Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Can We Learn From the Bad Job Market?

An article in today's Wall Street Journal talked about the cycle of "boom and bust" and what we can learn from it in today's economy. (And just for the record, I never invested in more than two -- OK, three -- Beanie Babies, and I never spent more than $100 on a purse. OK, maybe once.)

But that brings up another point besides my sometimes dubious purchases -- what have we learned from the "boom or bust" of the job market? That's a question I examined in my latest story for Gannett:

The last year has certainly been rough for both employer and employee. But now that there are economic signs that the worst may be behind us, what lessons can be learned?

For employees, it may be that they never again let their networks lag and their skills become outdated. For employers, it may be that they listen better to their workers and be more aware of what makes top performers happy.

“I really do think there is going to be fallout as far as the way people manage their careers, particularly when you’ve been laid off. It changes you in very significant ways,” says Jennifer Kahnweiler, an Atlanta-based executive coach and founder off AboutYOU, Inc.. “I think after something like that, you will always look over your shoulder.”

She adds that even those with jobs have been changed by the spectra of layoffs and may be much more proactive about their careers in the future. “You talk to people and they’re just so overloaded at work. They’re grateful to have jobs, but as soon as things get better, they may jump ship. A lot of them have expanded their skills by doing more work and so can go elsewhere.”

An Accountemps survey found that when workers were questioned about any positive impact the recession had on them and their jobs, 53 percent said they had taken on new projects, while 52 percent said they have gained responsibility and 52 percent had more challenging work.

And it’s those more skilled workers that are worrying many employers right now. Beth Carvin, a human resources expert and president and CEO of Nobscot Corp. in Honolulu, says that companies have seen a dramatic drop in the number of employees quitting their jobs. That means that employers are now concerned that those who have “hunkered down” and become even more valuable to bottom-line success will leave once the job market heats up.

“It’s not going to be difficult for some companies to poach workers. Some people have stayed just out of need, and they’re waiting for the second they can leave,” Carvin says.

She says companies are “just now beginning to talk about what the recovery will mean for them.” One of those key areas of concern is the mindset of their current workforce.

“The people who have remained are the key employees, and retaining them is super important. That’s why companies are now being more proactive. They know they’ve got to keep people happy in order for them to stay. So, they’re asking workers questions like: ‘Are you frustrated? Are you burned out? Are you tired? What can we do to help you?’”

For many employees, losing a job was a learning experience in itself. A survey by SnagAJob found that four in 10 workers who had been laid off found their job loss to be a blessing in disguise. Specifically, 49 percent used the time to reconnect with family and friends, while 62 percent said they now know how to get by with less.

Some 28 percent said they feel better prepared to handle life’s next road bump.
Kahnweiler says that people have spent more time in self-reflection, considering mistakes they’ve made and what they can do differently in the future, such as being better prepared when job loss comes their way.

“There has to be real pain for people to make a change, and there has been real pain,” Kahnweiler says. “For those who get work, it’s going to be important for them to keep the fire in the belly and remember that while it’s nice to have a job, it could go away.”

That’s why Kahnweiler says that when the job market improves and more people do go back to work, they should continue to network online, and to make an investment in their skills or training at least once a year, even if the employer doesn’t pay for it.

“You’ve got to always have support in order to sustain change,” she says. “So, get yourself a coach or get together a group of people to help keep you on track. Learn to practice what you preach.”

What lessons should be learn from this job market?


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