The year 2020 did not turn out as we planned. Unemployment rates in the U.S. are close to twice what they were in February of 2020, and the number of people furloughed is still towering over February averages. Plus, with the profound shakeup of our daily lives, a lot of folks are asking, What do I really want to do with my life, given that everything else seems to be up in the air?
If there’s any beauty that’s come from this pandemic, it’s that we’re reorganizing our priorities to honor what really matters to us. And for many, “career” is top of the reboot list. But letting go of what we always thought we could count on, like a five-year plan, can be painful and leave us feeling like we’re floundering.
Having a plan is one of the best stress-reduction strategies out there. As humans, we crave feeling like we’re in control and that we have certainty. In fact, research shows that a sense of control helps us stave off symptoms of depression and anxiety and can even decrease mortality risk. And the more we crave control, it turns out, the higher achieving we tend to be.
Just because we no longer have the illusion of knowing what our long-term future holds doesn’t mean we can’t still benefit from the stress-reduction — and achievement-enhancing — results of planning. It all comes down to how we look at time and goals.
If you want to thrive and be part of the meaningful change, adaptability is the key ingredient. But I don’t mean to just go with the flow and take life as it comes to you. This new brand of adaptability channels our desire to make a strategic plan, while building in planned checkpoints for course correction as new information arises and circumstances shift. It’s called micro-planning.
Micro-planning is simple. It takes a larger vision and breaks it down into yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily check-in practices to plan and adjust as necessary. We get some of the same stabilizing effects that a five-year plan may have given us but with shorter chunks of planning that make more sense in our current economic and cultural context.
Micro-planning is based on biomimicry, “a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design problems — and find hope along the way.” Prolonged stress, like the kind experienced during a global pandemic of unknown length, can cause a significant decrease in our ability to function optimally, especially when it comes to our cognitive abilities (like our brain handling high-order tasks or our ability to make decisions based on our goals instead of based on our habits). Micro-planning allows us to relieve this stress without the seduction of thinking, however erroneously, that we have control over what is going to happen in the next one, three, five, or more years of our lives.
There are six elements of micro-planning:
1. Purpose: Identify your compelling purpose that allows flexibility in terms of how it will come to pass. So many people are in a reboot phase when it comes to their careers. New directions can feel risky, but when we look back at our career history, we often find a thread that connects what all of our different roles have had in common. That thread is a great place to start when it comes to identifying your compelling purpose. For example, my purpose is to help leaders become more connected to sustainable sources of personal power so we can all make our highest contribution to humanity and the planet.
While how I implement this purpose may change as circumstances change around me, the purpose itself remains the same. If you aren’t clear on your purpose, do a quick exercise: Jot down the most fulfilling career experiences you’ve had to date. Notice what commonalities they have. Those are the ingredients of your purpose.
2. The Year: Make a plan for the year that aligns with your purpose, based on the best information you have available to you. Reflect on the previous year and what worked (or didn’t work) and take into account past lessons you’ve learned. Identify one to three areas of growth that you want to focus on. I don’t recommend trying more than three; a larger overhaul often fails because, when we put too much on our plate, we end up overwhelmed and not achieving the results we want. Your yearlong plan could include a job search, pursuing growth opportunities in the career you currently have, meeting and exceeding your KPIs, laying the groundwork for starting your own business, or whatever else makes sense for the current moment you’re in.
3. Quarters: At the beginning of each quarter, reassess what you’re working on and how you’re working by asking yourself powerful reflection and planning questions, such as: What themes emerged this past quarter? What worked, and what didn’t? What did I learn? How can I apply what I learned in the next quarter? What needs to shift in my plan based on new information and circumstances?
Based on the answers to these questions, set goals for the next quarter, being careful to choose no more than five per quarter. (The fewer the better; the fewer things you do with more focus and attention, the better results you’ll get.) For example, you might notice that a theme that emerged over the previous quarter was that you weren’t recognized for your ideas at work. After reflection, you realize you weren’t advocating enough for them.
You may then shift your plan for the next quarter and set a goal to share one new idea with your department every month and that when you do so, you also share very clearly how it will positively impact results for your department. You might also decide to read two books on increasing your influence as a leader to improve in this area.
4. Months: Each month, take your goals for the quarter and assess where you stand with them. For any active goals, break them into specific projects and then break each project down into phases. Every project requires four distinct phases to get it off the ground and achieve the results we want: planning and initiation, shipping/launching/making it visible, completion and integration, and rest and reflection.
For example, if your project is to “search for a new job,” the “plan and initiate” phase would be updating your resume, tapping into your network for potential opportunities, and searching for openings. The next phase, “making it visible,” would be applying for jobs, showing up for interviews, and following up after. The “complete and integrate” phase would be the onboarding phase once you receive your new job offer. Finally, the “rest and reflect” phase would be allowing yourself to exhale and celebrate, knowing that a new cycle has begun — and you have accomplished your goal.
5. Weeks: At the start of each week, make a weekly to-do list — rather than a daily one that’s a mile long and leaves you feeling defeated when you shut down for the day. This weekly plan allows you to have a broader view of what’s ahead and gives you more flexibility to plan than your average to-do list. But don’t just think about work tasks. Prioritize movement, sleep, time outside, hydration, and healthy food, too, as you look ahead in your week. Optimizing your physical energy make you significantly more effective at executing your plans than buying into the common, yet inaccurate, belief that our best work comes exclusively from our intellect.
6. Days: Finally, track your energy on a daily basis. Gathering data about yourself and your physical, mental, and emotional energy at the end of the day can give you powerful information as to how to optimize your workflow. Keep a journal by your bedside and jot down how you felt emotionally, mentally, and physically. Note what you worked on, how it went (what went well, what didn’t, and what you learned), and what you’re grateful for. This five-minute practice allows you to incrementally adjust the way you show up at work and in your life so you can approach your weekly, quarterly, and annual planning more mindfully. Using this data collection practice to make micro-adjustments to the way you work and your goals also gives you a tremendous sense of control, which has been proven to decrease the amount of time it takes to get tasks done.
The world is changing dramatically all around us, and we need to change with it. Clinging to a long-term strategy like the five-year plan isn’t going to work anymore. But letting go of our need and desire to know what the future holds does not mean a freefall into anxious indolence. By breaking down our planning processes into smaller chunks, we begin to check in more frequently and adapt more naturally. The five-year plan may be dead, but our capacity for doing our most impactful work and live into the goals that we set for ourselves is very much alive.
Source: Harvard Business Review
For the past several years the labor market has held many opportunities for workers in all fields and with all levels of skills and experience. Often referred to as an “employee’s market”, since the end of the Great Recession companies have been hiring at a rapid pace and motivated workers could be selective about the jobs they chose.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the booming employment market has screeched to a near halt, where the only work available is for workers at essential businesses or those with jobs that are able to be performed remotely. For many out of work, the solution has been receiving unemployment benefits. With the CARES Act, weekly unemployment benefits were increased to assist families struggling with the financial impact of this crisis.
Making the decision to file a claim for unemployment benefits can be a difficult one for many people, even with the additional benefit included in the CARES Act. But in the long run, benefits associated with choosing a job can outweigh the short-term gain of unemployment. There are a few things everyone should consider regarding working vs. collecting unemployment.
- Think big picture. We have always stressed the importance of looking beyond today and thinking about “the big picture.” Envision what you want your career to look like in a few years, and how choices you make now might affect that vision. Passing up an opportunity to work now could close some doors down the road that otherwise might have been open.
- Beat the competition. Everything must come to an end eventually. That means not only will your unemployment benefits eventually end, but the current state of the economy will end too. If you have ever searched for a job during a competitive labor market, you know how frustrating it can be to find a steady, well-paying job. Right now there is less competition for the work that is available, so it’s a great time to start a new job.
- A chance to stand out. It is easy to imagine that in a few years many, many people will have a big gap on their resume that represents 2020, and it can be tempting to just fall in line with the majority. But what about people that started a new job in 2020? Those are definitely going to be the people that stand out. Even if the job isn’t something long-term or the perfect fit with your prior experience, just the fact that you will be able to share how you spent 2020 differently than most people will definitely set you apart from the crowd.
- New opportunities. Essential businesses need workers now, so many positions that previously required experience are being opened up to entry-level employees. If you’ve always wanted to reinvent your career, now could be the perfect chance. (And if you aren’t quite sure how your skills can be applied to something new, give us a call, we can help!)
- Benefits. Wages aren’t the only thing a weekly paycheck includes. When you are working full-time your benefits may include paid time off, access to health benefits, and contributions to your retirement. If you are able to retain any of these benefits while collecting unemployment the cost will certainly be higher. In addition, any benefits that accrue and increase over time will be impacted while you are unemployed. Other benefits, like healthcare and 401k contributions, are costly to maintain outside of full-time employment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created tremendous turmoil and uncertainty for everyone. The economic impact of the current conditions will be long-lasting and some businesses will never recover. The labor market will likely be very different than it has been for the past few years, with more opportunities in some areas and less in others. Decisions made now about work could affect the trajectory of your career for years to come, so the best advice is always to consider all of your options and try to look beyond the present and put yourself if the best possible position for the post-COVID world of work.
The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) is led by a Board of Directors with expertise that represents a broad cross-section of the regional economy. LVEDC Director and Allied Personnel Services Vice President Susan Larkin, who has more than two decades of experience in the staffing industry, recently shared her insights about the employment challenges businesses face during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: Please tell us about Allied Personnel Services and your role there.
A: Since 1984 Allied has been providing staffing and employment solutions to Lehigh Valley employers. We develop long-term partnerships with our clients, and many of the area’s most successful companies have been clients for 30+ years. A key to Allied’s success is our ability to deliver ti
mely and effective talent solutions that are flexible to quickly adjust to changing market conditions.
My role as Vice President is to oversee operations and to consult with our clients, developing strategic staffing programs and sharing critical labor market information based on the diverse insight and experience I’ve gained over my 25 years as an executive in the staffing industry.
Q: Before the pandemic, when unemployment was at record low levels, attracting and retaining talent was the biggest issue facing employers. How has the pandemic changed employer perspectives on the importance of talent supply?
A: The pandemic has elevated employers’ awareness of how fragile the talent supply is and how a high rate of unemployment doesn’t always equate to a robust talent supply. Because of the strong distribution and biotech sectors in our area, layoffs in those areas were not as significant. Add to that the challenges families face finding child care, the fears surrounding a return to work in the face of COVID, and the financial incentives offered through FCCRA [Families First Coronavirus Response Act] and unemployment, and the supply of available talent hasn’t significantly increased. Retaining talent has really become an even bigger focus. Keeping the hardworking, reliable, skilled employees on staff is critical to success when industries see a return to prior levels of workload.
Q: What types of jobs do employers need to fill during the quarantine economy and how do you expect that to change as restrictions are eased?
A: There continues to be a demand for skilled manufacturing roles, logistics staff, and scientific roles like quality control and lab work. As restrictions ease, we expect to see the offices and smaller businesses rebound with a corresponding increase in demand across all skill levels.
Q: What role did school closures and the availability of child care play on employment during the pandemic and how will that affect the local economy as the economy opens back up?
A: It is an extremely difficult hurdle for families. Some people were forced to leave the workforce completely to stay home with small children. Others that had the luxury of moving to a work from home arrangement were forced to figure out how to both educate their own children and keep up with their own work. If daycares and schools do not reopen in the fall, this will have a long-term negative impact on the talent supply and productivity of at home workers. Workers will require increased flexibility for child and family care and employers should be prepared to adapt to accommodate these new employee needs.
Q: Explain why enhanced employment benefits may be a challenge for some employers to find workers?
A: Enhanced employment benefits were intended to provide workers affected by the pandemic with immediate, significant financial assistance to allow them to remain home during the stay-at-home order. Unfortunately for essential businesses that have continued to operate, these enhanced benefits have had the unintended consequence of incentivizing people not to work. Many are able to make significantly more money each week with unemployment than they could earn with the jobs available to them. This has made recruiting for all types and levels of employees a challenge.
Q: How does social distancing and more rigorous disinfecting impact the number of workers an employer can hire even if there is demand for the product or service?
A: Complying with the ever-evolving CDC and OSHA guidelines has forced companies to rapidly adjust their operations. Hiring, training, scheduling and workflows have all been adapted, and in some cases the number of workers able to work in certain areas has been reduced in order to comply with social distancing guidelines. There have been some opportunities created with increased needs for sanitation and medical screening workers. We’ve seen our clients reacting well to these new challenges, and certainly those who are able to pivot to a new normal quickly will see a quicker recovery.
Q: How does the Lehigh Valley talent supply initiative position the region coming out of the COVID-19?
A: The LVEDC Talent Supply Initiative recognized the need to prioritize building a strong workforce before COVID-19, and the work around developing and retaining talent will easily be able to be applied to the post-COVID labor market. Areas such as career pathways, internships, and apprenticeships will all be vital in reshaping the workforce as we move forward, and the work that has been done in these areas already has prepared the Lehigh Valley to respond to the new challenges that employers will face.
Living through a pandemic is not something anyone expects to do. Pandemics are the things of movies, not something that happens in real life. Without having any real-world experience with anything remotely similar to this, there are many questions about what to expect and just as much uncertainty about working during a time like this. Even with all of this, essential businesses remain open and people continue to go to work on a daily basis.
Every business within the United States is required to follow guidelines set in place to maintain a safe work environment. These guidelines have grown tremendously in the last few months with temporary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. The way these guidelines are followed is different for each business depending on the company size and the nature of the business. Based on conversations with both current essential workers and the employers they work for, here’s what to expect when returning to work.
- Symptom Awareness: Many businesses have implemented daily temperature checking routines. The majority of this is done on the arrival of all employees and guests, while other companies have multiple checks throughout the day. At some businesses, a COVID-19 questionnaire must be completed by new employees and visitors upon arrival asking if they are showing any of the current symptoms identified by the CDC and if they have been exposed to anyone diagnosed with Coronavirus. Only those who pass both of these checks are allowed to enter the business.
- Social Distancing: All businesses are required to enforce social distancing, ensuring employees maintain a distance of six feet whenever possible. In the most extreme cases, entire companies have emptied their sites of workers, forcing many employees to work from home. Of those who are able to continue working on-site, they are doing so with adjusted operations. Companies have created new shifts or modified work hours to allow for less staff to come in direct contact with each other. Breaks are now staggered or break areas have been expanded to spread out workers. Warehouses have adjusted the way work is completed, with the number of employees operating a machine or working on a line decreasing significantly. In some locations, visual pieces have been added to the manufacturing lines to assist in maintaining a six-foot distance.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): With the latest state mandate, every company open to the public within Pennsylvania now must require all essential staff and visitors to wear a mask while on site. Some may also require employees to wear gloves, which are to be frequently changed or cleaned. These are generally provided by the company and are to be worn at all times within the business.
- Cleaning: Businesses have started implemented more rigorous cleaning. In larger companies, extra staff has been hired to ensure that all surfaces are being disinfected regularly throughout the workday. Smaller businesses have provided staff with cleaning supplies that can be used to disinfect work stations or communal areas.
- Atmosphere: With everyone in our community going through this together, there is a stronger sense of unity. Employees are working more as a team than ever before to ensure work is being completed efficiently and safely. People who remain working are thankful for the position they have and have a positive outlook on each and every day.
There are many fears surrounding starting a new job and those fears have only grown with COVID-19. Having the knowledge of what to expect on your first day and the information on what is being done to keep employees safe makes things much easier.
Although things are nowhere near what they were a few months ago, people are adapting to the current way of life. This new sense of normalcy has taken time to get used to, but it is manageable. People and companies continue to function and life carries on.
Allied Personnel Services’ offices are open! We are available Monday–Friday, 8am–5pm by appointment only. You can call or text us at 610.821.0220 (Allentown) or 610.253.9779 (Easton), send an email to email@example.com, or apply online.
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It is never easy to talk when having your teeth cleaned, but recently I chatted with my dental hygienist while she cleaned my teeth. I always ask about her kids – particularly her son, Joe.
A few years ago, Joe was searching for a job and came to Allied. We placed him in a warehouse position at a great company – a company that ended up hiring him. Today, my hygienist told me he is interviewing for a position in that same company’s sales and marketing department, something he was always interested in. If he gets the position, he’ll train in Europe for a few weeks. She also told me the company is paying for him to complete his degree, something else he always hoped to do. I heard the pride in her voice as she talked about him; she was so happy he got into this company because so many new opportunities were now opening for him.
I love to hear stories like this. They confirm what we in the staffing industry know: temporary work can open doors you may have never known existed nor been able to open yourself. Joe didn’t do well when he went to college straight out of high school so he dropped out. If he had applied for the same sales and marketing job then, he never would have gotten the interview. But now, he’s had the chance to prove himself to a company that recognized his potential and is giving him the chance to move from the warehouse to a job he’d merely dreamed of a few years ago. Plus, he is with a company that will finance the completion of his degree.
When we talk to people about jobs, we encourage them to consider the big picture. Maybe we don’t have your dream job available. We dare you to look at more than that. Is the company part of an industry that appeals to you? Does the company have a variety of departments and positions? Will the experience improve your resume? Will the job help you pay your bills while you continue to look for your dream job?
During a job search, it is important to take a step back and look at things differently. I’m sure Joe was frustrated before he came to us and I’m sure he complained to someone about having to take a warehouse job to get by, but I bet he’s happy with the big picture unfolding in front of him right now.