Budget cuts and restructures are part of the landscape today, especially in the arts and creative sectors where cuts to arts companies and funding programs is an almost daily occurrence.
A week ago the Australia Council announced 14 retrenchments. It is is a reminder that anyone can be effected by decisions over which they have little control.
This week 10 youth arts companies face an uncertain future, Screen Australia has to deal with more cuts, as do the national cultural collecting institutions.
Today, the NSW Government announced mergers in local councils, which could impact the work of cultural development staff, and arts professionals working in local and regional cultural venues: museums, galleries and performing arts centres. There may be even more cuts to programs from these decisions too.
The uncertainty is far from over. When the outcomes of organisation funding decisions are known in April, more organisations may need to consider staff cuts.
I have been through this situation myself a couple of times. The merger to form Screen Australia in 2008 and a restructure at Arts NSW in 2012 impacted me at two different times in my career. Those experiences and my work now supporting others through career changes has given me a few key insights to help you if directly or indirectly impacted by funding cuts at work.
- Recognise what you can control and what you cannot:
When decisions come down from Canberra (or your state or local equivalent), there is not much you can do. Policy and funding decisions are made in an environment that may be political but are rarely personal. It is very unlikely that you could have influenced the decision.Sometimes things just happen and we have to accept them and move on. If you think otherwise, that way madness lies.
- Give yourself some space for your emotions:
No matter how philosophical you are, you will feel hurt or upset when your job is threatened or taken away. When decisions are made that threaten your sense of self and your security, it is human (or even animal) nature to react. Allow yourself to feel whatever is there, without trying to change, fix or analyse it. Just give it space to be and experience the sensation of sadness, anger or fear. If it feels overwhelming, seek support.
- Start planning now for an unknown future:
Even if you are not directly affected by funding cuts, our futures are uncertain. That is just part of contemporary working life no matter what industry or sector. Treat yourself and your career with respect, and do some regular maintenance of your CV, networks and profile in your sector. Take on projects that develop new skills or challenge you, expand your repertoire, become a known expert or find a mentor or sponsor. These are all small strategic steps that put you in the driver’s seat of your working life and can be done right now.
- Give up feeling guilty, playing small or knocking back opportunities
At the end of the day the truth is that no one is responsible for your career development, job security and financial future: not your employer, colleagues, the board or government. Even if you love your current role, it is an act of self-care and maturity to give yourself the best opportunity to be seen by other prospective employers and supporters. That does not mean acting unethically, but it does mean working strategically to make the most of and create opportunities right now in your working life. Many roles are never advertised so you are cutting yourself out of the market for some great chances if you don’t get yourself seen and heard.
- Get support and professional guidance
It is rare in arts organisations to have resources for outplacement and career transition that you might find in the corporate or government sectors. However, getting a professional coach or counsellor that specialises in career change is one of the best investments you can make.
I first saw a career coach when faced with the Screen Australia merger, and could see that the role I had loved for six years was going to disappear. At the time I was exhausted, angry, disappointed in myself and others, plus overwhelmed by all I had to do before we merged. Having a career coach (which I booked and paid for myself) gave me a safe space to explore all my options, and create a plan and actions in line with the direction I wanted to go. It gave me confidence to take some risks and step outside my comfort zone, without feeling overwhelmed and anxious. The result was I took on projects where I was more visible to more people, got seen, and was eventually offered a great role with a fantastic team, that played to my strengths. I never applied for a job. Instead I was able to negotiate a role that met most of my wants and needs. That is the difference of having someone on your side – not a friend, partner or colleague – but an objective and committed coach.
- Book yourself some “worry” time to fixate on the future
It might seem counter-intuitive, but give yourself a date and time where you can worry about your current position and the future. Maybe do it with friends or colleagues. Really indulge in imagining all the worst case scenarios of joblessness, poverty, homelessness. Get right into it for a little bit. Don’t hold back. And then when you have exhausted all the options to worry or time is up, stop. Repeat if necessary but keep to a set time limit. Knowing that you can worry as much as you like at a designated time can keep the fears and anxiety creeping in when it is not wanted. It can also be a bit of fun.
We live in uncertain times, and no one is ever immune to sudden and confronting changes in their working lives. Take some time and space NOW to put yourself in a position to succeed no matter what your circumstances, and stay on the front foot in your career.
More information: Create your next career step workshop, 13 February, NSW
Judith Bowtell of Albany Lane is an executive coach offering workshops, mentoring and coaching to individuals and organisations in the arts. Her background includes more than 20 years experience in arts strategy and policy, in funding and cultural agencies, as well as leading small arts organisations.
If you want to find that strategic space in your working life:firstname.lastname@example.org