Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Recession Etiquette - A Call for Class Indeed

It seems we are officially in a recession. After 9 months of dealing with the ups and downs (mostly downs) of a tanking economy, I'm starting to view it as an opportunity for positive change. I know this is a cliche but I've already been through the other four stages of grief - denial (this can't be happening), anger (why me, I've worked so hard), bargaining (don't cancel the project, let's rework it), depression (all is lost, there's no point) and I'm now firmly in acceptance. Rapid, unanticipated change is often a much-needed kick in the butt that forces you to re-examine your priorities, challenge your assumptions and identify those areas where you've become complacent.

Since last September, I have networked like never before. I've been going through my Rolodex looking up old contacts and people I haven't spoken with in years have found me. I have sat through many coffee meetings with recently laid-off acquaintances and I have tried to provide therapy to friends who have found themselves in dire financial straits.

An article in yesterday's Globe & Mail got me thinking about recession etiquette. The author cautioned against offering "cliche comfort" to the economy-afflicted with sayings such as: when one door closes, another one opens or when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Sage wisdom maybe but useless in the face of mounting debt and a lack of job leads. Instead of empty platitudes, Tim Tyrell-Smith, who runs suggests that you ask someone what they need a hand with.

Here are some other recession etiquette faux pas and suggestions I've come across in the last half a year:

Recession, what recession? - A family member recently said this to me when I asked if they'd been affected. She and her spouse are both employed by the government and enjoy relative job security plus union-negotiated benefits. That's fine, but please don't deny that there is a recession going on, especially when talking to an entrepreneur.

Can you find me a job? - I have a lot of contacts in my field and I'm happy to facilitate introductions if I believe they will be valuable for both parties. However, I am busy running my own company and don't have time to follow up extensively.

Would you have time for coffee? - Traditional etiquette dictates that the person who initiates the coffee date is on the hook for the bill. But if someone invites me for coffee and they're unemployed, I feel that I should cover it, or at least suggest we meet at a low-cost venue.

It's so unfair - Before you start your 'why me' rant, get some perspective and think about who you're talking to. If your big complaint is that your organization is trying to reduce your annual sick days from 20 to 15 and you're chatting to a person who doesn't even have a job, keep it to yourself. It's all relative.

We're so lucky we...(enter brilliant decision here) before things got bad - It's great that you bought your home when the market was low, locked in your mortgage at 2 %, eschewed Prada bags for high-yield savings and live near your parents so you have free childcare. Please refrain from regaling the rest of us with your smart (or plain lucky) decisions.

Say thank you - I've recently met with many out-of-work PR professionals, some of whom I know personally and some who are friends of friends. I've done my best to provide advice and introduce them to others who might aid their job search. Only half have followed up with a thank you note. Handwritten cards are wonderful but an e-mail is the bare minimum.

It's just lunch - Remember the good old days when the cheque would come and people would fight over who would pick up the tab ("Let me get it. I insist", "No, it's my turn")? As with coffee, if you invite someone to lunch, especially if the objective is to get free advice or connections, you should pick up the tab. So, just pick somewhere you can afford. In this era of conspicuous consumption, no one will be offended if you suggest the corner diner. And, don't forget to tip the wait staff. Avoiding high-end restaurants is acceptable. Stiffing the waitress is not.

One parting thought. Be as nice an d as helpful as you possibly can. Do it because it's the right thing to do but also because the world is small. You never know when the tables will be turned.


  1. Louise, thanks for offering such a smart and insightful perspective. As we all work toward getting through this recession, relationships are very important and so is putting yourself in another person's shoes.

  2. Hi Louise -

    Great post! I've said that job search is a very teachable moment. That then, and only then for some, do you learn the true power of selfless networking. Tim Tyrell-Smith (Spin Strategy)