Palmer Pearson
Operations Director, Cadence Design Systems, Inc.

Okay, we all agree that recessions, like acid reflux, last too long. In a work environment, plans for growth are dashed along with a personal sense of value. Layoffs, executed in phases, ensure that Sword of Damocles will precariously hover over our heads in a never-ending succession of hopeful financial quarters. Often heard in hallways across the land is the sarcastic moan, “The suspense is killing me,” and it may very well be.

The loss of coworkers takes it toll. The steady march of career funerals disguised as good-bye parties reminds us that time is fleeting. Wondering if your name will be called next, you feel the pressure of projects still needing to be done and workloads that only increase with each missed deadline. The fear factor goes beyond routine duties and capital equipment expenditures and spills into who we are. Budget constraints hit career training and seminar opportunities, eliminating the chance to grow. The comfort circle grows smaller.

In dispassionate times, the tendency is to doubt our choice of career and more important, ourselves. Is our value appreciated? Is it even recognized? Have we become the new manufacturing industry seeing our jobs go elsewhere in an effort to lower costs? The global trend to shift technology jobs to India is often justified by the “ratio,” which states you can hire “x” many workers in “wherever” for one person you employ here.

Of course, as individuals, we are not to blame for the economic slump. It is that sense of inability and helplessness to change our fate that causes the biggest concern. The problem is that we have a habit of forgetting that downturns are always followed by upturns. Opportunities exist regardless. When stock prices remain stationary or even depreciate, the opposite is usually true with bonds. There is a need to adjust. There will always be cycles. As managers of technical communicators, it is our job then to enforce the concept of “pleasant diversions.” The term in no way implies trickery or deceit, but a call to focus attention on what is important.

The first distraction centers on communication. We are all professionals; we have improved our skills over the years and now is when the talent gained is put to the test. Presenting information clearly, regardless of delivery mechanism, does impact the bottom line. From corporate Web pages to marketing literature to customer documentation, the company message must still get out. Redirecting your team’s mindset back to the basic “reason for being” is the cup-of-caffeine reality that a lot of us need.

The second slight of hand distraction will actually re-ignite the creative nature of your team. Innovation. Doing something completely new carries with it the excitement of acceptance and praise along with the challenge of being a pioneer. Breaking away from routine methods of delivering information transforms the technical process into a new, exhilarating experience. The job becomes a challenge instead of an obligation. It also energizes the need to learn. From increased knowledge comes ability, and from ability, expertise. Nothing boosts morale as much as being known as the go-toperson.

The most pleasant of the pleasant distractions is appreciation. It remains a mystery to me why so many managers drop the ball here. To some, it is a concept so foreign they need to employ a goodness interpreter as a coach. Beyond the “great job” comment given in almost robotic form, we need to take just one small step toward showing we value our team members. Examples could include awarding a free day off or holding a humorous awards day. Praising people in a public setting in front of an audience of their peers or higher levels of management makes everyone feel good.

As previously stated, eventually the upturn arrives. How well you implemented these distractions will determine if you keep your star performers when more options become available.