“How am I supposed to progress in my career when the pandemic has caused so much havoc?” 

A 31-year-old marketing professional, Mary*, contacted me yesterday for a chat about career clarity. She set up the call out of frustration, as many working Australians have found that COVID-19 has caused their career trajectory to grind to a screeching halt.
While fortunate to still be employed, progressing in your career path, asking for a pay rise and taking the next step to gain control of your career in 2020 now seems likes a pipe dream, with the Australian unemployment rate hovering around the 1 million mark. 

Companies have tightened up on spending and will continue to do so, they’ve applied hiring freezes, slashed bonuses and those with jobs feel like they are hanging on by their fingernails, hoping that another cost-cutting exercise won’t render their role redundant.

In your current role, identify what motivates you, what you enjoy and what you don’t. Also, what does success looks like to you and what will ultimately make you happy?

So how do you turn around this feeling of being ‘stuck’ and the accompanying negativity about your career progress and development?

According to the NSW Department of Health, COVID-19 has resulted in many of us feeling:

  • down
  • confused
  • frustrated 
  • anxious
  • depressed 
  • concerned about the constantly changing situation, and 
  • yearning for things to get back to normal.

The pandemic has significantly changed and impacted the way we live and work. For many, it’s meant switching to remote working, learning new ways to work, or juggling restrictions with work and care responsibilities. With a lot of this affecting our mental health, it’s best to start here, to ensure you are finding work-life balance, feel less anxious and have a solid network in place before you attempt to assess your career progression plan.

Mental health challenges

This has affected the mental health of many, and for workplaces that encourage employees to return to work in the office, this has raised additional concerns about staying safe, which, for some, has caused considerable anxiety too.

The NSW Department of Health recommends:

Placing great importance on our mental health and wellbeing
Your mental health and wellbeing is just as important as your physical safety at work. We’re all trying to build new skills to be resilient in ways we haven’t ever had to undergo and experience before. If you’re feeling concerned, it’s not only okay to ask for help, it’s essential. For people already living with mental illness, it’s important to continue to ask for and receive help. Treatment and care may change over time, so use the phone and internet to stay connected to your support network.

Amp up the communication at work
With many things changing quickly, keep communicating with your manager and your team. Be open and honest about concerns you have about returning to work or the work itself. This will help you to address issues, reduce conflict and adapt to the changes.

Embrace ongoing change in the workplace
Change can be uncomfortable and uncertain. Remind yourself it’s okay to feel off-balance as you and the team adapt to new ways of working and adapting in the workplace. Take each day as it comes and be mindful of our different ways of coping with change.

Creating a routine helps
Creating a new routine can help you settle back into the workplace or learn to adapt to new COVID-safe ways. It’s also an opportunity to think about activities that you would like to build into your new routine during this fresh start. This could include using new ways of communicating and activities like exercise, meditation or reading.

Make time for you
Staying up-to-date with the latest information, changes and priorities can be tiring. Make time for adequate sleep, rest, exercise and time to refresh and recharge will help you manage this additional load.

Get support
Reaching out for support if you are feeling concerned can help you bounce back faster than keeping things to yourself. It may be with family and friends or through professional support and networks. Everyone needs support and advice from time to time, but especially during times of uncertainty and disruption. 

Once you have taken the essential steps to maintain your emotional and mental wellbeing, then will be the time to think about your career progression and what you can do to ensure that your desired direction can still become a reality.

Career progression in a pandemic

In order to ensure that you stay top of mind in your workplace, and that your manager recognises your contribution, there are a number of key actions you can take that will help maintain and build your reputation or brand in your field.

These actions will put you in a strong position for recognition of your achievements during this really challenging time, helping to minimise that ‘stuck’ feeling.

  • Get clear on what you really want to achieve in your career. In your current role, identify what motivates you, what you enjoy and what you don’t. Also, what does success looks like to you and what will ultimately make you happy?
  • Identify where the gaps are in your skill set and experience. Conduct an audit of your skills, knowledge and experience, then research what is needed for success in your desired direction.
  • Create a ‘dream job’ description that includes the tangible factors such as industry, job function, responsibilities, benefits, perks and salary level. But don’t forget the intangible factors including company culture, team environment, and the leadership and communication style of your manager.
  • Conduct research to identify someone who could be your mentor – someone who has reached what you aspire to achieve for yourself. Reach out to that person with specific questions so you can gain insight into what worked for them and what didn’t.
  • Create a proposal to your manager with several suggestions on what you can do to add value in your current role. Being proactive about your development will impress your manager because of the initiative you are taking. By providing options on what you propose, your manager will be able to consider each one and support the suggestions that will make a positive difference to your career path.
  • Follow through with your actions and provide regular updates on the progress you are making. 
  • Keep your resume updated with your accomplishments and add them to your LinkedIn profile when the time is right.
  • Expand your professional network and liaise with like-minded professionals by joining professional associations or groups, attending in person or virtual events, develop and nurture your connections so that people can get to know you, like you and trust you as an expert in your field.

These actions will put you in a strong position for recognition of your achievements during this really challenging time, helping to minimise that ‘stuck’ feeling. Plus, it will demonstrate that you are a proactive professional who genuinely wants to make a difference in your role no matter what challenges the organisation is going through.

As a flow-on effect, by keeping your LinkedIn profile up-to-date with your achievements, you will also begin to build your personal brand externally, which could potentially attract the attention of hiring managers in other organisations, too.

Jane Jackson is a Career Management Coach and can be contacted here. For on-going career management support, join Jane at The Careers Academy Online.

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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