Managing your career in uncertain times

In 2016, a survey of the 31-45 age bracket focused on how employees deal with workplace pressure and uncertainty. Over 60 per cent of respondents said their retirement plan constituted an already existing side hustle. An additional 18 per cent expressed desire to start something on the side to cushion themselves from the uncertainty of the workplace.

Managing one’s career is especially important during uncertain times. So how do you navigate difficult times and is the only contingency plan to reducing effects of uncertainty creating a side hustle?

For most people, when they anticipate bad news the temptation to slow down and not ruffle the status quo is strong. It is almost as if we are inadvertently internalising the fear, assuming that things will get so bad that fighting it is a waste of time. But this is the wrong approach. As with most things, once uncertain times end and the economy starts to pick up, are you going to still be relevant or will you be forgotten along with everyone who chose to take a back seat to actively managing their career?  

Think about it this way - if you continue to build your brand and look for opportunities regardless of downturns in the economy, you are more likely to be top of mind when organisations are ready to resume hiring or internal investments.

Calculated risks

This may sound like counter intuitive advice but it is actually quite relevant, with a caveat - the risks you take have got to be calculated.

During times of uncertainty and economic downturns, most people start to stockpile everything they can, especially cash. Both organisations and individuals reduce their spending to absolutely essential purchases. Therefore, if an opportunity for a business or investment comes up, the competition is lower. However, remember this means you should do your due diligence twice as much as usual and with even more keenness.

Another approach is to share risks by looking for like-minded people with whom you can pool resources - shared risks and shared rewards.

Continually build your brand

Margie Warrell, author of Brave, recommends that employees continue to focus on building their individual brands, even during uncertain times. Authoring articles, self-publishing on professional networking sites and speaking at conferences are a few things you can do that will not cost you a lot but that will increase your visibility and expand the sphere of influence.


During this time, Jen Fraham at Conversations of Change recommends that employees have their finger on the pulse of what is going on in their industry and their company. If say, your competitors in the industry have started scaling back on operations then it would be naïve to think your organisation will escape completely unscathed.

This presents an opportunity for you - can you identify skills missing in your industry or organisation that are relevant both during and after the downturn? When you interact with your networks, one of the main things you should explore is these gaps and if there’s a way to up skill in these areas.

While reaching out to and renewing your networks, also find out what other exciting opportunities there are outside of your organisation. Find people whose careers you admire and find out how they cope when the path in front of them is unclear. This person could also help you work through the various ‘what if’ scenarios that you may need to consider as options emerge.

Safety net

This year, we have seen many businesses scale back on one area of their operations to save on costs and increase their chances of crossing over into 2021 as a going concern. If you are employed, you always have to think of how you would tackle the worst case scenario. If you get caught up in downsizing or retrenchment, do you have a nest egg that you can count on to keep you afloat while you look for a job?

This is especially relevant if you have dependents.

Stress and pressure

Everyone has a different coping mechanism as regards stress and pressure. One journal of organisational psychology reported that the fear of losing your job can be more harmful to your health than the actual loss. Because this situation comes with a high degree of helplessness, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to explore the question ‘what more can I do within the constraints I’m facing?’ First and foremost is to identify which factors are within your control, which ones are not and most importantly, the difference between the two.

Find out what helps you cope better during stressful times and start doing it.  

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