Little known secrets about what a work and organizational psychologist will do for you in a recession

My job is to help you find forward momentum

I’m a psychologist. What this means, in short, is that you come to see me when you feel frustrated and it is my job to help you find a way forward.

Clinical psychology, social workers, lawyers & doctors

For some people getting out of a bad situation is complicated.  Quite often they are in extremely difficult circumstances and they need social workers, doctors, lawyers, etc. to help them solve practical problems.

They may also have lived in difficult circumstances for so long that they no longer recognize easy circumstances.  Helping them unravel their view of life and live an easier life is the work of clinical psychologists.

Work & organizational psychologists

Most people who come to see me are not in a bad situation.  They are at one of the normal turning points in life where they have to make a decision and they do not have sufficient information.  These turning points are often frustrating and scary, but they are essentially about questions like which organization should I join?  Or, how do I improve my status and my income?  Psychologists like me work less like clinical psychologists, who work with what is in your head, more like social workers, doctors and lawyers.  We help you understand and manage the external world, and in particular the world of organizations and work.

Indeed, we are quite often work for organizations rather than individuals and when we do, we are architects of systems.  We design selection systems.  We design disciplinary codes.  We design bonus systems.  HR systems are just formalized ways of making a lot of personal decisions about what we are doing and where we are going.  When we design the systems well, we give people an easy framework to make their own decisions well.  And we also strengthen the organization, by providing a place where we live and work comfortably and easily.

Work & organizational psychologists ask a lot of questions about work & business

To design good systems, we need to know a lot about jobs and business.  Of course, we don’t know as much as the people who run the business and who have worked in it all their lives.  Businesses and technologies change fast too.  So we are less in the business of knowing, and more in the business of asking questions.

Learning about the financial crisis

I started writing this post this morning after I read a post from the redoubtable Alice Cook, who provides a graph showing that financial debt has grown disproportionately to consumer and corporate debt in the UK.  I knew that generally but didn’t have a graph at my finger tips.  So thank you.  I like to have data stored away neatly.

Personal action during the financial crisis

I am amazed, though, that anyone is amazed by these figures.  Like many people, I feel that the managerial classes in the UK have a lot to answer for.  They should have known these figures intimately and acted accordingly.

The trouble is that blaming others is pretty useless as a psychological technique.  Professionals & business leaders may be to blame.  We might be right to hold them in contempt.  And personally, I wouldn’t feel unhappy if they were prosecuted.  But blaming others doesn’t help us feel better, and more importantly, it doesn’t help use get things right.  So I’ll leave that to others.

As a psychologist, what I have to say is this.

Until we are all a lot better informed, we will simply lurch from one crisis to another

Listed below are the bare bones of an information system that I am used to having at my disposal.

  • Trends in our industry
  • Current economic figures supplied monthly by our bank
  • People around me who read the figures
  • Key figures pertaining to our industry
  • Data on databases so that computer savvy people (including youngsters) can play with data and ask questions
  • Key figures that show the strength and resilience of our business
  • Key figures readily available so computer savvy people can play with them and ask questions

It is true I have not seen this information being made freely available to employees since I have arrived in the UK but I’ve lived elsewhere where a key player in the provision of information to people in business has been, ironically, British-listed banks.

If we want to get out of the biggest mess since the great Depression, we are going to have to do something. And to do something, we have to begin.  The first steps I will tell you, being a psychologist, is to ask questions.

Some easy no-cost first steps that individuals and small business owners should take

You have a computer and internet?  So let’s go.  If you haven’t already done it, it’s time to set up your own economic intelligence system.

FIVE steps will do it.  Set up folders on your email, feeds reader, bookmarkers and hard drive,  and a page on your blog.

1. Google Alerts.  Set up Google Alerts for your industry.

I have alerts for UK jobs and UK GDP and use a ‘rule’ to send them straight to my “intelligence” folder in email.  I read them once a week or when I need a break from other tasks.

2.  As you find useful blogs, subscribe in your feeds reader.

I scan these at my leisure and make a point of reading The Economist on Thursday evenings.

3. Bookmark articles you might want to come back to.

One big folder works better than many little ones.  Bookmarks saves you Google-time when you want to re-call something.

4.  Save useful graphs, data and pictures on your hard drive for the presentation you will make later!

5. Blog from time to time to organize your thoughts.

Then make an index of useful posts on a separate page where your readers can find all your writings on the future of your industry and local economy.

So will being economically-savvy help?

Keeping an eye on the economy does not stop other people from being foolish, of course.  And it can also make you feel panicky when you see a trend that no one else seems to care about.

I find that understanding the economy is like knowing the motorway ahead is congested.  I have created choice for myself.  I can keep driving and join the throngs inching along and losing their tempers.  Or I can pull off, and take a longer route through the back roads.

Neither may be a great outcome and it is also possible to put far too much effort into deciding the best alternative.  But I prefer a leisurely drive down the back roads enjoying the country view than boiling with frustration on an ugly motorway.

And I quite happy to leave behind badly run organizations for a business venture that is smaller and more likely to be here tomorrow.

Follow the good money

If you haven’t already done so, begin.  Spend a few hours a week following the economic data.  It gets easier.

And if we all do it, we won’t be routed by unscrupulous managers, at least for a while.

Check my facts on Opportunity UK

Employment opportunities in the UK

Today, Twitterers are retweeting BBC’s report that TUC says 60 people are chasing every job in the south, and elsewhere in UK, each job is chased by 10 people.  Is this true?  And if it true, is it unusual?

I wonder if Andy at SironConsulting a leading recruitment agency would make a comment?

Talk facts not negative emotions

I’m a positive psychologist and I hail from Zimbabwe so I know a fair bit about living in an economic crisis.

  • Bad news outweighs good.  People reading the BBC report on their way to work today will need 3 times as much positive information of greater weight just to think straight!  They will need 5 times as much positive information to be creative and to find solutions to challenges of the day.  Be prepared for a rough day at work and stop to take a walk in the park, listen to the birds and admire the daffodils.  You may need it!
  • Even those of use who are good at maths find it difficult to keep track of numbers with lots of zero’s in them.  I don’t undertand why it is so difficult but generally we need to pull out pen and paper and lay out the arithmetic neatly.  Don’t assume journalists have done this.  They are as dazzled as the rest of us!
  • We need information to guide action not to encourage excitable chatter.  We need facts and figures presented, in context, in a way that supports the purpose of the reader.

I find it hard to find facts and figures about the British economy, so I am going to collect them here.  But do check my numbers.  I do know from living in Zimbabwe that we are prone to make errors when lots of zero’s are involved.  Maybe I’ll add an error from time to time to see if you are doublechecking!

And I am also going to relate the facts I find to the issue at the top of our minds: making a living joyfully in the UK!

Here are my two facts for today and my take on the BBC report.

1   We live and work in the 5th largest economy in the world

Wikipedia figures for GDP by country seem to be 2008 and are probably in USD.  In the last year, the pound has weakened and our economy will be smaller now nominal terms. We have also contracted about 1.5%.  A year ago, India was expected to overtake us in size and I imagine this has happened.

So we are probably not 5th any more.  Maybe we are tenth?  Who knows?

We are still massive by any account.

2   We have 4% of the world’s economy and 1% of the world’s population

We have a disproportionate share of the world’s production and services. Yes, we do.  We are well off.

The world’s GDP is around 50 trillion (million millions or 10^6 x 10^6).  Our GDP in the UK is between 2 to 3 trillion USD.  I’ve taken the lower figure to arrive at 4%.

The world has 6 to 7 billion people (thousand millions or 10^3 x 10^6).  In the UK, have 60 million people.  So 1% of the world live here.

We have 4 x our share of the world economy!

Of course, the USA, with GDP of 15 trillion has 30% of the world economy and a population of 300 million, 5% of the world’s population.  So they have 6x their share of the world’s economy and one-and-a-half times our already disproportionate share.  Pareto’s law in action.  A few people command a disproportion share of resources.

A share in the UK economy

Once, we have remembered that we are quite rich, then we can turn to the issue exercising the TUC – the ability of people to take part in the economy.

Our opinions on this matter provide the underlying tension in western politics and seem to go something like this.  Rich people think they should continue to be rich even if they have just lost billions through bad decisions.  People who seek to make a living through employment believe employment should always be available.

It seems a sterile debate to me.  Looking at the UK from the outside, people quarrelling in a rich economy look like governors of the workhouse in the film Oliver stuffing their faces while the boys ate gruel.

It is quite hard for someone who has lost their job, and who is shocked and frightened, to imagine they are in a psychological state similar to  someone who has lost millions or even billions.   Anyway they are in too much shock to care.

Negative emotions are overwhelming, and psychologsits are pretty confident we need 3-5 moderate positive emotions to outweigh 1 mild negative emotion.  A shock like redundancy needs heaps of positive, which is hard when you’ve just lost the social support system of work and you are short of money too.

But reality and commonsense must also kick in here.  Certainly, claim redundancy money, sign on, and do sensible things.  But consider your basic game plan too.

Why are you waiting for other people?

While you are doing sensible things, do start taking charge of your own life.  Aim to come out of this ‘recession’ not only with your house intact and some savings in the bank, but less, less, LESS, dependent on other people for opportunity.

Can you create opportunity and look for another jobs at the same time?

You must.  Otherwise you are in a bizarre position of feeling poor in a country where we control FOUR TIMES our share of the world’s economy.

There are many simple systems.  Here are 4 suggestions.

  1. Buy British corporate poet, David Whyte‘s CD, MidLife and the Great Unknown and listen to it while you commute, or as you take a walk in a park or field in the gentle spring sun.
  2. Buy What Color is Your Parachute? and do the exercises.
  3. Listen to Dr Srikumar Rao talking at Googletalk (50 min) and follow his advice.
  4. Do my “new person and new url per day” exercise.

Absolutely commit yourself to taking charge of your life and join in unashamed abandon a chase to catch up with the US!

We would like 6 times our share of the world’s economy too!

Not for the sake of gluttony but because it is fun to be innovative and productive and when we trade fairly, people in other countries benefit too.

I would love to hear how you take charge of your life.

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