Let’s Get Real, It’s Tough Out There!

March 24, 2023

“Let’s be careful out there.”

Some of you might recognize that quote from the 80’s tv drama, Hill Street Blues. Those five words closed the morning roll-call scene that started every episode. The message, ‘it’s tough out there, take care of yourself and your partner’. Good advice then, good advice in today’s labor market.

It doesn’t matter what job you have, whether you are manager or line worker, or when or where you started working; today’s headlines about recessions, layoffs and productivity stir the fear of unwanted change in all of us.

  • Recession? When will it happen? It turns out that the much talked about recession is still coming, just not now. The WSJ reports that continued hiring and consumer spending ‘catch-up’ from the post pandemic recovery are thwarting the inflation fighting of the Fed. So, the Fed continues to raise rates and so we still must worry about this recession….
  • Productivity Paranoia is real. With the mix of remote, hybrid and on-site workers changing, firms are watching and measuring their workers like never before.
  • The Rise of the Worker Productivity Score. Don’t be shocked by the new tech tools available to assess our productivity. According to the NY Times, 8 of the 10 US based largest firms track individual productivity – not just teams, but individuals. New keyboard and mouse usage tools measure our inactivity.
  • They really are watching us! The Washington Post reports how new camera deployments inside your home office track your levels of engagement. Inactivity is measured. The system logs you off when you aren’t, ‘engaged enough’, with timesheet/pay consequences when certain thresholds are reached.
  • I thought we were not in a recession. What’s with these layoffs? There is a site that just tracks layoffs. Layoffs are back in style and the looming recession will accelerate the pace. We always knew the threat of layoffs was there and while we know the labor market is still tight, even with the layoff headlines, these headlines create stress, “it could happen to me.”

Feeling a bit anxious? Fear of unwanted change? We all share it to some degree. If you really want (or need) to dig into the topic fear, do the research, take a class or call a professional, but most of us just grind it out.

If you are grinding it out and your fear of change is triggered by the job market or work, this short blog post offers some resources and thoughts on working through job/career fears. I hope you may find them helpful.

Don’t let anyone take your dignity away.

We are human beings who happen to also be economic actors performing work, not cogs in some machine. There is real dignity in the work we do. From the science of positive psychology, to thought leaders like Marcus Buckingham, and even in today’s WSJ where Suzy Welch writes, “all you can really hope for is good health and a meaningful life. Our health is often out of our hands but making meaning of the change around us—making it about something greater and better than simply change itself—is something we can all endeavor to do, perhaps now more than ever.”

Share your thoughts selectively.

While our fears are experienced by everyone (almost), it really isn’t safe to talk to just anyone about them. There are such things as ‘safe places’ for good reasons and trust is conditionally granted or earned.

Don’t make the same mistakes …

… as your peer group. Stand on the shoulders of others when it comes to managing fear. Learn from others. What approaches worked for them?

Job skills and competencies matter …

… not the fancy credential. Did you know that most experts agree that where you go to college doesn’t really matter when it comes lifetime earnings?

Parenting never really ends.

Julie Halpert wrote a terrific article in the Atlantic about parenting adult children. You may not be there, but some of you are! (If you aren’t, ask your parents.) Parents have a lot to say about the career or job skills their children need to consider. These lessons are taught over many years, but the lessons start with parents setting an example of healthy work habits that build to conversations in high school and college about the future. Helping our children navigate school choices, first jobs, bad bosses, getting fired, getting ‘let go’ and trying to find a new job when they are 35 with 2 children of their own and a mortgage payment twice the size of yours are just some of the fear triggers. Listening, acknowledging your child’s feelings, not judging (that one is hard for most of us 😊) are good places to start.

Paying it forward is so rewarding.

If you are fortunate to have had job/career challenges experiences that you can talk about, share your insights with others. Helping another person see that they are not alone in experiencing unwanted change, that there is an accessible path forward, and that career/job issues don’t define us are just three of the coping strategies from a long list published by the Mayo Clinic.

Know your fears.

Most of us feel the need for some level of predictability in our lives. Because jobs are a big part of our lives, it stands to reason we like to feel some control about our careers. The reality is there is some predictability, but not much, because we work inside a global labor market. We don’t control it – we can often influence our small part, but that desire for predictability can be stressor. Knowing it is the first step to managing it.

If I had to pick one idea from above, my favorite has been reading and learning about the dignity of work and its relationship to finding your purpose. That combination has served me well. I hope it might serve you and the people you care about as well.

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