Offices are hotbeds of stress when the economy is weak. Layoffs are a constant threat, businesses are slashing expenses and the future is murky. Here are some ways to prevent your workplace from becoming a source of dread. If you play your cards right, the recession might work to your advantage. Brace for change: The economy will force companies to adjust their budgets and strategies. Your workload could increase, new goals could be set, benefits could be cut and jobs might be lost. Your boss will be looking for employees who can adapt, and they will notice people who resist change. If you're assigned new tasks, look at it as an opportunity to prove yourself rather than as a new burden. Make it clear that you're willing to be flexible. Make yourself indispensable: You need to convince your boss and colleagues that you're an essential member of the team. You'll have to work harder, faster and more efficiently, says E. James Brennan, senior associate at ERI Economic Research Institute, which tracks worker compensation and human resource issues. He says workers should try to offer solutions and new ideas that can lower costs. Attempting to prove your value might make your job more challenging, but the effort is likely pay off in the long run. "If you're suddenly being overworked, it probably means you're more essential than ever," Brennan says. "If you're not doing much work, I'd start to worry." Search for opportunities: A tumultuous time could provide the perfect opportunity to advance your career. Look for open positions within your firm, and build relationships with people in other parts of the company. Let your boss know that you'd like to be promoted, and earn his or her support.
You should also look for opportunities outside your company. Companies often use an economic downturn as an opportunity to poach their competitor's talent. If you'd prefer to stick with your current firm, you can use potential opportunities elsewhere as a bargaining tool to gain a promotion or a raise. "If you have skills or knowledge that is of high value in your industry, you can use this to your advantage," Brennan says. Don't be afraid to ask for a raise: You deserve to be fairly compensated regardless of the economic conditions. During a recession you just need to be more sensitive when you ask. Acknowledge that times are tough and then explain carefully how the work you do will help the firm get through its challenges. "Bring up that conversation right after you've landed a big deal or accomplished something very important for your organization," says Brennan. If your firm can't afford to pay you more, consider alternative forms of compensation. You might ask for a more vacation time, stock options or something simple like an office with a view or a better computer. Companies are often more flexible about compensation when the economy is weak. Get ready to look for a new job: There's always a chance you could be a victim of the next wave of layoffs. You'll be less anxious if you prepare for that possibility. Keep your resume updated and monitor career Web sites like Monster.com, run by Monster Worldwide ( MWW) for job openings in your field. Try to maintain a good relationship with your bosses. You never know when you'll need a good reference.