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How to Keep Your Job in a Bad Economy, Even if It Sucks

Updated on August 10, 2010

When the economy is bad, you're probably so relieved to have a job at all that you ignore that lingering feeling of being stuck in a job you dislike. You're just thankful your job isn't at risk. But as you hear of layoffs and the unemployment rate soaring, you begin to think dire thoughts: “What if they lay me off?” “What if they change my job description so I can't do it any more?” “What if they cut my hours? “What if they fire me and hire someone younger who will work for cheaper?”

Of course, in a recession all this could happen. Maybe you even half hope it does, speculating that collecting unemployment is preferable to keeping a job you secretly hate. But then you think about the need to eat and the medical benefits that cover your pre-existing condition, and you start to worry again. As it happens, there are ways to minimize your chances of losing the job you really do - yes, you do - don't you? - want to keep.

Be a Team Player - No, Seriously!

These days, who doesn't mock the touchy-feely rhetoric imploring employees to be a team player? What team? Where's the football? And where's the big paycheck?

Ironically, the need to play for the team is all the more important in a work environment where cutbacks and hiring freezes put a strain on the existing labor force.

In other words, you've just got to grin and bear it. Your job may hinge on your willingness to do a job and a half, make compromises and sacrifices, get along with everyone in the office - and that includes the rude coworker that everybody dislikes - and generally do what you can to help keep your department, unit or division afloat.

It's totally and utterly not fair, but there it is.

Do a Good - No, Great - No, Make That Exemplary Job!

Nobody would ever advise you to do a bad job when performing your work duties, except maybe your cardiologist. But in a time when most companies are hurting economically, even performing at an average level at work can put you at risk for being let go.

Don't be expendable. Be the best. Avoid giving yourself a heart attack, but do keep your error rate low and your success rate high, and get feedback from the powers that be before it comes time for your evaluation, so you can show improvement if necessary and prevent bad stuff from making it onto your employment record.

If the time comes that your job becomes superfluous, who knows? You may be moved laterally instead of hustled smartly out the door.

Pick a Career in a Field That Isn't Sinking Like a Fish

Admittedly, it may be too late for this one.

If you're in the construction industry, the banking industry, the airline industry, the automobile industry, or manufacturing, your job may be dead in the water, at least until the economy picks back up.

On the other hand, check out the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics' data on employment growth. If you've landed a job in a service profession or the health industry, you could be sitting pretty, relatively speaking.

Suck Up To - Er, That Is, Deal Diplomatically With - The Boss

Be a work politician. Don't bite the hand that doles out your kibble. Of course, you shouldn't do anything truly degrading, and you should always, but always stand up for your rights - no putting up with harassment or bullying, ever.

But this is not the time to point out to the boss that he's not the most competent cog in the wheel. Avoid unnecessary bluntness or controversy. If conflict arises, deal with your boss respectfully and resist the urge to engage in antagonistic power plays.

Later, when you're independently wealthy or jobs are a dime a dozen, is time enough to have your righteous say.

Chill, Or Else

Job stress is your friend to a point, but an enemy past that point. The last thing you need is to worry about your job so much you get sick and exceed your quota of sick days, or explode into conflict with a coworker or customer.

Whatever it takes - going off-site for breaks, counting to ten right there at your desk, doing yoga, shelling out for Swedish massage once a month, getting enough sleep at night, even eating more vegetables if it comes to that - you're advised to learn to manage your work stress.

If it's hard to de-stress, try harder. Really push. And if relaxing is simply too stressful, then channel all that anxiety into work until it becomes too much, and then go take a vacation.

A real vacation, that is - one that involves hotels and sandy beaches. Of course, if that means you get to keep your job only at the expense of sinking so deeply into debt you're headed for bankruptcy, take that as a sign that the job may not be one worth keeping.

Keep your job if you can by working hard at it. But remember that in a bad economy, if your job is at risk for whatever reason, it may be time to think seriously about a career change.

Sometimes merely thinking about a career change can ease your stress, not to mention open up new opportunities and lead you to something better - like to a job that doesn't actually suck. Higher degrees and self-employment may be options for you. Look around. And just in case, maybe you shouldn't burn those bridges.

Or...should you? What do you think?

Opinion Poll: Have You Ever Had a Job You Hated?

Theoretically, of course, what would you do if you really, really hated your job and the economy were terrible and your life were miserable and your health were suffering and you felt trapped?

See results


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