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Posted: August 26, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Ask the Doc: Workplace survival in tough times

Fear is pretty common in our jobs these days, as downturns in the economy result in budget cuts, lay-offs and office closings. Many have lost jobs or had wages reduced. Anxieties abound as job security fades into the past.

For each of us, our personalities will influence how we respond to job insecurity. According to Judith Sills, Ph.D., in Psychology Today, "Worriers, for example, will likely be beside themselves: distracted, preoccupied and potentially provoked into more serious hopelessness or depression." They should resist the office rumor mill that will result in needless hours of anxious, dark speculation. Deniers may ride through the anxiety more smoothly, but their denial may prevent them from taking reasonable measures to protect themselves.

Fear makes us more self-conscious, often in a negative way. We become more critical, worry more and enjoy work less. For some, fear is a motivator to be more alert to meet the threat and sharpen their focus on their job. Too much fear can be paralyzing, but a sudden and tolerable jolt might wake you up and turn on productive juices that were lulled into complacency by job stability.

To make yourself more indispensable in the workplace and more resistant to having the axe fall on you, Carlin Flora has six recommendations to assist you:

1. Understand your brain on fear: When we are overwhelmed with thoughts of the failing economy, the brain's functioning is taken hostage by fear and the thinking parts of the brain are less efficient. It becomes more difficult to figure out what to do to adapt to and survive the recession.

2. Embrace opportunities: Instead of focusing on potential losses and terror, reframe the current situation as an opportunity to figure out how to improve the organization. Emphasize the challenge to find creative solutions and encourage yourself and those working for you to use this situation to make things better.

3. Generate solutions: Here is the chance to possibly save your job. Employers favor "idea harvesters" who come to their boss with suggestions for improvement. Compliant employees who expect their boss to be the only one with wisdom are not as valued.

4. Gather information: Talk to the people above you. Ask them about their challenges and their ideas to meet them. This will give you a good idea of where to focus your brainstorming.

5. Fill in the gaps: Pay attention to your boss's weaknesses. If your boss is not a detail oriented leader, for instance, offer ways to help them handle organizational tasks. This would be more valued than volunteering for a project that did not meet their most pressing needs.

6. Give compliments: When people are consumed with worry, they are more likely to criticize themselves and others. Try to lift gloomy attitudes by pointing out coworker's strengths and contributions. They will not only like you more, but diminishing fear tends to make people better problem solvers, a good effect for the entire company.

Finally, keep in mind that we are all in this together. The fear of job loss is something that bonds us together as we face the future. If we keep a collegial willingness to share the pain, productive alliances can form that help us to feel stronger and more resilient in uncertain times.

Dr. Weekley is a clinical psychologist practicing in Covington. He specializes in the treatment of adults for depression, anxiety, relationship problems and medical issues. He can be reached at (770) 441-9244.


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