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12 Steps To Maintaining A Positive Outlook When Your Salary Is Cut

2013 April 21
tags: Austerity, Disappointment, Furlough, Mind Sweep, Positive Downtime, Positive Mental Attitude, Positive Outlook, Self-Care, Sequestration, Work Life Balance
by Andrew   

You’ve just learned both your salary and your work hours will be reduced by twenty percent, or possibly more. How do you maintain a positive outlook in such circumstances? How can you maintain your effectiveness at work with twenty percent fewer hours? How do you avoid a self-defeating spiral of fear and worry? Read on, because I have a few solutions to offer and some firsthand experience…

The problem

So, the United States president and the Congress have fought amongst themselves to such an extent that the U.S. government is preparing for rolling furloughs of many, many employees.  They might avert it before it’s too late, and they might not.

Why? Not because we ran out of money. Oh, no; not at all. It’s because they have brazenly continued spending money they never had and then had the temerity to pass a law that said since they couldn’t make decisions as adults, that dangerous, draconian, undiscerning, automatic cuts to budgets would occur with no regard to the importance of any programs. Predictably, they’ve exempted themselves from these measures.

Now, it’s time to pay the proverbial piper since their “unthinkable event” has actually occurred because they still can’t agree to compromise in the interest of actual government. What’s going to happen? Twenty percent less salary and hours for a whole hell of a lot of people who have no reduction in their workload. Such circumstances, indeed such malfeasance by public figures, are enough to make all but the most stalwart of people blanch at the prospects.

And, it gets better. The affected federal employees aren’t actually separated from work, so our ability to seek alternative outside employment is severely curtailed. Your situation could be different…hard times for the company, a merger or acquisition that brings more challenges and fewer hours, or other austerity-driving measures.

The solution

Regardless of what happens, prudence dictates taking certain steps to preserve your peace of mind, safeguard your financial security as best as possible, and identify ways to be as productive as you need to be to remain successful. Now isn’t the time to adopt a comprehensive new personal effectiveness system, filing system, or any other system.
You can do that later once you’ve taken steps to mitigate the mounting stressors. Here are steps you can take to help accomplish those goals, in both the short and long term:

  • Conduct a mind sweep. Do this as soon as possible. You need to capture every thing that’s nagging you, bothering you, that you keep forgetting, or that you’re afraid you’ll forget. Sort it all later.
  • Decide what’s important. Really important. And make your decisions based on the realities of your current situation, but temper them with the long view of what’s important. Decide what can’t be deferred. Some things have to be done now, or at least really soon. Take care of them to minimize stress as much as you can.
  • Review your schedule with ruthlessness. Now isn’t the time to do absolutely everything you can just because you’re usually really effective or because everyone needs help. Identify where you need to be and why, and trim the nonessential time consumers.
  • Identify austerity measures. You may be able to absorb a 20% reduction in your income with no problem. Identify austerity measures as a spiritual exercise, then. Most people will experience some level of stress when a large salary reduction looms. Figure out what you can live without, and separate it into two lists: “Eliminate Now,” and “Eliminate If Necessary.” The “Now” items may be things you pay for but never use (I’m not talking about your life insurance), or they may be a $100/month cable bill when Netflix will do just fine (or better!). The “If Necessary” items could be anything, including the gas for a second car, maybe the second car itself, or any of a host of luxuries. It might be this year’s vacation. Or a party budget. The point is identify items that can go without causing you economic harm.
  • Identify adjustments in withholding or savings. Don’t make life-changing or irrevocable financial decisions under the stress of an immediate salary cut. Plan ahead, consider the impact on taxes and your credit score, and decide what you can adjust to make additional income available temporarily to offset a salary reduction.
  • Determine if any creditors need to be contacted. Many creditors are amenable to working out new repayment terms if they’re contacted before delinquency. They’ll likely be less cooperative if you call them after you’re six months past due. Ensure they know you want to pay them, that you may be unable to continue payments under the current terms if that is true, and request to negotiate alternate terms. Again, consider the impact on your credit score and any employment considerations based on your financial solvency.
  • Make a plan for nonwork days. Don’t sit at home and watch TV all day. Don’t plan on planning. Don’t plan on looking for a side job. Make a plan now for when you will do productive things…exercise, job searches, resume updates, writing blog articles, or perhaps learning new skills or crafts.
  • Do something creative. Write. Paint. Draw. Take up photography. There are lots of photo-a-day challenges going on and you probably have a camera phone. Learn to weave. Take up needlepoint. Become a model. Engage your mind in creative activities every day. It’s uplifting and it will help avoid mental decline.
  • Learn meditation. It’s relaxing, promotes immunity, and it’s spiritually enriching. It reduces stress and improves mental clarity. It also contributes to greater productivity in healthy ways. Attend social events. Go out periodically. See friends. Play chess in the park. Throw a potluck party. Don’t isolate. Get involved. Something uplifting. Church…volunteerism…community theater. If you’re a U.S. federal employee, do not advocate for the election or removal of officials in partisan elections, or for the unconstitutional replacement of the government. These are Very Bad Things for your continued employment.
  • Rebalance your life. This could mean anything from realizing – and advocating for – shorter hours during an  extended period or for working from home much of the time. It could be a decision to embark on a major career change. Or it could be as harmonious as the (re)introduction into your life of the pursuit of meaning and serenity. It  might be as simple, and as profound, as reconnecting at home.
  • Update your résumé. It’s always a good time. If you haven’t done it in over two years, spend some time researching resumes on sites such as LinkedIn and professional résumé services. Many will offer a free basic review in hopes of getting your business for better polishing.
  • Pray. It’s good for you. Prayer has been proven to promote the same health benefits as meditation, such as immune system boosts, reduced stress, reduced anxiety, greater self-confidence, and a sense of wellbeing.


These steps aren’t guaranteed to save your job, help you get everything done, or avoid very real financial challenges as a result of reduced hours and income, but they will help you get your head around what you need to do in order to be productive in ways you want to be, reduce stress, and make positive use of the additional time at home.


disappointment responseI’m not going to pretend that times like these aren’t stressful. They certainly are for me and my family, as well as our friends & coworkers, if for no other reason than we’re all human and such uncertainty combined with bad leadership at the highest levels is downright awful. But, there is opportunity in hardship. Many times, our lives become so wrapped up in maintaining what we believe is essential, in what we’ve acquired, that we forget to strive for what makes us happy and joyful.


In austerity comes the opportunity to seek new paths, or to revalidate our commitment to the path we’re on. The right answer for each of us is the answer that leads us toward achieving what is most important in our lives.


I’ve also written another post on what to do when your routine is driving you crazy, and it has some useful tips for eliminating a death spiral in your daily routine. My friend Celes at Personal Excellence has written a great resource on living a better life in thirty days, which you can purchase (non-affiliate link).


If you’re feeling really overwhelmed, I mean like the impending loss of salary, hours, or perceived value of your work is the worst disappointment ever, you might want to review my series on the worst disappointment in your life.


Take care, and enjoy life,


2nd Photo Credit: Flickr (Meridith Farmer)


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