If you’re a person with an internet connection or access to the news, then you’ve seen the headlines: hiring freezes at tech companies, mass layoffs and even warnings of a potential recession. And it’s ok if your first thought after reading such news is, “What does a recession mean for my job?” There’s probably a ton of gnawing questions and anxieties about your career that naturally arise amid the stress of economic uncertainty. You might feel an urge to panic-search for a new job, or maybe you’re starting to question your plans to ask for a raise. Whatever’s keeping you up at night when it comes to your career, we’ve got some expert help to navigate.
I just started a new job, should I be worried?
The short answer? Yes and no. “A lot of us tend to forget that we could all potentially lose our jobs at any time—it doesn’t have to be at the beginning of a recession,” says Tseng. Ideally, your new employer should have done their due diligence to make sure they can actually sustain a role even in the middle of an economic downturn before filling it. Woodruff-Santos agrees, adding that you should always head into a new job with a healthy dose of skepticism about its perceived security. “People put a little too much faith into their employer, and now that we are in this time of uncertainty, they think it’s time to be more cautious,” she says. “But I argue that there are few, if any, jobs that are truly stable.”
The key, Woodruff-Santos explains, is to always stay focused on your professional resiliency: What can you do to prepare to bounce back quickly in case you are ever laid off? This includes things like investing in your own professional development, maintaining a strong brand and cultivating a professional network and keeping in the loop of your latest accomplishments. “The fact of the matter is that this [moment] of economic uncertainty will resolve itself, but there will be another one right around the corner,” she says, reminding everyone to never get complacent even in more secure times.
TLDR: No job is truly stable, no matter how long you’ve been at a company. While an employer should have kept long-term viability in mind when they hired you, that’s not always the case. So, focus on what you can control: keep engaging with and growing your network, polish up your portfolio and don’t lose sight of your own professional development outside of your organization.
I'm worried about my company's future. How can I work through uncertainty?
It’s easier said and done, but it’s true: “You can only control what you can control,” says Woodruff-Santos. “There are so many decisions that have nothing to do with you and your work product that you just can’t control, and if you can get a healthy mindset around that, it can be really comforting.”
For her part, Tseng recommends sticking to the status quo until you can actually see change happening. Don’t work yourself up into fits of (understandable) panic based on a series of what ifs. Instead, try to gather numerical data about your company’s cash flow, ongoing and upcoming projects and anything else they may be transparent about. (This will vary company to company.) And if you’re worried about losing your main source of income, you should evaluate how much you have in your emergency savings, how long that money will last and if you should put more aside to feel a bit more “safe.” Focus on the things that you can plan for so that you can at least try to quell your concerns and continue on with your work to the best of your ability.
TLDR: Panicking won’t help the situation. To help yourself keep calm, make sure you’re up-to-date on your financials (and those of your company, as much as possible). This knowledge should help you stay focused on your job—you know, the one that you still have!
Should I have a conversation with my manager about how my company is faring during the recession or just leave it alone?
Absolutely. An economic downturn can reveal how strong the leadership within a company is. If you work with good leaders, they’re going to be transparent, open to addressing your questions and concerns and will try to help or protect the team as much as they can, says Woodruff-Santos. Depending on where they are in the company hierarchy, your manager may not have all the answers, she adds, but they will listen. If leadership starts acting dismissive or tries to brush you off, consider that a major red flag—even if the company is doing okay, it’s a sign that you are working under weak management.
And while you should broach the conversation about the company’s health with someone in a senior role if you’re comfortable doing so, Tseng adds you should be cautious about how you raise the issue. You don’t want to seem like you’re prying or poking around for information because that could backfire and raise suspicions about you. Try, if you can, to bring it up with someone you have more of a rapport with in as natural of a way possible, you want to come across curious, not like you’re targeting something specific, she explains.
TLDR: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be informed. Times like this put strain on management, and how they react is a testament to their leadership skills. Consider a boss who’s dismissive of your worries a red flag.
Should I change jobs during a recession?
That really depends on why you’re looking for a new job. Generally speaking, Tseng suggests you should always keep an eye out for job postings in your industry so that you can stay up to date about what’s going on and what opportunities are out there. But according to both Tseng and Woodruff-Santos, there is slightly more risk associated with making a big career move now (or during a recession) than there would be during an economic boom, so if you’re looking to make a move solely for a bigger paycheck without considering the overall health of a company, Woodruff-Santos advises against it. Similarly, Tseng adds that if your current position is relatively stable, consider sticking with it until the situation starts to improve.
Keeping that in mind, if you are unhappy, feel unsafe or feel like your current position and/or work environment is taking a toll on your health, you should absolutely be looking to make a change, regardless of what the economic situation is. “I don’t think our jobs and our careers are number one—we have to put our lives first,” Tseng says.
TLDR: Put yourself and your mental health first, always. That said, changing jobs now carries slightly more risk. Consider the overall health of a company before making any moves, especially if your current role feels relatively stable.
Should I upskill?
It is never a bad time to upskill. In fact, it’s something you should be doing constantly, even if it’s just by reading the newest books or staying up to date on a related podcast, Tseng says. But remember, investing in your skills may not be the thing that saves your job in a recession.
Woodruff-Santos agrees, reminding people that it’s not too late to start now. Be proactive in order to stay on top of the trends in your field, look for free workshops and ask company leadership if there’s a professional development budget you can make use of to sign up for a course. And when you do upskill, don’t keep them hidden. Let the people around you see your newly developed talents in action, demonstrate how they’ll make an impact in your work and post about them on LinkedIn—all acts that will especially benefit women of color, who are more likely to be overlooked in the workplace. “I don’t think anyone should be a ‘best kept secret,’” Woodruff-Santos says. “Come with your receipts to point out what you’ve accomplished.”
TLDR: Yes. Always.
Are there certain steps I can take to protect my position during a recession?
Unfortunately, sometimes layoffs really are just a numbers game and there’s not much you can do, says Tseng, but there are certainly things you can do that won’t hurt your cause. First, maintain a positive relationship with your manager—you don’t have to be BFFs with them, but a friendly rapport with people in more senior roles means there’s a greater likelihood that someone will advocate for you behind closed doors should the time ever come. Also make sure you have a good relationship with your peers. Hopefully, they’ll have your back in trickier situations and you’ll show that you’re a strong part of the team. Finally, own up to your mistakes when you make them. Tseng admits it will be hard, but accepting responsibility and working to fix errors will show company leadership that you have grit and accountability, and will give you the chance to replace a negative memory with a positive one.
TLDR: This is a good time to make sure you’re investing in your office relationships—just don’t come off fake.
I know it's a recession, but I still want to ask for a raise. Is that wise?
Repeat after us: Always advocate for yourself. If you can make a solid argument—that means coming prepared with examples of your impact within the company—you should definitely go ahead and ask for that raise you deserve, Woodruff-Santos says.
Tseng also believes that it’s almost never a bad idea to ask for a raise, but warns that during a recession, you should prepare yourself to hear “no”—even though any good manager should understand and respect you for the bold move, it really may not be possible depending on the company’s financial situation. You should also consider the context, she adds. If you, say, work for a non-profit organization that is currently facing its lowest number of donations in the foundation’s history, waiting to ask is probably wise. Considering most of us likely don’t relate to that situation, however, Tseng offers a sort-of mantra worth remembering: “Even though we’re facing a recession, we have to look after ourselves first and foremost.”
TLDR: Don’t hold yourself back from asking for what you deserve. But you should be prepared to hear a “no” or at least a “not right now.”
How can I stay focused on my long-term career goals despite the stress?
Start by reviewing what your short- and long-term goals actually are, Tseng says. Remember that you can’t actually achieve the bigger, long-term dreams without accomplishing the short-term first. Are you aiming to reach a certain level of position? Do you want to become a manager? Do you want to pivot from one type of role into another? Once you’ve reacquainted yourself with what you want, it’s time to understand the variables—a.k.a. when and how something might happen. “During a recession, there might be a small pause in your potential career growth, but that doesn’t mean you’re never going to get there,” she says. You may have an ideal timeline set out, but you have to be willing to adapt and let that timeline be in flux. Just because you reach a certain objective, say, six months later than you initially wanted to because of a tough economic situation is okay—and you have to let it be okay.
TLDR: At worst, the recession will briefly pause your career goals. Be willing to adjust your internal timeline without losing sight of the end goal.