At this point, there's probably little merit in yet another article about the negative effects of the recession. Or another attempt at predicting how long it will last. No matter how optimistic Fed Chairman Bernanke's statement earlier in the week was, unemployment is still projected to top 10 percent by year's end, and not even begin to recover until 2010. More or less anyone still standing to survey the wreckage can begin to consider themselves a survivor, and should be starting to look forward at what comes next, and how we pull ourselves out of this. In that spirit, then, I'd like to offer a few suggestions on why—on an individual level—the recession may actually end up benefiting a lot of people, especially in their work lives.
Opportunities to grow
Look around your company, if you still have one. Chances are, there are a lot less people working there now than there were a year ago. The chances are also pretty high that, like most firms, yours has overreacted, and trimmed more than it needed to from the payroll. That, however, presents a fantastic opportunity for those still standing to consolidate their positions, take on extra responsibilities and add new career elements that might otherwise have taken years to come along.
Sure, no-one wants to work any harder—especially in an environment where most of us are more likely to see a reduction in salary than a raise—but proving yourself invaluable to the cause isn't something that should stop when you feel the worst of the downsizing is over. Indeed, that's the perfect time to step up and add the missing element that have been holding your career progression back; whether it's the lack of opportunities to display initiative-taking, or ability to lead or handle responsibility, somewhere within every slimmed-down firm there are jobs that need doing that no longer have anyone to do them. And even if taking on more doesn't pay off immediately financially, the extra experience is sure to come in handy once a recovery is underway.
Opportunities to take stock
No, that's not a recommendation to dive back into the market, or to negotiate stock options as part of your compensation. Rather, it's a reminder that, even if you have been laid off—in fact, especially if you've been laid off—there's no time like the present for reconsidering your short, medium, and long-term goals.
A recent UK study found that more people reported feeling satisfied with their jobs during the recession than before it—pretty strong evidence that, for most folks, any job is better than none at all. That doesn't mean that jumping into a less than ideal situation just to get a paycheck is going to lead to happiness—just short-term gratitude. Even if you have to do that to keep the bills paid, it's worth giving some thought about what it is you'd like to do. Consider whether what you were doing before the layoff is where you see yourself one, five or even ten years from now. We've all heard about the legions of laid-off bankers and execs considering teaching as an alternative career, but even if your ambitions stretch to something more esoteric or entrepreneurial, there's no reason not to at least investigate it at this point.
Opportunities to get a better deal
Raises are more or less off the table for many workers this year, and in the current political climate it doesn't make sense to pin too much hope on the arrival of a fat bonus check either. That doesn't mean there's nothing left on the table for a high-performing, valued employee to shoot for, however; extra vacation days, the opportunity to work from home, or even a juicy new title can all serve as alternative bargaining chips to cold hard cash in negotiations. Just make sure you're as firmly situated in the "irreplaceable" bracket as you think you are before marching in to the boardroom or executive suite with a list of demands.