Rachel Homer: Goodbye candy bowl, hello overtime (@Work Advice Contest, Round 2)

October 5, 2011

Rachel Homer is one of the eight remaining finalists in The Washington Post Magazine’s @Work Advice Contest. For Round 2, we asked: What is the biggest problem in today’s workplace, and how can it be solved?

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Certainty is almost always an illusion. Occasionally life has a way of lulling you into a complacency that resembles security, but in the end, anything can change at any time. We all know this, yet it always seems to come as a surprise when something shakes up our world. Right now in the workplace, though, the illusion has collapsed, and people are painfully aware that their jobs could disappear at any time.

This undercurrent of uncertainty creates an environment that is difficult to work in. In a bad economy, no one wins, but when jobs are scarce, companies have the upper hand. With that comes the inevitable imbalance where employees give more and get less. Employees are eager to do what they can to keep their jobs; at the same time, companies are cutting back, which means, among other important things, that the candy bowl in reception inevitably disappears.

Workers are being asked to make sacrifices on a professional and personal level, and they feel they have no choice but to comply. Take a well-known hospital in Southern California that had to cut back to stay afloat. After laying off part of their workforce, they asked the remaining administrative employees to take weekly furlough days. So not only are the employees doing more work to make up for the layoffs, they’re also being asked to do it in less time.


Rachel Homer

In terms of personal sacrifice, company-issued smart phones set the expectation that employees should be responsive at all times. The work-life balance is heavy on the work, and light on the life.

In a healthy economy, employees could have some say in setting boundaries, and decide to leave if they were ignored. But now, the pervasive mood is of feeling stuck. Having no options creates a kind of mild claustrophobia, even if things aren’t too bad. It’s always a comfort to see the bright red Exit sign guiding your getaway path.

In an environment like this, the only way to get by is to focus on the tiny subset of the world that you can actually control – yourself. Here are just a few practical ways to cope with the uncertainty and to give yourself some breathing room should you choose to jump ship (or are forced to walk the plank).

1. Get your finances in order. If you can, save at least three months of living expenses. (More is better.)

2. Get your resume up to date.

3. Figure out what you’d do for health insurance.

4. Research unemployment benefits.

5. Make a voodoo doll of your boss.

Once you’ve done what you can to prepare, it’s time to let go. Accept that you have no control over any of this, and learn to look at that as a blessing, not a curse. After all, it’s pointless to spend mental energy trying to will the world to be something other than it is.

Whose advice did you like best? Vote for your favorite contestant

Read each contestant’s Round 2 answers

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward

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Read each contestant’s Round 1 answers

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Moira Forbes | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Nikki Stevens | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward

Meet the @Work Advice Contest’s 10 finalists

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Moira Forbes | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Nikki Stevens | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward

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