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When it comes to the economy there seems to be more questions than answers. The Canadian Government has begun announcing that we are out of the recession, but they are pledging to continue to support the economy through a combination of low interest rates and capital spending (which doesn’t exactly sound like we are out of the recession). The government just recently announced that we are on pace for an estimated $56.2 billion deficit and as we struggle along the road to recovery we seem to continually be looking over our shoulder at the United States, wondering how our largest trading partner is going to react to our strengthening currency. The manufacturing sector still appears to be in shambles, although for now the latest reports seem to be more optimistic than in months past.

The news reports have been focusing on the return of consumer confidence, yet unemployment rates are still at very high levels and the quality of the available jobs seems to be questionable. The only certainty that appears to exist is that no one is quite sure where the economy is going, nor how things are going to end up.

So where does that leave us as consumers? We need to be wary. While there is nothing wrong with cautious optimism, we need to prepare for the worst and pray for the best! It is times like these we need to make sure that we have control of the areas in our life that are within our circle of influence. Now is the time to be proactive so we don’t have to be reactive somewhere down the road. For me this always starts with employment. We need to recognize that the biggest threat to anyone during a recession or any time of economic uncertainty is employment, or more importantly the lack thereof.

It is no secret that during these times of uncertainty job loss is common. Whether this is because companies do not have enough work to support the existing labor force or companies are looking at reducing unnecessary expenses and streamlining the workforce, the net result is higher unemployment. When there is this looming threat it is important for us to make every possible effort to ensure that we are not the ones at risk. So if you haven’t already taken a good look at you and your employment situation, now is the time to start. By employing four simple rules you will not only reduce your exposure to job loss, but at the same time increase the chances of promotion. Here are my four rules for job preservation:

1 Be Visible and Valuable. The first part of this rule is visibility: you need to stand out. You want management to recognize that you are the one that can be relied on regardless the task or the time. This all begins by arriving early. It is the early hours of the work day that you have the greatest likelihood of being seen by the key decision makers in the office. It is the early moments of the day that can allow for chance conversations with your boss when no one is around without being interrupted by telephones or other co-workers. These early morning minutes are what help management recognize you are there, you are committed, and you are different than the typical employee who simply arrives with everyone else. The same rule applies at the end of the day. If you stay a few minutes late, poke your head in and ask questions of your supervisor just after everyone else has left, it may not take a significant amount of time, but very soon your presence will be recognized and appreciated.

The second part of this rule is you must be providing value. Once your employer recognizes your presence the next step is to make sure they know your time is of value. Your goal is to become indispensable to your organization. This is very simple to do, but takes some effort. Make sure you attend all meetings, prepared and armed with constructive input. Look for opportunities to take on extra projects, to assist with duties outside of your own department, jump any opportunity you can find to demonstrate your competence. When a challenge presents itself, don’t shy away from it. Be the first one to volunteer and do your best. If you think the task it might be over your head, don’t panic and don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. One of the most refreshing things for an employer to see is willingness to take the initiative, but at the same time a willingness to seek help when it is needed.

As you are looking for these additional opportunities, identify areas where essential expertise is lacking, and become the expert. Not an expert, the expert. If you can become known as the “go to guy (or girl)” in your chosen area, you will have employment for life. Make sure you make this a passion, read all you can about the subject, and look for opportunities to speak on the subject wherever possible.

Clearly the goal is that you want to be indispensable to your employer. This is one of the best ways to ensure both job security and a bright and positive future.

2 It is all about attitude. A positive attitude is essential. While some people are blessed with this naturally, there are others of us who have to work on this. But it is absolutely necessary despite the stressful uncertainty that comes with challenging economic times. If this is something that doesn’t come naturally to you there are a few things you can do to compensate for this. First of all, minimize your negative comments. There is negativity in every workplace, so do’’t get caught up in it. While it might feel good to periodically vent, do not let this happen at the office. Try to avoid situations where members of your office are involved in this and make an effort to do the opposite. Keep a list in your desk drawer of all the things you appreciate or enjoy about where you work. Try to write down three new things every day and if you are feeling overly negative, review this list. Remember, negativity in the workplace drags you and everyone around you down and that is the last thing you want when presented with a challenging attitude.

Along with this it is a good idea to avoid downtime. The temptations towards negativity dramatically increase if you take time to dwell on those things that get you down. So if you have downtime, make yourself useful. If these periods of down time exist they can often be used to prepare for upcoming meetings, research something applicable to your job, brush up on the competitive environment in which your company competes. Downtime is one of the primary ways you can separate yourself from fellow employees and judicious use of this time helps us to maintain the positive outlook that is necessary for success.

3 Build Positive Relationships with everyone at the office. One of the most important aspects of our work environment is our relationships with those around us. Remember, there is no downside to these positive relationships with everyone at the office. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to be best friends will all your colleagues, but there is far more to gain from positive relations than negative. This is a rule that runs through every level of your organizations from the highest level of management to the custodial staff. If you are friendly and respectful to everyone people will notice. People will enjoy having you around and it will be easier for them to respect your input. So make an effort to be considerate to all those you come in contact with, ask how their day is going. Find some common interests and talk about them. The more people you develop positive relationships with (both up and down the hierarchy), the better off you’ll be.

In connection with this, when you develop a relationship at work, you need to make sure you keep in touch and above all, don’t burn bridges. You never know in the future when you may be in need of assistance, and it is often surprising how frequently people in our own immediate network can be of help. Don’t let your friends and contacts dwindle. You don’t have spend hours developing your contacts, but it never hurts to send them off a quick email or a phone call every once in a while just to see where they are at and what they are up to.

4 Invest in yourself and your Career. You are the most important aspect of your professional life. You must invest in yourself, and this starts with education. This is not suggest that you need to quit your job and return to school, but it does mean that you should adhere to the principle of lifelong learning. You need to find ways to continually improve yourself. You need to regularly learn new things. If you find an area that interests you, read a book about it or take an evening class. There is no better way to make yourself valuable to your employer than to improve yourself. If there are job specific skills that will enhance your productivity or value to your organization then talk to your boss, see if there are any courses that the company would be willing to sponsor you for.

Improving yourself is not just reading and study. Get some exercise and improve your diet. Not only will this increase your energy but it will increase your confidence and very quickly you will find that you are able to function better at work. There are always ways to better ourselves, and while not all of these have direct implications on your employment, they will help you become healthier, happier, better rounded, and all of these will have a dramatic impact on your ability to function in the work place.

When faced with economic uncertainty it is important to do all we can to ensure we are exposed to as little risk as possible. While there are never any guarantees, by following these four simple principles you can help to reduce the risk of finding yourself without work. Ideally these four principles have long been a part of your work persona, if not it is never too late to start. By simply assessing where you are on these four areas and committing yourself to doing better you will find that in a very short time you will be able demonstrate your value, endear yourself to your organization, dramatically reduce the likelihood of being out of work, and reduce your exposure to the greatest threat during times of economic stability.