Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bad advice

Ever since the midden hit the windmill in the economy three years ago, I've heard the same refrain from pundits--be grateful for your job! Show up early! Stay late! Come in on the weekends! Be a producer! That way, they say, you won't get fired or laid off.

Let me tell you a story. 

A few years ago, I had a job that I'd been working at for a year and change.  I brought in money (even though I wasn't expected to in my first year).  It wasn't millions of dollars, but it wasn't just a few thousand.  I got consistently good feedback (and in writing) from my bosses.  I enjoyed it, I worked hard at it, and I went above and beyond.

I got laid off anyway. 

The people I worked for and with were livid.  It was nothing personal, it was just the economy, they had to cut, etc.  I was the last one hired, and the I was person who was the newest to this particular field.

I'm not telling you this because I'm bitter--I still hold great affection for my former colleagues (the ones who remain there and the ones who were let go in subsequent layoffs).  But this is a huge reason why I think this advice is just plain bad.

I'm not saying that anyone should slack off on the job or spend all day surfing the internet or generally be a jackwagon in response to the bad economy.  But I do think it's a bad strategy to use all of your time and energy working extra hours at a job where you might get laid off anyway. 

No, my advice to anyone in this economy--or in any economy, really--is this:

Work hard during your normal work hours.  Do the absolute best job you can do because you want to take pride in your work and you want to have a good reputation.  Build good relationships with your coworkers.  If you have to put in extra hours once in a while for a project, then do that, but unless you're getting paid hourly and/or overtime, don't make a habit of this.  What will happen is that you'll be expected to produce that same amount of work, cover the same amount of hours.  You'll be taken for granted, and no, it does not guarantee that you will keep your job if or when layoffs come.  Your boss will probably notice that, but their boss, and their boss's boss, and the executives of the organization, won't. And they won't care either way.  So just bust your butt during normal working hours, take on extra stuff if you can manage it, but don't work extra hours.  Don't run yourself into the ground as part of a campaign to show slavish devotion to your employer in a bid to not get the ax.  Your boss will be grateful and appreciative of the good work you do, and will do what they can to reward you (unless they are jackwagons).

Instead, network and keep your ear to the ground for other opportunities.  If you work in a specific field, get to know other people in your field.  Stay current on what's happening in your field.  And maybe you should explore other fields of work--start talking to people who do other jobs and learn about those jobs, what it took to get them, what they entail, and if they'd be a good fit for you.  (This is useful no matter what kind of work background you have.)  If you absolutely feel like you must work all the time, then get a second job if you already have a full time job and/or a job with set hours, and stash that money away.  (This isn't the case for everyone, and ironically, it's the underemployed shift workers who could use a decent second job, a big emergency fund, etc.)

Obviously--build your emergency fund.  Get as much in the bank as you can.  You know the news stories about how people aren't spending as much and it's hurting the economy? Boo hoo.  You don't owe any business your money, and if the economy is dependent upon us running ourselves into personal debt and buying stuff we don't need, then we're in bigger trouble than we think.  (Besides which, what was actually hurting the economy were things like banks selling their debt on the market, banks pushing bad loans, declining paychecks, um, layoffs, etc.)

So save up a huge emergency fund if you can  (I know some people are making minimum wage or just above it, so your mileage may vary with this).  It's great if you can get enough together to cover your expenses for a year (ten months at least), and if you can cut your expenses down a lot.  This is will take you a while probably--most of us aren't making a lot of money to begin with, and rents, mortgages, gas and food take a huge bite out of our paychecks.  Do what you can to build this up, and don't beat yourself up if you're not seeing a lot of progress right away.

Here's the thing: you never know when the ax will fall.  So prepare for that, mentally and financially.  And don't beat yourself up if you can't because holy moly, it's not like the majority of us are making six figures and have no expenses.

OK, four people who read this blog.  What would your advice be?  What have I missed?  Because I know I've missed a lot.


  1. I agree with you, Ms Feral. In my high-tech field, many companies have a culture of 'heroes" - people who never go home, who devote their entire lives to work. At a quarterly awards meeting some years ago, a service professional received accolades for working so hard that he got sick! This was rewarded and praised. I say: most companies long ago abandoned all pretense of being loyal to their employees. You owe your employer a good day's work for your pay, nothing less, and nothing more.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Hey, Denise, thanks! I hope your colleague got a clue and stopped that. I mean, it is one thing to work hard but missing out on your life is. . .well, it's sad. Even if you love what you do, I think everyone needs to make room for other things (and friends and family).

  3. Hi, I was sent here by This is a great post though!

    I've just taken on a second job to try and get out of debt faster and build up an emergency fund/savings. I'm working a lot of hours a week and some days it's literally work/eat/sleep, although most days I get some time off.

    Sorry to hear that you lost your job. I am taking a year out to earn some money for postgraduate studies, but the company I was supposed to be working for (researching plants) went bust, so I've been left working minimum wage seasonal jobs to get by! :(

  4. Hello, Bryallen and Miss Piggy Bank! Thank you for dropping by and commenting.

    Bryallen, luckily, I did find another job (though I ended up leaving that one for the one I currently have--long story). I'm painfully aware that the ax can fall, even if you get glowing reviews. I think you're being smart and strategic to do what you can to get out of debt and build up an emergency fund--I may have to see about picking up a second gig, myself since my current commute is long (but oddly far less stressful since it goes against rush hour traffic). It is frustrating to work low-paying jobs and try to cobble together a living. Hang in there. It sounds like your old job was fascinating.

  5. I learned this painful lesson a long time ago but thanks for reminding me of it again. My only suggestion would be to declutter and sell useable stuff so the money can go into savings, a 401k or to pay down debt. When your job's precarious, the last thing anyone needs is to be under a mountain of debt.

  6. I am 61 and retired. I remember what it felt like working temp jobs and earning minimum wage. I always tried to save something and avoided debt. It was tough but I decided that I didn't always want to be dependent on a job. Save whatever you can-every little bit matters. Good luck.

  7. I'm the worst boss I ever had.
    Nice to see you're blogging again. How long have you been hiding this from me??

  8. Hey, Barb! I thought I told you all a while ago, but I guess I didn't? Steve blogged about his discovery of my blog, apparently he didn't recognize me as the Pamela he knows in real life until I mentioned it to him.

    You're only the worst boss you ever had because you are very hard on yourself. You must recite I AM AWESOME 100 times every morning to combat this.

  9. Good post! In any economy I think it's wise to cover your backside. I read an article (actually a couple of them) a while back about multiple streams of income. (One of these articles was in the Dollar Stretcher, I believe.) This is something my husband and I have been doing for a while. Rather than lay all our dependence on one job, one company, one industry, between the two of us we have strived to maintain multiple streams of income. Some of those streams are major, some are minor. We pool everything we make into one pot. We plan for the worst, hope for the best. But I do know that if either of us could no longer work, we'd be okay. Again, good post!

    1. Lili, what do you do to get multiple income streams coming in?