Coronavirus is putting millions of jobs at risk. Here’s what to do if you’re worried about getting laid off
In stressful national moments like these, there are different types of fear—irrational fear based on panic, like buying vast quantities of toilet paper, and rational fear based on evidence and common sense.
Your fear for your job and finances is legitimate.
We are in uncharted waters here, and the effects of a coronavirus-related economic slowdown could be prolonged and significant. That doesn’t mean you should freak out—but it does mean you should shore up what you have, prepare for bad outcomes, and take active measures to improve your career outlook and bulletproof your finances.
“Preparing for job loss is something that all people should be doing all the time, but this recent scare is different,” says Charles Sachs, a financial planner with Miami’s Kaufman Rossin Wealth. “There is a simultaneous global slowdown of work on an unprecedented basis, as entire industries shut down. You can no longer just walk across the street and get rehired.”
Indeed, almost 80 million jobs in the U.S. economy are at moderate or high risk, according to new research from Moody’s Analytics—more than half of the total jobs in the country. The 27 million high-risk jobs include sectors you might expect, like tourism, transport, oil, and hospitality.
Perhaps the most unsettling thing about the coronavirus is that it involves a spreading and invisible enemy, which foments a personal sense of helplessness. You can deal with those feelings by focusing on small, concrete steps to safeguard your career and your money. Some advice from the experts:
Update online profiles
For longtime staffers, odds are your online résumé probably has cobwebs on it. Step one is to update it with everything you’ve been up to in recent years: training programs completed, tasks accomplished, industry conferences attended, fresh skills added to your repertoire.
Do this even if your current job seems solid, because you’re preparing for an unknown future, not making judgments about your own company’s financial prospects. “I even tell my own team to keep their résumés updated,” says Paul Wolfe, senior VP of human resources for popular jobs site Indeed. “You want it to be a living and breathing document and get into the rhythm of updating it on a regular basis.”
Insider tip: Mark your LinkedIn profile as open to recruiters, which will get you on to the radar of industry headhunters even if you’re not actively looking.
Cement yourself in your current position
If you’re a veteran employee, it’s likely that you haven’t been as proactive as you should have been in developing new skills or volunteering for tough assignments. That should end today. Take advantage of employee development programs, acquire skills certificates, and take on the projects that no one else wants, which will make employers much less likely to let you go.
Top in-demand hard skills right now include blockchain, cloud computing, analytical reasoning, and artificial intelligence, according to LinkedIn. Meanwhile the top-ranked soft skills are creativity, persuasion, collaboration, and adaptability. You can brush up on those skills with resources like LinkedIn Learning (https://www.linkedin.com/learning).
A side note: Since many companies are pivoting to remote working, don’t take the occasion to ease back on the throttle. “Performance and engagement are key,” says Wolfe. “Make sure you’re attending all virtual meetings, contributing to the conversation, hitting all the deadlines and objectives, and keeping your leaders informed.”
Take financial action
Everyone should have a so-called emergency fund, consisting of enough to cover three-to-six months’ expenses to tide you over in times of turmoil. If you don’t have one, that is now your No. 1 priority. “This is what emergency funds are made for,” says Shaun Melby, a Nashville financial planner. “Build that cash emergency fund while you are still receiving a paycheck.”
Any extra cash flow or annual raise—or perhaps your tax refund, which is upcoming if you expect one—goes into shoring up that reserve. That will not only ease your anxiety as we enter this choppy economic period, but will also stave off more catastrophic errors, like having to raid your retirement funds to pay for the present.
A related note: “Establish lines of credit, whether they are home equity, personal lines, or credit cards,” advises Melby. Ideally, don’t tap them at all—just have that access to credit ready, if worse comes to worse and you need them to put food on the table.
Develop a contingency plan
This is a fast-moving crisis that is developing by the minute. But many lenders are changing up their typical rules to be more accommodating to those in financial crisis—some of their own accord, and some because different levels of government are mandating it.
As an example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been ordered to suspend evictions and foreclosures; collection of tax payments has been delayed; many utilities are halting disconnections; New York State has suspended collection of medical or student debt; and some credit card companies are allowing borrowers to skip payments interest-free. The New York Times has published a useful roundup of such coronavirus-related personal finance developments here.
The point is to know the relief being offered and to take advantage of it if you need to. And don’t forget about unemployment benefits, developed precisely for moments like these. State eligibility requirements vary, but https://www.usa.gov/unemployment is a good place to get started.
Revise your budget
Smart households sometimes have two budgets: one for normal times, and a leaner one for financially stressful moments, such as when a layoff hits and two incomes are reduced to one. It might be time to invoke the second, as a preemptive strike.
“Break down your expenses: What is absolutely vital—your core expenses like food from the grocery store, or your rent or mortgage—and what is discretionary?” asks Michael Hennessy, a financial planner with Harbor Crest Wealth in Fort Lauderdale. “That gives you a baseline for your sustainable, survivable expenses. It’s a good idea to start dialing back spending.”
That could mean reducing monthly fixed costs, such as switching to a more modest cable package or canceling a few subscriptions, and putting off major spending plans, like a big home renovation project or a new car, until the nation’s economic picture becomes clearer. Perhaps the money that you were planning to spend on spring break goes straight into the emergency fund instead.
Let’s be honest: Nobody really knows what’s coming. But take all of these steps, and you will be better equipped to ride out the storm.
“Much of the anxiety people feel is because of things being out of their control,” says Melby. “But if you can create an actionable plan in case the worst happens, then that anxiety you feel will dissipate. And if the worst doesn’t happen? Then you’re better prepared for the next crisis.”
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—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
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