It’s just one of the many new terms, such as social distancing and contact tracing, that have become part of the daily reality of the nation and the world, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The official definition of an essential worker is a person who must continue to work, despite government mandated stay-at-home directives, to perform necessary services, ranging from healthcare and public transportation to grocery store operations and food delivery.
However, while a record number of Americans lost jobs due to the crisis, many others continue to work from home. As employers struggle to avoid laying off or furloughing their workers, they are also making decisions about who to cut and who to keep, should their hands be forced by the impact of the coronavirus on their revenues. Those they deem essential to their businesses will be the last to be laid off or furloughed and the first to be rehired if those choices are made. There is no way to become “lay-off proof.” However, if you are fortunate to be among those who are still employed, increasing your visibility and showcasing your contributions to the success of your organization may be critical to be seen as an essential worker by your employer.
Confident Career Woman founder Ericka Spradley is an experienced consultant, coach, former hiring manager and career readiness adjunct professor who specializes in helping her clients maximize their visibility, discover and leverage their competitive advantage, and identify transferable skills to create broader career options. She makes the following recommendations to those fortunate to have not lost their jobs due to the crisis, and who want to increase the likelihood of being viewed as an essential worker by their employer.
RAISE YOUR HAND
You may have been comfortable keeping your head down and doing your job well, confident that the quality of your work was ample proof of your value to your employer. However, those who take such a passive approach to their career—especially African Americans, other ethnic minorities, and women—are often the ones most likely to be overlooked and bypassed for raises, promotions, and other opportunities; their contributions taken for granted or forgotten. If you are serious about being seen as an essential worker in your organization, it is more critical than ever for you to take responsibility for your own visibility, even if that means taking on roles and projects very different from the job you were doing before you began working from home.
“Volunteer for stretch assignments or projects external to the scope of your work,” says Spradley. “When you do, consider the impact of the project to the organization as well as how the opportunity will broaden your skillset and relationships. For example, if your employer has Business Resource Groups (BRGs) or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), express interest in serving on your local chapter team or on an enterprise leadership team. In years past, I self-nominated and served both levels of the organization. Not only did I expand my skillset and increase my visibility internally, I also met individuals external to the organization when I participated in a leadership program that was only offered to employees who served with an ERG.”
Consider the needs of your organization that have become urgent specifically because of the COVID-19 crisis. Think of sources of revenue, once unimportant or untapped, that may be key to your employer surviving COVID-19. Has your company launched initiatives specifically tasked with dealing with the impact of the coronavirus on employees, customers, healthcare workers, or other key stakeholders? Don’t wait to be asked; volunteer to get involved now, and you’ll more likely be remembered as an essential worker later, when it matters.
RAISE YOUR VOICE
In addition to being seen, your ability to be heard is also critical to being seen as an essential worker, even if you are limited to virtual communication. That means being present via both video and audio on video conference calls, even if you’ve been accustomed to a behind-the-scenes role, and being seen—especially on camera—is outside of your comfort zone. That also means being heard via internal communications, including regular updates and reporting—via e-mail or a business communications platform such as Slack—about your activities to your boss and fellow team members. Remember, unlike when you all worked at the same office, they can’t see you working. What goes unseen can be easily forgotten.
“Although the medium of communication has changed now that we’re substituting teleconferences for in-person conversations, you’ll still need to consistently check-in with your leader,” Spradley asserts. “Now, more than ever, you’ll not only need to communicate your wins and your goals, but you’ll also need feedback as everything is rapidly changing. Organizational priorities 60 days ago have probably shifted, and you should definitely be aware of what they are, why they’ve changed as well as what you can do to demonstrate leadership where you are, in your role.”
The same applies to your external communications, including via social media. At the very least, your LinkedIN profile should be fully built out and up to date, and you should be active on the platform.
“We could very well be on the verge of a ‘new norm’ that requires online visibility and managing your career in ways you haven’t necessarily needed to in the past,” says Spradley, who recommends visiting www.Jobscan.com for a free LinkedIn Optimization Report. “Consider sharing and publishing your insights via Pulse on LinkedIn. My client did recently and she was surprised when her employer asked if they could distribute her article in their employee newsletter. One article on LinkedIn resulted in visibility within the walls of the organization as well as the external exposure of active LinkedIn users who could literally be anywhere around the world.”
ARTICULATE YOUR VALUE
The only way to guarantee that the story of your contributions as an essential worker is told is for you to tell it. Articulating your value to your employer is your responsibility—no one else’s.
“I recommend that you manage your career like a business, not only in this climate but consistently in any climate,” says Spradley. “A SWOT Analysis is no stranger to employers and it shouldn’t be for you as an employee.”
Being seen as an essential worker during the COVID-19 crisis—and maximizing your career opportunities and earning power in any environment—depends on your ability to articulate the following, according to Spradley:
Strengths: Know what they are and how what you do contributes to the organization’s strategy, both short term and long term, so you can communicate that.
Weaknesses: Be aware of the limitations that work against your career success, so you can create a plan to diminish them.
Opportunities: Consider external factors you can capitalize on that will increase your visibility. For example, if employee engagement has plummeted, what’s your solution for increasing engagement? If you’ve identified communication gaps that are hindering productivity and efficiency, what will you do to streamline communication and improve the process?
Threats: Take a moment to reflect on what has happened, what is happening and what could potentially happen with your role as well as with your organization. Simply knowing what could jeopardize your role might inspire you to innovatively reinvent yourself.