There’s no new way to describe how last two years have turned everything we know sideways. The impacts of the pandemic on the workforce are still being realised around the world.
In the UK alone, we’ve seen the pendulum swing dramatically – from furloughs and mass redundancies occurring at a higher rate in 2020 than during the 2008 economic downturn – to now, as we witness the Great Resignation with nearly a quarter of workers planning to change their employer in pursuit of better working conditions within the next few months.
With the world of work changing quickly and substantially, with insolvencies and internal restructuring on the rise, the stats and trends tell us the most affected by these shifts in the workforce are young professionals. But young people also have the most to gain – if you know how, that is. With upskilling and education more accessible than ever and the ability to be agile early in their careers, young professionals now have the opportunity to flex their adaptability and use this time of uncertainty to their advantage. Here’s how I was able to survive a company restructure during the pandemic – and earn myself a promotion along the way. As a marketing professional based in London, I started working at my company bright-eyed and optimistic in late 2019. Shortly after, the manager who hired me announced he was leaving the business to pursue his own venture – and ominously, that there would be a department-wide restructure once a successor was appointed.
The next thing I knew, the world was in chaos. And with live events being a major source of revenue for the company I had joined just months before, and even turned down another job offer for, the worldwide lockdowns could only mean one thing: cutbacks.
"With our team more disconnected than ever, each of us holed up at home and trading bits of information as we could, I took a decisive approach: I made myself indispensable to the company."
It is important that I recognise all the things that went right for me, even up till this point. I had completed my master’s degree three years prior, I have a 9-6 office job and I am not a frontline worker and I have a loving partner who could financially support me if I found myself suddenly out of work.
With my new manager coming in with a strong track record of industry experience and a “shake things up” attitude, the restructure was the first thing on his agenda, with headcount all but certain to be cut.
With our team more disconnected than ever, each of us holed up at home and trading bits of information as we could, I took a decisive approach: I made myself indispensable to the company.
My first step was to build rapport and strengthen my existing working relationships within the business, at all levels of the organisation. Because we had become remote workers overnight, as an introvert I took time to observe how individuals I admired carried themselves in virtual meetings and let their personalities shine through the camera. Knowing my manager was onboarding remotely during the first lockdown, I took extra care to ensure he knew me, my work and my team even though we weren’t physically in the office together. Over time, I learned more about his personality, and we were able to bond over our favourite football club and banter by exchanging GIFs on Teams chats.
Next, I upped my game. I recommitted myself to my work and narrowed my focus to what I could control, despite the ongoing uncertainty happening around me. In my role, I solved problems myself that previously, I might have escalated. I upskilled through LinkedIn Learning and online certifications, subscribed to newsletters and trade publications, attended virtual events, networked virtually and picked up a wider range of freelance marketing work to flex my muscles in areas outside of my full-time remit.
Finally, I became as visible and available as I could. I became more forthcoming with my performance results to my manager and sent regular reports of my team’s work to a wide net of internal stakeholders, including the CEO. I asked my manager frequently how I could support him and the team and what I could take off his plate, particularly when I could see stress levels rise. Most importantly, I identified a core business problem and took the lead in project managing and organising a taskforce to help solve it, made up of my peers and colleagues from different teams in the company.
When it came time to present our findings to the senior leaders, I made our case clear and compelling: this problem has two main causes – one is that the relevant individuals to do this necessary work sit in different teams, which could be solved by a restructure that centralised the roles into one team; and the second is that there isn’t a role in the business responsible to lead, manage and strategise this complex work.
Before long, my manager announced a new vacancy in the company as part of the new structure, a team lead role that would look after the workstream I had identified, reporting to himself and that my own team would report into. I plucked up the nerve to ask him whether he thought I would be a candidate for the role. Six weeks later, I was interviewing.
It’s been more than one year since my promotion and in that time, I have grown my team from two to ten talented marketers. Whilst a lot of pieces came together for me to succeed, I learned an important lesson: even during times of uncertainty and unsettling change, there can also be a possibility for opportunity. All it takes is the curiosity to look for it – and a bit of courage to take it.