Debt is the first step on the notorious “unemployment spiral”. If you haven’t seen this graph, just picture a more exaggerated version of an anti-drug poster: It starts with a healthy employee at the top, and ends with something resembling a gambling, glue-sniffing, serial killer at the bottom. While I suspect the only glue sniffing involved is with “efficiency experts” who formulated this theory, debt does impair our ability to work. In this article, I look at ways to deal with it:
Debt has a serious impact on job performance. When you’re broke, your brain responds to work with the same enthusiasm as a cripple in a sack race. Expect your energy to slide faster than Mr. Yaw’s political career, along with your creativity and attitude. Here’s a list of common (work related) symptoms when you’re broke:
- Decreased sociability
- Decreased initiative
- Diminished ethics
1. Decreased Sociability
When you can’t afford more than $2.50 for lunch, you’ll start to eat alone. Likewise, you’ll be dodging collections for birthdays, corporate events, sick colleagues, etc. You also won’t be hanging out at the bar after work.
In these situations, it’s best to just be honest. If your colleagues understand you’re broke, you’ll be forgiven for your monkish lifestyle. But keep it to yourself, and your colleagues might decide they can’t tell your backside from your face. Suddenly, you’re the last to receive important memos, no one does you favours, and project teams want you like they want a case of genital warts.
From now on, always be honest when you can’t afford something. Just say: “Sorry, I can’t contribute for Jerry’s party because I’m in financial difficulties right now.” Better to be embarrassed than look like a jerk.
2. Decreased Initiative
When you’re broke, your job becomes more important than ever. And for most people, that means taking fewer risks, keeping a low profile, and losing all sense of initiative.
In fact, you should be doing the opposite: If your employer already thinks you’re a liability, losing initiative makes things worse. When you won’t make decisions, require micro-management, and develop the flexibility of an ant, your termination’s in the mail.
Keep things in perspective: Now, more than ever, you need to prove your debt isn’t affecting your job. Seize the initiative by proposing new projects, and go out of your way to help team members.
Like most employees in debt, you’ll soon discover you’re in a different time frame. Everything you do seems to take forever, and your progress feels slower than the plot of a Dan Brown novel. Some of it is psychological; but for the most part, your poverty is making you late.
More than likely, you no longer have a car. That means an hour long bus ride. Or maybe the washer’s broken and you can’t afford to replace it, so you have to wait at the Laundromat. Or you can’t afford to eat out, so you take a few extra minutes to pack lunch in the mornings.
As your budget shrinks, these little things start to add up. The only way to compensate is to alter your hours: Sleep and rise earlier, and consider using one of your weekends to work. At the very least, it’ll distract you from remembering how broke you are on Saturdays.
It sucks, but keep it up and you’ll eventually pay off that debt.
Worrying about your finances adds to your stress levels. Like a fat man trying to tie his laces, everything takes twice as much effort.
The best way to fight fatigue is to not skip meals, no matter how much it would save you. To match your tight budget, buy oatmeal by the box: It’s cheap, can be prepared in the office, and keeps your energy levels high. You’ll also want to designate a “finance hour” every day: Make this an hour reserved after work, during which you fret and worry about your finances as much as you want.
Once the hour’s up, tell yourself it’s over. Worrying about money won’t make the debt go away; but worrying about your job will. If the situation persists, see a doctor (on your company’s health policy).
5. Diminished Ethics
When you’re broke, it’s tempting to let go of ethics. I’m not just talking about stealing, though that’s obviously a part of it. I’m talking about situations when you break something in the office, or when you back into a colleague’s car in the parking lot.
When you can’t pay to fix these things, every neuron in your brain will be telling you to hide it. And because immorality has a snowball effect, every lie will make the next one easier. This the prime reason why employers hate bankrupt employees: They’re more prone to end up embezzling money or dodging responsibility.
To reassure HR and keep yourself on track, practice scrupulous accountability. When you break something, it’s better to come clean and announce that you don’t have the money; offer to find another way to pay for it. And whenever you need to dip into the company’s funds for anything, take extra efforts to ensure the paperwork’s in order.
None of the methods here are easy; but nothing about dealing with debt is easy. Just remember that most Singaporeans prize honesty above all else. Never lie or make compromises to cover your financial embarrassment, and you’ll get more sympathy than grief.
Is your debt affecting your job? Comment and let us know!
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