Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 73 – Economic Downturns

Economic downturns – should you be concerned? Given that we have been running at close to full employment for some time, and we still have people considering that R word. Not the Recession word, the other R word – I mean “Retirement” we may not be able to tell what impact (if any) the current economic hiccup will do to our profession and the number of people employed within it. But if you are concerned – is there anything you can do to recession proof your job and career?

In this issue we will look at:

• How to recession proof your job and career
• Gaps in the job market
• A Thought to ponder.

How to recession proof your job and career
Unless a business is about to go under, employers will still need people. People are the lifeblood of any organisation. You can have the best products and / or services in the world, but unless you are a one-person organisation you will need other people to help you create, market and sell them.

So who do you think an organisation is going to retain if and when times get a little tough and they need to let people go?

Right – the ones who have already proven themselves to be the best at what they do. An organisation is unlikely to retain the “dead wood” – the people who have little to show for their time in the office or on the road.  These are the same people who tend to be unwilling or unable to see the changes and are even more unlikely to want to change as a result of those external pressures.

Like a child digging its toes in the sand at the end of the day – these are also the first people to scream “it’s not fair” “I’ve been here longer than …. Why isn’t he / she going?” “I’ve got kids to feed and a mortgage to pay; you can’t do this to me.”

Can and probably will if the organisation needs to survive.

First of all this is not meant to be a negative piece. More of a – lets look at what we’re doing and see if we’re doing all we can to ensure we are part of the core group of people who are on the retain list. Now believe me, this can be a difficult thing to achieve given that most bottom line thinkers – assume that the library is a drain on resources because everything that can be found, can be found on the net by anyone willing to look. Of course this is slightly different for the records management side of things, although I’m sure you’ve all heard of the stories about the managers who think all we do all is day is re-distribute mail and stick things on shelves.

So, a few suggestions:

1. Always look the part. It is important to go to work looking like you are there to work and not there to play. Now some organisations have a stricter dress code than others, and some people flaunt the code as much as they can. Now I am all for individuality – but not at the expense of my job if that’s what’s required. So a quick question – would you please go to the bathroom and look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself this one question

“Would YOU be willing to employ the person standing in front of you?”

Now I know this is based purely on what you currently look like, and takes no consideration of the quality of the work you do. This is based purely on the “lets judge a book by its cover” and as HR the world over will attest, the first thing they score a candidate on is presentation. What they look like, what they smell like and what they sound like!

Smell? Yes I said “smell” – did you forget to shower this morning? What does that say about your attention to detail and your time management – you didn’t get up in time to have a shower and get ready that’s what it says. And if that basic point is missing – what else have you neglected of late?

Looks: Now you don’t have to look like a runway model, but clothes that haven’t been cleaned or pressed (and yes I know some don’t need ironing), shoes that haven’t seen a polishing brush etc etc.

It may sound like basic stuff – and it is, but when you show pride in yourself – no matter what you are wearing, you are going to be more likely to show pride in everything else. Remember it is the attention to detail that counts.

Sounds like: What do you sound like? No I don’t mean – your voice per se, rather the words you use. Are they predominantly positive or negative? Do you make snide comments about your work colleagues? Do you sound professional and polite when you pick up the telephone? How about when you write an email – yes the tone of an email can make a huge difference to whether you retain a client or not.

2. Don’t abuse the time. People who are habitually late, take excessive amounts of sick leave (because they can), and those who push the boundaries to breaking point when it comes to getting things completed, should consider that everything is being checked and will be checked by people you don’t even think are watching you. Am I saying you should be in work early? Stay back late? Not have a lunch break? No, not at all. You yourself know whether you need to tighten this one up. Now if you are a manager reading this and you wonder why your staff are not at work on time and leave the office early – it’s also time to check your own time management. Often times, an employee will take his / her cue from those people they see. And if they see managers and directors abusing office time, then they may feel justified in doing so themselves.

The same goes for output. Are you the kind of person who does what they have to and no more and only if pushed? Or do you feel like you are swimming through treacle because your workload is unrealistic? Again, managers reading this, make sure your employees are not following your lead. But you should also make sure you haven’t given the ones you know get things done in an efficient and effective way too much to do. They’d ask for help but they don’t have time to make a cup of tea let alone ask for a meeting with you. And if you do feel like you are drowning under paper and projects today is a good day to stop. With people being let go as belts tighten – those that are left are being told to pick up the slack. Which is all very well if there were any slack to pick up. If you have two major jobs that need your attention it is important to ask the question – which of these has priority?
3. Be open to change and learning opportunities. Contrary to popular belief, organisations who can re-train current employees will not be worse off. Given that it can cost between 50 – 150% of a person’s salary if someone leaves. That includes the cost of recruiting someone new, onsite training, and time taken to get up to speed so the new person is ready and able to the job they’ve just been hired to do (whether they are willing comes down to attitude) – then you can see that investing in some kind of training and re-skilling may just be what the organisation and the employee needs.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask for training. If you feel you need help, then you can get some on the job training or external training if it cannot be supplied in house. And if you are asked to take on another role (or part of a role) you are well within your rights to ask whether there will be some kind of additional compensation in addition to the training. After all, you are going to be saving the company quite a bit of money in the short term. And a lot of money in the long run if they never replace the person who vacated the position.

4. Communication is key: If you don’t have meetings with your line managers, now is the time to do so. My other question is – why on earth don’t you have regular meetings with line managers already? How on earth can you do your job if you don’t know what the medium to long term plans of the organisation are? For those in the information world, and especially those who work in libraries and information centres, it is vital. Why? Well sometimes it can and does take time to get the right information. Books that have to be bought from overseas for instance. Yes you can purchase online, but all the will in the world won’t make planes fly faster. If you can keep up to date with this kind of information you can ensure your services are pro-active rather than reactive. Now is not the time to bury yourself in a back cataloguing project, now is the time to get out there and talk to your clients (personally I think this should the first marketing activity of every librarian and information professional, but that’s just me). Find out what they want; find out what they are working on and what their team will be working on in the next 6-12 months. Don’t talk about whether the company will survive. Build in marketing strategies around your day and start at the top or close to the top – personal assistants are great to have on your side.

Bear in mind that savvy organisations will be looking to strengthen their key players during down times, so that when the climate changes, they will be stronger in the marketplace than ever before. And we information professionals are in the perfect place to help them do their research. But it helps if the people who should know what we do; actually do know what we can do at times like these.

Gaps in the job market:
Can you imagine what will happen when the best people are poached by organisations looking to strengthen their position? And believe me they will.

Believe it or not there are going to be more job opportunities for the right people with the right skills and abilities and the right attitude towards change. Now is definitely the time to determine whether the skills and qualifications you have will fill those gaps we know will come.

With many thoughts