Invest in self-improvement as economy shrinks

CanWest News Service
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After years of leisurely mid-morning coffee breaks, you now find yourself coming into work 15 minutes early in order to triple-check that big report you've finished a week ahead of schedule.

Yes, it's the recession that's making you - and your co-workers - a little more paranoid than usual. But fixating on the risk of getting laid off isn't productive, experts say.

Montreal career coach Cheryl Stein says there's no need to abandon furthering your career education in tough economic times, but make sure to get input from your employer before demanding expensive courses and training. Photo by Canwest News Service

After years of leisurely mid-morning coffee breaks, you now find yourself coming into work 15 minutes early in order to triple-check that big report you've finished a week ahead of schedule.

Yes, it's the recession that's making you - and your co-workers - a little more paranoid than usual. But fixating on the risk of getting laid off isn't productive, experts say.

Instead, you should be giving yourself every possible advantage. There's no surefire method for avoiding the axe, but boning up on your technical skills can lower that risk while preparing you to take advantage of the next upswing.

"I think when there's an economic downturn, people have the idea that they have to contract their spending," explains Montreal career coach Cheryl Stein.

And they're not wrong - it makes sense to get your spending habits under control.

However, it's important to keep investing in yourself.

"In an economy like this, you have to be creative and get out of the box and do something different."

Not only is going back to school a good way to add value to what you can offer the company, it's a way to feel better about things - and insulate your public image.

"If you're taking positive action to do something to not feel desperate, not to feel miserable ... that comes across and people pick up on the vibe, and you're more attractive to people."

But Stein advises employees to be very wary about asking their bosses for extra time or funding for their professional development.

"Feel it out before you say, 'Hey, I want you guys to pay for this,' or 'Give me Fridays off.'"

You really don't want to be flagged as a needy, demanding employee.

Stein suggests online learning as a flexible, no-conflict solution for busy professionals. It can even be a helpful networking tool, too.

"Most people assume an online learning environment is solitary, but it's not."

Many online programs involve group projects or online discussions, in which students get to know each other and share ideas.

Stein has taken online university courses and now has colleagues all over the world.

"I think developing a network is about your intent and what you put into it."

Vancouver business/life coach Monica Magnetti says people need to be planning for their own happiness in any economy, but a downturn is as good a time as any to reflect upon their path.

Choosing to go back to school depends upon many factors in a person's life, including finances and how happy they are with the career they're in, so Magnetti is loath to make blanket recommendations.

But for many people, a recession can be a good time to take risks.

"In a moment in which the economy is in crisis and things aren't moving, it's good to take your chances to upgrade your education, so that when things are flying again, you can apply for a better position."

Whatever your circumstance, Magnetti says it's critical to avoid panicking simply because the economy is changing. It's important to make decisions not out of fear, but as part of a long-term plan to realize your dreams.

The point is to find ways to be creative, and to adjust.

"There is opportunity in crisis."

Geographic location: Vancouver

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