This week’s cover story looks at how covid has impacted careers and what you can do to get past the hurdles created by the work-from-home environment. We also tell you how to manage the stress of losing your job and steps that can help you land a new one. There’s also advice on how to reskill yourself to stay relevant in the post-pandemic job market.
More than 70% of the respondents were aged 25-45 years, indicating that they were either in managerial positions or future managers and leaders. An overwhelming majority have a negative view of the future job market.
We have also looked at how employers responded to the twin business and human crises in different ways. Most business leaders acknowledged that the future looks more uncertain than before and that rapid adoption of technology and evolving business models are here to stay. They also believe that managers and individuals will need to continuously learn new ways to deal with ongoing business disruptions.
How to save your job and income
A realistic assessment of your company can tell whether your employer is likely to hire, fire or skip increments this year.
You are anxious. You have seen colleagues and friends lose their job or their only source of income during the pandemic. One out of three respondents to our survey lost his job due to covid. The first step is to understand your company’s business and think like the owner. Where does the revenues come from—which products, customers and geographies? What are the major expenses—salaries, production, marketing etc? What has changed during the pandemic? Is your employer losing money, recovering or growing? What is working better in the business and what is not? If you are in the customer care division, you already know what customers are buying, not buying or complaining about. Finally, what have the owners and managers said and done in the past during tough times? The more realistic your assessment, the better you can predict whether your company is likely to hire or fire or skip increments this year.
Mission critical plan
Employers and managers invest a lot of time and effort in firing decisions because layoffs demoralise everyone, and make retention and hiring far tougher when business recovers. To protect your job, you need to plan and act ahead of time. Once you have understood your employer’s business, ask yourself if your role is critical for the company’s business, future plans or survival. Secondly, is your company over-staffed or under-staffed in your function. A company has to run its accounts and finance even if there is no business. It requires sales and marketing to recover or grow its revenues. It requires to produce or deliver services. If you are a critical employee and in an under-staffed team—like a sole accountant, the only team maintaining machinery or handling a number of responsibilities, then you are safe. Else, plan to become mission critical for your company as soon as possible. Either as an invaluable generalist or an irreplaceable specialist. How can you add on to your responsibilities or move to a critical project or understaffed team to add maximum value without adding costs?
Go on commission basis
A company has to budget for the notice period payout when an employee is laid off. However, for contractors and consultants, a company can delay its decision. If your employer is going through a cost-cutting phase, speak to your manager and offer to go on contract or commission. What you lose in notice period, you gain in terms of income security by delaying the termination.
Salary cut or no salary
If you are called for a layoff discussion, you can offer to work with a large cut in salary. This is worthwhile when job continuity is important for you or even a partial income is critical. If your employer is open to your suggestion, you retain your job and earn a partial income while you search for a new role or wait for the employer’s business to recover and your salary is restored. If you are an old employee, your employer is more likely to consider your offer. Alternatively, you can also offer to work for free or as an intern, only if you can afford to do so. Ask for a project that your employer desperately needs to execute but does not have the resources. Or for a role where you can learn a new skill while you contribute. Here you are trading your time for immense goodwill, an extra marketable skill and to become the first person to be asked whenever a salaried vacancy emerges in the company.
How the pandemic affected jobs
One in three people lost their jobs in the past year.
Getting back on your feet
Stay in action to keep anxiety at bay while you get closer to your goal of getting hired.
When you lose your job, tackle your anxiety first before it leads to depression or a loss of confidence. Acknowledge that you are not to blame for an event beyond your control like the pandemic and its impact on your previous employer. Secondly, remind yourself often that one termination or break does not mean that your career has imploded or that you have no market value. With these two thoughts, get back to work both physically and mentally. Exercise is your physical labour. At the very least, go for a walk each time you feel anxious. The physical sensations at the time of exercise and the feeling of well being thereafter reduce your anxiety. Now, start your job hunt and plan the steps for this week and the next.
The fastest way of getting a job immediately after losing one is to ask your ex-employer for help. Most employers in India and especially start-ups are happy to help in reducing the suffering of the people they had to let go due to business challenges. Your employer, your manager and the HR division can help you out by reaching into their personal network of other founders, managers and HR managers who may be hiring for similar vacancies. A strong recommendation from a founder about your work ethic and performance will easily get you the first 2-3 interviews even if there are no immediate vacancies. No one wants to lose an opportunity to meet great talent recommended from a trusted source.
Spread the word
Let the world know you are looking to work and contribute. Update your resume on job boards, and spruce up your LinkedIn profile by turning on the “Open to Work” feature. Next reach out to your first and then your second degree connections and request them to connect you to decision makers in their network who may be open to meeting you. The more number of people you meet, the greater the probability of serendipity and chance conversations leading to an opening. Similarly, the more you spread the word, the luckier you get in your job hunt journey.
Beyond the usual
Responding to a job posting is the easiest task. There are a couple of hundred others in this tough job market who may have responded to the same job advertisement. Thus your chances of converting an application are miniscule. Go beyond the obvious and make an extra effort. Reach out to a founder or a decision maker directly on LinkedIn or on email and ask to be considered for a role. Learn to sell your self while you demonstrate that extra initiative and effort over the competition. Can you figure out a way to meet a decision maker as part of a physical event, whether professional or social?
Join a friend
Does a friend or a family member own a business? Great, you do not have to be idle while you are awaiting a shortlist or a call for an interview. Offer to help in your friend’s business. If she agrees, pick up tasks or roles that will free up cost or bandwidth. Treat it like a formal job and follow timings and processes laid down for other employees. You may even get paid for your services. But the biggest benefits are that your professional life retains its structure, you feel and remain useful, and while you are job hunting, you gain work experience instead of a gap on your resume.
Wealth can be defined as the number of days you can survive before your money runs out. When you are not earning, you can increase your “wealth” by reducing expenses so that your money lasts longer. Start by maintaining a budget if you don’t have one. Which expenses are unavoidable, which can be reduced or postponed and which are discretionary that can be stopped? Can your EMIs be reworked, your house rent reduced, your vehicle purchase postponed and eating out stopped temporarily?
Keep growing your career
Stepping forward and taking more responsibilities improve your chances of a promotion and career advancement.
In your appraisal, measure your growth in terms of three parameters— income, responsibility and skills. Aim to progress in at least two of these three in your appraisal discussion. If an immediate increment is not possible, you can ask for a deferred raise in the form of a retention bonus, a mid-year reappraisal, milestone linked increment and even a higher variable component which can boost your earnings if you are in sales or a position with objective evaluations, Always seek more responsibilities because they set you up for an early promotion and accelerate growth in skills and abilities.
Agreements and success
There’s a sharp focus on results in appraisal conversations of the work-from home (WFH) environment. So, for future appraisals, you must establish early agreements with your manager on the direction of work and definition of outcomes. Before the pandemic, your standing within the team and with your manager included the impact of your presence and interactions with them. In remote work, many of your inputs are not visible to others including the hours you put in, or the interpersonal interactions and contributions to other team members. The overall face time with your manager and team goes down and reduces your ability to solve issues in advance. Your employers too are still figuring out how to manage and lead in an environment where the regular tools and physical processes of management have changed. To remain on the growth path, discuss progress with your manager every month and re-establish the agreements on how success will be defined and measured.
Access to communication
The biggest impediment to growth in the current work environment is the reduced quality of communication. While technology helps you remain accessible, you miss out on the information available to you through your manager’s body language, chance interactions in the office space, their current focus of attention, communication with other teams and the non-work conversations which help you understand each other better. Without these inputs, you are more anxious about deadlines and delivery and your performance suffers. Rectify this by establishing new channels of discussion. Can you ask for a weekly slot to discuss your growth or non-work topics? Or can you share a coffee break online?
Your relationships with team mates are critical for your efficiency and focus unless you are an independent contributor. In a WFH or hybrid environment, your relationships have suffered. A newly hired colleague is introduced over email and so is the announcement of an exit. Until you have swapped stories, worked together for a tight deadline, listened to a colleague’s burden and lent a helping hand, you will not get the work environment needed to succeed. Take the initiative. Use non-work topics to start or conclude meetings and your one-on-one discussions. During a team project, choose to keep the video and audio on with a colleague. Take time out for a personal catch-up with the other person.
Path to growth
While your current work is all about outcomes and measurements, your personal growth plan should be about skills and experiences. List the responsibilities you are currently handling and the projects you are staffed on. Which skills are being utilised in each? Where are you learning a new skill, say account management? Where are you mastering an existing skill, say leading a cross functional team? What skill or experience are you missing? Seek to add a new project or restructure your existing work to get to the desired goal. Review every three months and revise the growth plan for the rest of the year.
How employers reacted to covid
Over 40% employees faced pay cuts, 33% got no increments.
What have employers done differently?
Many were forced by circumstances to take harsh measures, but some employers supported workers during this difficult time.
Employers were also caught unawares by covid. Many businesses with limited working capital had to reluctantly lay off employees or resort to deep salary cuts. Our survey shows that three out of five employers had to let some people go.
Jobs and income
As the impact of covid progressed, some business streams became unviable while other avenues were created. Individual team leaders and managers went the extra mile to help laid off people find jobs through their networks. Startups were especially proactive. Shishir Modi, cofounder of Niki.ai, an e-commerce startup, says, “Startup co-founders in our network recommended their own employees when positions closed and hired rapidly from fellow founders’ recommendations where new positions opened up.” However, at an institution level, only 1% of the respondents to our survey said that their employers helped them find a new job.
Bet on post pandemic market
Experienced leaders who had seen and learnt from past crises were more measured in their response to the pandemic. Where they had the resources to survive a lockdown, they focused on post-pandemic scenarios. Kamal Karanth, co-founder of XPheno, a specialist staffing company focused on tech and engineering, says: “We chose to invest in marketing and branding for the long term instead of letting people go. We were willing to bear losses if the pandemic extended but were confident of pent up demand coming through.” Xpheno’s bet paid off and it recorded its best quarter ever in 2021. In such cases, clear communication and personal job security helped teams come together with the common goal of rebuilding the business.
Health and emergency aid
Our survey indicates that 44% of respondents received new or increased health insurance, access to mental health counselling or financial support from their employers. Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and Executive Vice-President at TeamLease, a leading staffing company says: “We extended financial help for anyone struggling through a medical situation, and conducted sessions to educate everyone on tips to manage financial challenges arising due to the pandemic.” Meanwhile, many employers set up covid response teams especially during the second wave. Vinod Subramanian, CEO of Flexability, the RPO division of ABC Consultants, says, “The covid response team in our company went all out to help other employees and extended families across the country get access to treatment in emergency conditions.” Both financial and resource based initiatives were a boon for resource scarce employees.
How workers feel about their employers
Workers largely satisfied with response but not sure about future.
Training and skilling
One often ignored aspect was the professional confidence of employees. In the new WFH environment, many tools and skills of employees became redundant or less relevant. As a result, employees felt less confident about their skills and their contributions which fueled further anxiety around job security. Some employers recognised this aspect and helped employees work through the changes in the environment. Roopa Badrinath, Chief Talent Officer -South Asia for Wunderman Thomson, a global marketing communications company, says, “We curated over 100 training programs to ensure people felt less anxious about their skill relevance.”
Supporting the managers
Managers and leaders were unable to use the standard tools and techniques to manage a remote work force. Thus all employer led initiatives worked best when the managers and leaders received support. Says Prabhkiran Singh, co-founder of Bewakoof. com: “With new additions and leadership changes, we made sure that leaders across the country got to know each other in both formal and informal settings.” Another leader has a daily slot on his calendar at breakfast time, where employees book days and weeks in advance for an online discussion around work, ideas, questions and answers. Employees got direct access to the leader while the CEO received information and connected with people all across the company. Another firm implemented a weekly schedule where any employee could attend while a manager volunteered to talk for 20 minutes about the challenges faced in his role and then receive suggestions from others. Karanth says leaders have a better chance of success if they establish psychological safety and create alternate processes for communication that signal normalcy.
(The author is a career coach, mentor and the author of Yoursortinghat.com.)