Making the Most of a Bad Situation

Job losses – let alone those we’re living through now as a result of COVID – are tough to deal with.

If you’re the one who loses their job – it is terrible. Unlike say, leaving a job, losing a job is often sudden. Unplanned. Unprepared for.

On the other hand, if you are one of the people left behind after a major downsizing it can be quite demoralising. The workplace is less dynamic. The routines, and norms all feel different. You might have feelings of survivor guilt. And, you might even need to pick up the slack left behind by others.

And that is the opportunity.

The slack left behind by others.

Picking up that slack – some of it – is the opportunity to develop new skills. To learn new tasks. To find out more about how the university, health service, group, lab, department, business operates. To find out if those tasks. Or that activity is something you would be interested in doing longer term.

A lot of my friends operate small businesses. And one of the things they are noticing is their existing staff being unwilling to step outside their current activities. To take on new challenges. I’m also seeing similar responses in the research sector.

Yes, some roles, and sectors have very strict mandates on who does what and when. So operating outside your role mandate might be illegal and/or unsafe.

But for most people, in most cases this will not be an issue.

And, no, I’m not saying work more hours. Nor am I saying do menial tasks. Nor am I saying PhD students should pick up the slack of experienced researchers.

Redundancies at work? Maybe

that means you could try new things.

Take on new responsibilities.

But I am saying, take a look at the whole picture. Maybe taking charge of the ethics, grant, webpage, social media or client administration could be just what you need to demonstrate your adaptability. Or maybe it shows how you deal with complexity, adversity or learning on the job. Maybe calling patients or clients improves your ability to enrol other people in your research. Perhaps taking on teaching improves your overall presentation skills. It could increase student enrolment into your research team. It might give you a better understanding of the plight of students. You might learn (and improve) your ability to give a presentation that sticks to time. Not to mention using and managing videoconferencing.

Like I said, don’t take on additional work. So, that means talking to your boss, manager or supervisor about shifting tasks around. Perhaps taking on new things (that are more important right now), and letting other things slide (that are less important right now).

If you’re unlucky and lose your job or if you have already lost it, this post cannot fix that. And volunteering or doing self-development won’t pay the bills.

However, how you respond could use the time to build skills, and experience. Yes, training is good, but experience counts for more. Don’t do a course. Do the work. Wish you knew how to build a website? Start now. Want to blog? Blog about your job-hunting experience. Or gardening. Or cooking. Or your research. Need to demonstrate project management skills? Apply a project management approach to your job hunting.

Of course, nothing I write will make you feel better. Nor will it make the situation different. But don’t spend too long wallowing in guilt, and pity.

Instead. Try something new.


Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He helped build the first Victorian Allied Health Careers Pathway Blueprint. In addition, Richard has helped more than 200 clinicians, technicians, PhD students, early career researchers and established academics build their careers. He is driven by the challenge of helping people find their niche in (work) life. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach and his ability to turn ideas into reality.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.huysmans@drrichardhuysmans.com) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).