement cost-cutting efforts to compensate for revenue slumps, employees are facing a multitude of workplace changes: furloughs (unpaid days off), shortened work weeks resulting in lower pay and longer workdays, increased workloads due to hiring freezes or layoffs, and cuts to benefits and/or salaries.

Dealing with these changes is no cakewalk. Employees are often left feeling betrayed, angry, and uncertain about the future. These emotions can be destructive to you and your professionalism, so we've put together a list of steps to help you deal with the situation and come out on top. 

1. Look At the Big Picture
When your employer announces changes, your first instinct may be to assume the worst-especially if your employer isn't transparent about its purpose and plan. Rather than worry about the unknown, gather as much information as you can. Calmly discuss the changes with your manager, check company financials, and read reputable news outlets' take on your company and industry. Understanding the situation helps you plan an appropriate course of action and eliminates speculation that can cause anxiety.

2. Assess Your Situation

Once you've figured out the company's deal, turn inward. If the changes will affect your salary or benefits, re-budget or research ways to obtain benefits and extra income elsewhere. Maybe you'll need to take on a part-time job or join your spouse's healthcare plan. One of the biggest decisions you face is whether to stick it out or look for a new job. Once you determine a direction, your next steps will become clearer.

3. Use Your Extra Time Wisely

Furloughs and shorter weeks translate to more free time. If your goal is to find a new job, use that time to revamp your resume, update your skills, network, and search for jobs. If you'd like to keep your current job, working during down time isn't a bad idea, says Susan Heathfield, a management and organization development consultant and human resources guide for "You'll prove your dedication, keep up relationships with clients and customers who aren't furloughed, and you'll have less to catch up on when you are in the office," she says. No matter your decision, set aside time for activities that brighten your mood, such as volunteering and spending time with family.

4. Swamped? Prioritize
To account for hiring freezes or layoffs, your boss may dump more work on you. It's tempting to be a hero and do it all, but sometimes that's just not feasible. Approach your boss with a prioritized list of your new tasks and make sure she agrees with your list; if not, adjust it so you can be on the same page. "It puts you in a position of strength," says Jim Dawson, managing partner at ADI Performance, a workplace training and development firm. "You're saying you know your responsibilities, and you know what needs to be done." Also set up a weekly meeting to check in with your boss about your progress and reorder priorities if necessary. 

5. Make Your Value Known
Feeling anxious about layoffs? Don't waste energy worrying; instead, use it to prove your worth. "Be able to quantify your value to the business," says Dawson. "Show how much you saved or how much revenue you brought in over the past month. Then be vocal about it to your boss." You should also nurture your relationship with your managers, and become a go-to person for coworkers, says Heathfield. You can't decide which employees are laid off, but you can do your best to ensure it's not you.

6. Take Care of Yourself
You have no control over the economy-so don't be hard on yourself. Heathfield and Dawson agree that "me" time is essential to staying grounded amid jarring changes. Get a massage, cook your favorite meal, spend time with friends-or start realizing the business idea that's been floating around in the back of your mind.

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