Who’s the Boss of You?

Even as the country’s economic outlook finally grows brighter, a recent study confirms American’s optimism has yet to follow. Though many cite the recession as over, unemployment numbers have yet to budge. And according to a study by HR consulting firm Towers Watson, the downturn has had a lasting impact on the workplace mentality.

“People feel so beaten up right now,” says Stephen Viscusi, author of “Bullet Proof Your Job” (HarperCollinsUS, 2010). “Almost everyone knows somebody who has been unemployed for even one year or more. We have a culture of unemployment now, and it has brought morale in the workplace way down.”

A remarkable eight out of 10 respondents in Towers’ Global Workforce Study 2010, which encompassed 20,000 employees in 22 markets around the world, reported a desire to settle into a job. Roughly half said they would prefer to work for a single company their entire career, while the rest wanted to work for no more than two or three companies. The results differed significantly from past studies.

“We did the same survey in 2007 and what you saw then was a lot more focus on development, growth and opportunity,” says Ravin Jesuthasan, leader of talent management consulting at Towers Watson. “Workers had the luxury to think forward and plan for the future, but with the recession it really became about protecting what you had, whether that means protecting a position, pensions, health insurance or something else.”

Even in negative work environments, experts say employees would rather stay put than take the risk to change jobs or careers.

“Typically what happens is during a recession people will hunker down,” says executive career management consultant Pam Lassiter, author of “The New Job Security” (Ten Speed Press, 2010). “Job security is paramount and people will hang on to jobs that may not be the ideal fit and may not even enjoy just because it’s a recession, and they know the alternatives are limited.”

But job stability doesn’t necessarily have to equal lasting discontent. Lassiter reminds employees and job-seekers that no employer can guarantee complete security. However, certain techniques and an ongoing Plan B can increase your chances or at least position you well for the future.

“We can’t depend on a company to take care of us any more, we have to take care of ourselves,” she says. “Job security is a contract you make with yourself to take control. You define what works for you and then you develop the strategies to get it. We should do the best job we humanly can at work, but should be developing plans at the same time.”

Viscusi suggests four things to remember: be visible, be easy, be useful and be ready. Establish a relationship with your boss in which she knows real things about you, and the work you are accomplishing. Avoid gossip at the water cooler, adapt to change and take initiative when needed.

Lassiter says it’s important to develop other beneficial relationships where you genuinely help others and help the company. Security accrues through your competencies, reputation and sustainable network of relationships.

“It’s about continuing to think about the future of what you want to do, while also being directly involved in the present,” Lassiter says.

Always be on the lookout for problems to solve and situations to showcase your abilities. Lassiter says workers are now fortunate enough to take charge of what they want because they must create plans to get it.

“This environment changes who is in charge,” she says. “It takes strength and vision, though. That’s the exciting part.”

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