Q: How seriously should I take talk of the likelihood of a double-dip recession? I'm starting to get nervous about my job security - and not without reason. I have been made redundant three times in the last four years and the last time it happened it was a real shock. I'm married with three young kids and a wife to support. How do I go about making myself indispensable so my head doesn't end up on the chopping block once more?
A: With a recent history such as yours, your nervousness is utterly understandable. At the same time, of course, it's absolutely the last emotion you need to exhibit; and that's a tough call.
Nervousness can make you try too hard. It can make you overanxious to please, to ingratiate yourself with senior people, to put yourself forward for extra tasks to the point of irritation. It won't reassure your bosses - and it will infuriate your colleagues, who'll see only too clearly what you're up to. Remember that they may be feeling insecure as well. Setting out to make yourself indispensable - if done too ostentatiously - can be dangerously counterproductive.
So study your own job dispassionately as if it were someone else's. What exactly are you expected to achieve? How could it be done better? Are there any simple improvements to procedures that could be made without rocking any boats?
In other words, don't let your nervousness affect your manner. Instead, direct your concern towards a sensible analysis of what you're paid to do and how you might do it better. If your actions, including generating good ideas, are seen to be more than usually valuable in such turbulent times and if your demeanour remains both calm and purposeful, then you have every chance of well-merited survival.
I once asked a senior businessman how he was facing new and potentially devastating competition. 'I'm doing my best,' he replied, 'to steer a course halfway between hysteria and complacency.' That's not a bad navigational tip.