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Here today, gone tomorrow: facing facts

IF you’re reading this, congratulations. You’ve almost made it to the end of a year that, by any standards, has been a scary one for a fair proportion of our planet’s population. Punctuated by corporate collapses, unprecedented terrorism and with one of the world’s major industries, the airlines, in crisis, one has the right to ask, “what does the future hold?”

To divine the future, we should first look to the past. So, what can we learn from 2001? What are the constructive messages we can take from what could otherwise be interpreted as some pretty negative events?

While many commentators are shouting prophecies of doom and gloom, I’d like to postulate that there is opportunity in all of this carnage. But only if you know how to look for it.

Take the Ansett collapse. Bad news, for sure. Thousands of people out of work. Not good for the economy, no sir. But what had me bemused were the demands of the newly unemployed. “We demand our jobs back!” came the war cry. Good for group morale, I’m sure, but I didn’t think that the ostrich was an Australian native. The reality was that the airline closed its doors because it could not afford to keep running. Unless those people were prepared to work for nothing, there weren’t too many jobs to be had. Better look elsewhere if you want job security.

It’s understandable for people to feel fear and anger when their livelihood, and in many cases, their identity, is stripped from them when their job no longer exists.

However, people must face reality. The cases of Ansett, HIH and One.Tel, along with countless other corporate closures and downsizings, only serve to remind us that job security is no longer guaranteed by employers. That is a fact. How you choose to deal with that fact when faced with it is up to you. But remember, ostriches aren’t native to Australia.

Recently, I was coaching three managers with careers in the IT industry who all lost their jobs when their Perth office closed its doors. Did they demand their jobs back? Not one of them. Were they disappointed? Sure. But they knew one fact – the only security lies with yourself. So they have all gotten on with the task of finding new work, and have used the reality of the situation to catalyse their actions.

One popular school of thought about how workforce trends may change is that people will not change jobs so often now that the future looks uncertain.

In other words, employers have the opportunity to claw back some of the bargaining power they’ve lost in the new age of the “free agent” mentality, and may be able to play on people’s need for security through staying “permanently employed.” Nice idea, but I think it’s a pipe dream. In fact, I think the opposite will happen.

It’s dangerous to run to safety into the arms of a seemingly stable corporate employer.

Just because they have a big building doesn’t mean they’re a safe house.

The events of 2001 serve to remind us that there are no guarantees. If some of our largest institutions can’t ensure that we’ll have a job next week, what’s the point of seeking sanctuary there?

So in these times of uncertainty, how does one find a sense of security and direction? This is a time when strong relationships come to the fore. Those who have been nurturing relationships with those who matter to them will continue to thrive.

Possible employers, past employers, friends, family and work colleagues all matter.

While relationships based on contractual obligations may crumble as easily as the institution that formed them, relationships based on a strong emotional bond will endure.

The three managers I referred to know about the power of relationships. They, and the entire staff of the office, get together regularly to share job opportunities and to brainstorm the options available to each of them.

They’ve set up a virtual network to ensure that they help each other out. Rather than relying purely on institutions to help them, they help themselves through helping each other.

Time for a reality check. You may find yourself employed today. Good for you. But what about tomorrow? What is the quality of the relationships you have with those who matter to your continued employability? And what are you doing to ensure they become or remain strong?

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