Do you have the right mindset to survive job volatility?
Steve Ahern shares his advice about resilience in media industry employment.
I mentor and train radio industry people all around the world and sooner or later the conversation turns to getting a job, career advancement and losing a job.
Part of my advice is always to separate your professional and personal self enough to insulate you from the inevitable ups and downs of this business.
You are not your job.
You are you. You do your job.
You may love your job, but don’t let it define you.
This is extremely important in times of job instability and sudden career changes.
Have you found yourself saying things like, “I’m a breakfast announcer on the x network in Y town.”
Definitions of yourself like this reinforce in your mind and the minds of your friends, family and acquaintances that you are defined by your job, employer and location.
Are you really defined by that?
A self-definition such as that says nothing about you personally. Think about it. You are also a family person (father, mother, son or daughter), you have people around you who love you, they are separate from your work. You are part of a community, maybe you play sport, belong to a theatre group, attend a church, they are also separate from your work. You have friends who value you, who support you, who enjoy your company. You are so much more than your job.
Of course your job intersects with some of your personal interests. Maybe some of your friends also work in radio, maybe you’re on the company sporting team. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket, make sure that you are involved with things outside of the radio industry, it will immunise you against any sudden disconnection that may happen to you.
Now that you have thought about how you define yourself when you speak, it’s time to check your social media profile.
Look at the description and/or ‘About me’ section of your social media accounts. Is the first thing that people see the job you do and the place you work? Perhaps you should change this. Ask yourself, if I didn’t have this job, if I didn’t work in radio, what would I write here. Maybe it would be ‘curious researcher,’ ‘storyteller,’ ‘proud dad/mum,’ ‘enthusiastic surfer,’ ‘artist,’ ‘I love cooking,’ ‘I love music’ or something similar.
After that, look at your daily habits. Examine the amount of time you spend online outside of your professional work and what you consume in that time. Are you boxing yourself in by narrowing your focus too much? If you only read radio industry websites, it’s a sure sign of a very narrow world view. Ditch most of those sites (except radioinfo of course : ) and look at other things like news analysis websites, cycling apps, walking tracks, the National Parks website, the parliament website (astoundingly it is very interesting, especially the Parliamentary Library). Do some study in a different field you have always been interested in. Join your local library and use its online portal to download some novels for free, or buy a physical book and sit in the sun and read it. Do something that breaks the tight nexus between what you do for you and what you do for work.
If possible, do all this before you lose your job, it’s harder to change when you have built habits that are suddenly disrupted by something outside of your control.
When a person is fired or made redundant, it usually comes suddenly. There are employment and fair work laws that companies have to be aware of, so often they are forced into what seems like a very inhumane way of severing the employment relationship. We’ve all heard the stories of someone being called into HR, handed a redundancy letter, then accompanied by security back to their desk to gather their belongings and then being escorted out of the building. Their email and website passwords have been disabled, any saved files, including personal files, are no longer accessible.
It happens because of legal requirements and workplace laws, to prevent someone accidentally saying or doing something that will open the company up to legal action. It happens even more often in media, because we work in a very public business. Radio people, especially presenters, are used to using their lives as show prep and putting themselves out there to their audience every day. An employer probably doesn’t want the anger, hurt or tears being broadcast on their media outlets, so they prevent it by sudden exits. Even though it is painful, it is often also in the best interests of the employee, because it prevents them from saying something publicly that they may regret, but can’t take back later.
In my opinion, this is not a good way for an employer to finish a relationship with an employee, but I understand why it happens.
In the case of a sudden departure you lose regular contact with friends and colleagues that have become part of your daily habit. This is disruptive and it takes time to rebuild a daily routine.
Losing a job is like a bereavement or a break-up (see Andrea Ho’s article last week). There is a grieving process. When this is sudden, there is no time to prepare yourself mentally for the change. A death or break up that comes gradually is easier to handle, because you usually realise it is going to happen and you prepare yourself for it. Below is an example of how one person who was made redundant, Jarrod Walsh, handled the grieving process by expressing his feelings, by thanking his employer for 16 good years, by grieving but also looking forward to what comes next. “No one remembers your first day but people remember how you left on your last day,” he says.
Despite the corporate and legal risks, especially in this pandemic period when there is more general community stress and more sudden redundancies than usual, I think it should be possible for employers to do a few things that can help mitigate the pain of redundancy. Things like thanking the person for the work they did, having a farewell party and allowing them to put a personal auto response message on their email account that is active for about a month after they leave (that message would of course be mutually approved by the company and the individual). The recognition that these small things give is important, it acknowledges that they are leaving friends, and it allows a professional transition to whatever comes next. The best companies I know do things like this, despite the employment laws, and they usually suffer a lot less anger and negative sentiment from those who have left, than companies that play by the cold corporate rule book.
If you have suffered a redundancy, know that you are one of many, that it was not your fault and that the next opportunity is on the way.
Spend your down time refreshing yourself, grieving then recovering from the unexpected break up, then strengthening and preparing yourself for the next opportunities that await. Redefine yourself as you, not your job and look widely, beyond radio, as you consider what to do next.
If your job is not currently at risk now, think about how you define yourself anyway, and if you are defining yourself by the job you do, perhaps you need to give a little bit of thought to changing that approach in the future.
About the Author
Steve is the founding editor of this website.
He is a former broadcaster, programmer, senior executive and trainer, and a regular writer and speaker about trends in media.
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