How Does The Recession Factor In All This?

by Lauren Young, BusinessWeek


Despite the title of this column, my office doesn’t actually have a watercooler. (Much to my dismay, I might add.) Instead, we have three water fountains strategically situated around the office. Therefore, the watering hole is actually a Flavia single-serve coffee machine in the break room, which serves up more than 10 different kinds of coffee and tea combinations.


Right next to the coffee machine is the office bulletin board. You’ll often find quirky New Yorker cartoons posted there, along with thank you cards from colleagues who recently had a baby or fliers publicizing a poetry reading. But last week someone put up a postcard for an academic program that teaches you how to be a butler. “At least someone is hiring,” a colleague scribed.


A few weeks ago I wrote about the tough times that are upon us. Hell, even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is starting to use the R-word (as in “recession.”) Here’s how things are playing out in my corner of the world: Thanks to layoffs and attrition, people are working on overdrive. One friend who is slogging through 60-hour work weeks did a calculation and realized she is making less than minimum wage on an hourly basis. I’ve also noticed more colleagues bringing lunch to the office rather than dropping another $10 for takeout. A high-powered executive I know fired her personal trainer. “I realized I’m spending $200 each week to work out,” she says. “Right now every dollar counts.”


Career experts say this is the time to shine at work, but that seems daunting for a working parent like me who works one day at home and needs to leave the office (on the days when I come in) at a reasonable hour to make dinner and relieve the sitter. That’s why I turned to Cali Williams Yost, president and founder of Work+Life Fit and author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You (Riverhead/Penguin Group, 2005). “In a recession, more needs to be done with fewer resources,” Yost says. That’s actually good news for people who want to work a flexible schedule. Companies that need to cut back will use flexible work arrangements to creatively downsize, Yost says. “By offering to reduce schedules or transition people to project-based, consulting work, employees who otherwise would lose their tie to the organization can stay,” she notes.


The silver lining? When business turns around, those companies then have the option of offering employees who dialed back to return to a full-time schedule.


Yost’s tips for keeping afloat during a recession include setting goals, communicating with your manager, and ramping up your work flow. You can find more details here: “As long as your leader or manager knows you are achieving what you are supposed to be achieving in these times where everyone is doing more with less, you should be okay,” Yost says. And, by Jeeves, if Yost is wrong, well, then there is always butlering.