Layoffs, a weak economy, unpredictable stock market and corporate mergers are very real concerns. So what can you do?
At pink-slip time, your manager will work hard to hold on to the best workers, if possible. But they can't fight for you if they don't know what you're contributing. Look for opportunities to update your manager on your accomplishments - not from a self-serving viewpoint, but with a focus on how you're solving problems for the company.
In these uncertain times, this is more important than ever. Just doing your job well, even exceptionally well, doesn't cut it anymore unless your boss and your boss's boss know you're exceptional. "The invisible employee is the first to go," warns executive recruiter and author Stephen Viscusi.
Big stuff matters even more, like keeping up on industry trends beyond your own back yard, volunteering for assignments no one else wants or devising a plan to meet a key challenge like cutting overhead. Be prepared for meetings, and look for opportunities to make key points. Don't babble, though; look for substance. Be a team player, and don't foster office gossip.
Thanks to downsizing, the same amount of work is being distributed among fewer people. Add the technological advances of e-mail, voice mail, cell phones and laptops, and we can take our work anywhere. For many people, the only way to stay on top of the workload is to arrive early, stay late, work through lunch and on weekends, and bring work home.
And then there are the very real life challenges of day care pickup, carpools and other responsibilities that don't allow for extra face time at work. If these challenges keep you from the perception of going the extra mile, be creative about other ways to show your value.
You may want to occasionally send a substantive e-mail over the weekend, for example, to show you're thinking about the company. Don't overdo this, or it can seem contrived. Find ways to add value.
Be sure to "put your own oxygen mask on first," though. Overwork can cause physiological damage such as neck pain, insomnia, headache and fatigue, says Dr. Alice Domar with Harvard Medical School.
And forget about having the time or energy to exercise, focus on good nutrition or relax with friends and family. Where can you start to make improvements in this stressful area?
Get clarity from your boss
When your platter is overflowing, ask for some direction on prioritizing. We often make assumptions that every task is as important as the next, and some clarity can help to generate a release valve for us at times. Be careful that you're not doing this from a whining mode, but from a realistic, practical perspective.
Write down everything you do for an entire week. Then inspect your list for potential time robbers. E-mails, phone calls, going through the mail, interruptions from co-workers and meetings can all eat away at the time you need to perform the essential tasks of your job.
I once heard that each meeting generates an hour-and-a-half's worth of work, and that's a statistic that has always stuck with me. If you're in meetings all day, where do you find all those hours-and-a-half?
You may be surprised to learn, too, how many of us are procrastinators - crossing little things off our lists for immediate gratification instead of jumping in to carve off a chunk of an important project. This refers to the "urgent vs. important" reactionary mode of operating. In cases like this, where we're contributing to our own sense of overwhelm, we're our own worst enemies!
Principles apply at home
While this column is written from the perspective of working outside the home, many of the principles can be applied to the very demanding jobs of working inside the home. Just interchange some of the terms to reflect interactions with spouses, partners, parents and projects to see how these principles could apply to your individual situation.
Linda Arnold, M.B.A., is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman and CEO of The Arnold Agency, an integrated marketing firm. Direct reader comments to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or e-mail livinglifefu...@arnoldagency.com.