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Recession proofing your job

Francis Wade

The recent news is forbidding. There is a recession coming to North America and we in Jamaica are “sitting ducks,” condemned to suffer the fallout of high oil prices on the one hand, and reduced revenues from tourism earnings and remittances on the other.

The fact that Jamaica as a country suffers from low productivity is well known. Also well known is the fact that many Jamaicans who migrate to North America, transform themselves and become highly productive. Many are eager to do “whatever it takes,” willing to work at multiple jobs at the same time, put in long hours and learn the work-habits of the mainstream.

It simply means that our low productivity is not a permanent fact of life, built into our genes -- which is good news. Even though the economic news is “bad,” we Jamaican professionals can believe, from the evidence, that we can find what it takes within us to improve, and do so drastically.

The U.S. recession of 1991 is one I remember well, as a then employee of AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. At the time, the company had over 100,000 employees, and was a behemoth. That size turned out to be unsustainable. However, the changes that we were forced to adopt can be used to teach us what to do now in this, the early part of 2008, ahead of a possible recession.

If a recession does come, it will bring with it a contraction in business, and companies may well see their sales fall, or plateau. The natural reaction of most CEO’s is to find ways to do more, even as they do it with less. Employees can anticipate this change in strategy, and prepare themselves to deal with the difficult times ahead.

Preparing to Do More
Employees who see the need for the company to do more on a whole start with themselves -- by finding ways to achieve “North American productivity” now, without migrating. They examine their own habits and practices to see where they might be operating at a low standard.

Most employees in Jamaica take their cues from their colleagues. Upon joining the company, they unconsciously observe the habits of others and calibrate their style of working according to those around them. The norm of a 90 minute lunch becomes theirs also.

My experience working with, and managing Jamaicans abroad, shows that they do the same thing upon migrating to North America – they copy their new colleagues. They quickly shed their old work habits when they realize that they simply cannot survive while working at low standards. (Undoubtedly, the willingness to fire unproductive workers plays a huge part in the equation.)

To prepare to do more, the savvy employee actively looks for ways to boost their productivity. This isn’t simply a matter of working longer hours. It must include new practices to be used within 8am to 5pm each day. A good place to begin is to shadow the most productive workers and managers in the office, and pick up on the practices they use. Another would be to research the techniques that the best employees are using around the globe.

Avoiding Layoffs
While it’s an unpleasant fact to face, the truth is that recessions often bring layoffs.

The least productive employees – the one’s whose productivity is least in line with their remuneration – are often the first to go.

On the other hand, the employees that are the most productive are the ones to be kept at all costs, so it’s a good idea for all employees to be continuously improving their productivity, to ensure that their jobs and positions are recession-proof.

Assuming Extra Responsibility
After a layoff, the remaining employees have the challenge of performing the jobs they had, in addition to the jobs of those who have left.

The pressure is on, as they try to find ways to improve their productivity rapidly. If they are equipped with proper tools, then they are able to change their habits to deal with the rapid increase in time demands they now face.

More frequently, they turn their lives upside down by deciding to put in longer hours, and while they are able to do the work of two people with a 70 hour work-week, their health, family life and friends suffer.

Here in Jamaica we need to give our managers the latest time management techniques that expose them to the productivity that I saw corporations take for granted in North America.

It’s the only way that we can move beyond mere recession-proofing to ongoing, permanent gains.

Francis Wade is leading the April NewHabits time management programme in Kingston. To claim a free multimedia e-book describing this approach, visit
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