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Turning economic uncertainty into opportunity

The Office of Human Resources can help

By Chris Schanus

When current opportunities seem limited, it’s a good time to think deeply about next steps in developing your career, taking charge of your finances, and spending some time renewing yourself.

June 10, 2009

In these challenging times, people wonder what they can count on and what the future holds for them. One thing is certain, we do have budget challenges at the University of Minnesota. And they may continue for some years into the future. These economic problems are not limited to the University. Looking at the news on any given day reinforces our concerns. Although the stock market appears to be heading in a positive direction, many people continue to lose their jobs, companies and organizations have gone out of business, and more budget cutting is expected.

Unfortunately, a focus on what’s going wrong can lead us to think that we have no options and that the future is hopelessly bleak. It’s easy to decide that it’s not worth trying to do anything. On the other hand, when current opportunities seem limited, it’s a good time to think deeply about what your next step might be in developing your career, taking charge of your finances, and spending some time renewing yourself. One great benefit of working at the U of M is that there are many home-grown resources available to help you achieve these goals.

Develop Your Career

Rosie Barry, Assistant Director, Organizational Effectiveness

The University’s budget crunch has many wondering about their careers. The number of staff members stopping by Employee Career Services every Wednesday for walk-in resume review service has doubled and occasionally tripled from last year’s numbers. People are worried.

Take advantage of this time to be ready. And look around to see what you can learn. For example, if your unit is reorganizing and “doing more with less,” it’s easy to complain about having too much work. You could, however, take it as an opportunity to learn a new skill or add an area of expertise. In this way, though your resume may not have new jobs on it, it will have new skills. And you will be a more involved employee. Here are a few things you can do.

Update your resume. If you are worried about losing your job, having an up-to-date resume will do two things for you. It will make you feel more ready to face whatever comes, and it will give you a view of where you are right now in terms of your skills and your experience.

Think on it. Do some reflecting on what you might want to do. If you want to make a change of any type, that typically doesn’t happen overnight. If things are happening slowly in career terms right now, you have some time to add to your skills.

Build experience. Pick a thing or two that you want to do or develop. If you can’t get experience in your current job, look at how you might be able to get the experience through a volunteer opportunity. Take a small step. Focus on whatever small steps you can take. People often set goals that are too big to accomplish in a short time. Identify a small step and then, when you’ve done it, reinforce your good behavior with a reward.

Take Charge of Your Finances

Sharon M. Danes, Professor, Family Social Science

In this economy, everything seems to cost more, and many people are facing reductions in their household income. No matter what your financial situation, this is a good time to rethink your budget. There are simple things you can do to save money, from eating out less to choosing lower cost entertainment options: second-run theaters, free local festivals, visits to the many Twin Cities lakes and parks. When simple solutions aren’t enough, it’s critical to start planning before you get into a financial crisis. Here’s how to begin.

Involve the family. Because spending decisions affect the whole family, talk with your family about the situation. Let them know that the family needs to change its spending. Involve everyone in deciding spending priorities. If family members understand the tough choices that must be made and have a voice in making the decisions, they will be more willing to accept the decisions.

Create a spending plan. A spending plan is always an effective tool to help you get the most for your money. It is even more important when you have a sudden change in your income. A spending plan helps you to (a) make decisions about how to spend your money, (b) provide for needs before wants, (c) match your spending to your current income, and (d) prevent family arguments over money.

Talk to creditors early. When your bills are more than you can pay, you need to contact the people to whom you owe money—your creditors—and explain your situation. Creditors are usually willing to work with you if you contact them before you get behind in your payments.

Have information ready. Before you and your creditors agree on a reduced payment, determine how much money you have with which to pay off your debts. Figure out how much income you can count on each month and how much you need to pay for your essential monthly living expenses. You’ll need to know who you owe, how much you owe, and how you plan to pay them. Most creditors would prefer to receive smaller payments regularly than to begin expensive collection procedures.

Renew Yourself

Andrea Gilats, Director, LearningLife

June is a time of beginnings and endings and comings and goings—from graduations and weddings to retirements, relocations, and other ways of moving on. In today’s economy, such life changes are even more prevalent and sometimes unknown. Whether we're on our way to a new life phase or to new work that has landed on our desk, a few small inside moves can make larger moves easier. Try these five.

Take a breather. Who says you must have the next thing in place before the last thing is over? Give your mind and body and spirit some reseeding space between chapters, even if your chapters are morning and afternoon of the same day.

Cut your caffeine in half. If you can't give up caffeine completely, half makes a huge difference. You'll be less stressed and more even-tempered, and your coffee will taste better. Or how about some soothing green or white tea? If you're having tea with friends, definitely try Bigelow's Constant Comment.

Talk nice to yourself. Why should your inner dialogue be with the selves who aren't supportive, such as your inner critic or inner parent? The words you tell yourself about your worth, your talents and abilities, and your accomplishments will either limit or lift you. Allow your inside story to lift you up.

Laugh. Laughter is one of the most healing of all human necessities. It lightens even the heaviest of hearts and chases fear away. Go to a humor Web site, try to recall the last thing that made you laugh out loud, make up a joke, or if all those fail, laugh for no reason. Seriously.

Sleep on it. Everything is better in the morning. It takes a full sleep cycle to shed stress or come to clarity about a decision or challenge. Rest renews our inner resources so that we're better able to cope, adapt, embrace new situations, and thrive through change.

The University has many resources to help staff and faculty through tough economic times:

Employee Career Services provides career counseling, workshops, and online resources for all employees.

For staff members who receive layoff and nonrenewal notices, enhanced services are available.

Detailed information on managing your finances during challenging economic times, including worksheets and sample letters.

The Wellness Program has programs to reduce stress and improve your quality of life.

The University’s LearningLife program has resources to help you learn and grow through your journey toward tomorrow. Check out the opportunities.

Links to these and more resources for coping during this economic downturn can be found at employee support.