Coming to grips with the new normal in the workforce

Consultant Dr. Patricia Pitsel talks about how workers and management can cope in a changing job market

Dr. Patricia Pitsel has been a noted management coach, consultant and educator in Calgary for a number of years.

Dr. Patricia Pitsel, management coach, consultant and educator in Calgary.

What’s your sense of the overall mood of Calgarians these days in light of the challenging economic times?

Pitsel: I think it depends on how much time you spend on social media. I’ve noticed that those who spend a lot of time on Twitter, for example, focus on the negative (true or not), trash those they have never met, and feel free to offer their opinions on complex issues such as climate change when they never finished Grade 10 Science.

But basically I think it boils down to whether one is, by nature, a pessimist or an optimist.

It reminds me of the story of the twins who were told that they would find their birthday present at the back of the yard, in the shed. When they ran out, they found the shed full of manure. One twin began to cry and blamed his parents for being so mean. The other grabbed a shovel and said, “With all this manure there has to be a pony in here somewhere.”

Young workers who have never gone through a downturn seem to be more disheartened than those who have already navigated tricky times, and we are a young city with a young workforce.

What’s your best piece of advice for people in these difficult times?

Pitsel: First, if you have been laid off, don’t try to be a hero and try to solve all your problems by yourself. I know a man who got up at the same time each morning and went off, dressed for work, even though he had been laid off for four months. He didn’t tell his wife or any of his friends; just sat in Starbucks and sent out his resume electronically.

Second, don’t apply for work electronically; talk to people, establish personal contact, ask them for their advice and names of others whom you could talk to. No one really likes to say no or turn down potential applicants, but nearly everyone loves to give advice and help.

For those in the oil patch who might never go back to a job like they had in the past, how do they go about re-inventing themselves?

Pitsel: This is where a personal coach or career counsellor can be invaluable. Many define themselves by their professional label – engineer, geologist. etc. Honestly ask yourself: was it the money or the prestige of the job title that was most attractive to me? Who makes more money – an unemployed engineer or a junior pipefitter?

Focus, rather, on what you like to do or what you wanted to do as a child. What would make you a desirable employee? ‘Re-inventing’ yourself begins with your attitude, not with more school. Charles Wang, inventor of the Wang computer said: “If you have it in your heart, we can put it in your head.”

In these stressful times, how do you prevent workplaces from becoming dysfunctional?

Pitsel: Stress does not cause a workplace to all of a sudden become dysfunctional, but problems become more evident in poor economic environments. Good managers and supervisors are critical to maintaining good morale and productivity.

Do not tell someone s/he is doing a great job on Friday only to lay them off on Monday. Be honest with all the staff and share with them as much information as possible. Dispel or discuss rumours as soon as you become aware of them. Talk to everyone who reports to you every single day.

How is this economic downturn different than the others?

Pitsel: I have worked Calgary since 1982, in a variety of industries, so economic downturns are not new. One thing I find different this time is that wages have been so much higher in the oil patch, and people seemed to spend accordingly.

Now the ‘new normal’ seems to be that most people will never have that type of wage again so the future presents only a reduced standard of living rather than a promise of a greater tomorrow. In other words, people do not seem to think there are any more up buttons on the elevator.

– Mario Toneguzzi

calgary job downturn

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