At a lunch with two 40-something bankers, instead of the usual banter on latest banking deals and summer vacations, the conversation centred solely on the languishing Indian economy, the complete logjam in practically every major industry sector, the state of the rupee and the general sense of doom and gloom. Deals were in limbo, fees were scarce, the big bonuses were long gone and the only light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be from an oncoming train. And while both my companions had retained their jobs (so far), there was just no adrenalin, no “good tired”, just fear, doubt and weariness.
Having joined the workforce in the early 1990s, these bankers saw the economy transition from that watershed moment when-the-gold-was-being-shipped to the height of the India Shining story. And a large part of their current angst was summed up in a statement to the effect that they were the generation that went from the Hindu rate of growth all the way up and back down to the Hindu rate of growth. They were part of the gold rush; they did deals, travelled the world (business class, of course), spoke at conferences, bought holiday homes and holidayed in exotic locales. Then the world changed. A few years on, while some economies had turned the corner, India seemed to be stuck, with even flag-waving, nationalist promoters expressing dismay.
My lunch companions were not looking to change jobs, or switch careers. Neither did they harbour any illusions about being able to miraculously kick-start the economy. They were just tired, burnt out and disillusioned. How do the tough manage to keep going when the going just keeps getting tougher? Your initial step towards managing “the new normal” may involve re-evaluating and resetting your expectations on professional and personal goals in the short term. So, here goes.
uTo start with, stop worrying about variables you can’t control, and take stock of what you can.You probably can’t influence the economic environment, but you can tailor your responses and attitude and set up a personal strategy to reckon with the recession.
uCount your blessings. Yes, deferred bonus years suck. Much as you may hate the way things are at the moment, if you have a job to go to, some savings in the bank, an almost paid-off roof over your head—these are good problems to have at the moment. Be thankful.
On the personal financial front, given the change in medium-term wealth accruals, your response could involve changes in spending habits, postponing major purchases, rejigging your investment portfolio and expected returns. Conserve cash, do some what-if financial modelling and disaster planning. Earmark funds for different buckets of expenses, hedge against changes in the rupee for the college education fund. Realize that employers too are going through the same exercise, so while inflation and insecurity may be driving you to ask for a raise, it may not always pan out.
uProfessionally, at the macro level, be aware and informed about market conditions and shifts in trends. Read, surf, chat and share perspectives and consider opinions. And while there is a lot of negativity out there, it’s important not to get caught up in what someone aptly described as “recession p***”, an endless loop of bad news that can suck you into its spiral. As the economic tectonic plates shift, evaluate if there are new roles you can play, opportunities that emerge.
uWalk through the worst-case scenario and get it over with. If things don’t get better—or do get worse—what are your options? Think through a Plan B and perhaps even a Plan C. What would you do if your current job, or even worse your current role, disappeared? Are there skills you can fall back on? Would you require additional skills or qualifications? How would you get there? Are there networks you need to build with other employers, head-hunters, industry contacts? Thinking through the disaster scenarios and advance planning or preparation of responses will make a significant difference if all hell does indeed break loose suddenly. Some of the options may be quite unusual—a friend who had been (and will be again) a CEO in the aviation field has used his enforced time off to launch a significant campaign for a garbage-free India.
uIn your current job, if there is no wind, then you just have to row. But apart from working harder for less, also think through and make an actual list of what you could do differently to ride things out or improve the bottom line. Think out of the box, question all assumptions and models. Exchange ideas with colleagues on how to deepen relationships with existing customers and what changes it may entail. If you think you need to cover more clients, think through whether to deep-dive into your sector or broaden your scope. If you are in a staff role, can you increase productivity by tweaking a process? Are there networks you can further develop or leverage? New networks you need to build? Can you tweak your product offering? Is there scope to modify pricing—for whom, and by how much? Within your existing job, are there opportunities to multitask, or take on additional developmental projects? Do you think you are doing your bit to support management and the team in creating a positive environment?
uThink about your résumé. If you can’t list traditional accomplishments this year because of decreased deals flow, think through what else you can do that is meaningful and quotable; a new account management system, chairing a committee, writing an industry white paper, speaking engagements at industry or business school forums. Apart from giving you a sense of purpose, these also prove that you didn’t spend the entire time just moaning about the economy.
The funding that didn’t come through, the deal that didn’t close are indeed an important chunk of your life, as they should be. But with much of this being beyond your control at the moment, it’s easy to get sucked into the vicious circle of depression and self-doubt. More than anything, it’s important to stay physically and mentally healthy, and keep your spirits up. Eating right and exercising apart, use the “other” parts of your life to balance your state of mind. You can choose how to approach a situation—a learning experience or the long drudge. Think about things that you enjoy doing, people who make you laugh, pursuits that bring you joy, and actively seek them out. Remind yourself about what is right, the road you have travelled and the valuable people and things in your life. Everyone has little stress management techniques that help them combat worrisome wakefulness through dark nights—some do Pranayam, some drink hot milk, someone told me to wear socks (it works!). Get involved in small or large projects that are meaningful or will give you a sense of accomplishment—sort out pending paperwork, write an article, help out at that NGO.
uJudiciously share your concerns and stresses with family and allow them the opportunity to be supportive. And if you find that you are really unable to cope, if you think you are truly falling apart, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Do call a counsellor.
Look around: You are probably not alone. And while a good moaning session once in a while is therapeutic, it’s a good idea to ally with people who are positive, practical and proactive. And to be that person as well. Seek out smaller reasons to celebrate—even if you don’t have a big client win to celebrate, you can always buy a round of drinks for completing five years in the firm—or organize a reunion for your ex-colleagues.
As they say, if you are going through hell, just keep going. So, the glass still looks more than half empty? That’s just more space for a refreshing beer.
Sonal Agrawal is managing partner, Accord India, an executive search firm.