Raises should make a comeback, but keep an updated resume handy.
Despite all the talk about economic recovery, you're probably still anxious about next year's job market -- worried not necessarily about your position but maybe your spouse's or your adult kids' or your best pal's.
Your concern is understandable. According to the consensus estimate from the Blue Chip Economic Indicators, the jobless rate will steady in the first half of 2010, before dipping to 9.6% by year-end.
Continued high unemployment after a slump has become more common in recent years; after the last two recessions, it took two to three years for the jobless rate to return to pre-recession levels.
What's different now: Economists say the severity of this downturn means that it could take even longer for unemployment to drop below 5% as it was in 2007, if it ever does. Structural changes in industries from manufacturing to media, coupled with strong gains in productivity, are enabling companies to do more with fewer people -- perhaps permanently, says economist Sophia Koropeckyj of Moody's Economy.com.
Still, there are bright spots. You'll probably nab a raise next year, although it will be a relatively skimpy one. Nearly half of large companies froze salaries in 2009, but just 13% intend to do so in 2010, says Hewitt Associates.
Hiring plans are picking up in some hard-hit sectors: 31% of service businesses say they'll add jobs in the next six months (up from 16% in April), as do 29% of finance, insurance, and real estate firms, the National Association for Business Economics reports. And industries that held up well during the recession, such as health care, education, and technology should continue to expand in the new year.
A sharp rise in energy prices could hurt already fragile consumer and business spending, which in turn could prolong hiring and pay freezes at many firms.
Signs to Watch
Three months of steady growth in the average workweek should signal stronger job growth ahead. Companies have cut employee work hours so much that they will boost the number of hours worked before hiring in earnest.
The Action Plan
Don't Fly Below the Radar
Working hard and keeping your head down won't prevent you from becoming a layoff target. To secure your position and have a shot at a decent raise, you not only need to excel at what you do, you have to make sure your boss and other higher-ups notice, says executive recruiter Stephen Viscusi, author of "Bulletproof Your Job."
Seek out high-profile or cross-department assignments, actively contribute at meetings with senior colleagues, and volunteer to take on additional responsibilities -- an especially valuable tactic now, with so many fewer employees around to handle the work load.
Get Paid For Results
Raises will average just 2.7% next year -- the first time in more than 30 years that average pay hikes will fall below 3% for two years in a row, Hewitt reports. Earn a reputation as a top performer and you may nab more: The highest-rated workers will get an average boost of 4.8% in 2010, according to the latest compensation survey from Mercer, a benefits consulting firm.
If your company is among those still freezing base pay, try instead to negotiate a bonus tied to key, quantifiable company objectives: 86% of organizations have some kind of short-term incentive pay program linked to financial goals, operational performance, or customer satisfaction, Mercer notes.
Restore That Salary Reduction
Sure, a pay cut is preferable to a job cut. But if your hours were reduced or your salary slashed outright in the recession, start strategizing about when and how to get that money back.
First read the tea leaves: Have profits improved at your firm? Have layoffs stopped and hiring started? If so, the timing may be right. Prepare examples to prove you're deserving -- showing, say, you've taken on extra duties, worked longer hours, or slashed costs. Then ask your boss for a salary review.
Jump-Start Your Job Search
If you've been out of work for a while -- the average job search now takes 27 weeks vs. 19 last year -- change your tactics. Expand the options by looking at employers in different but related industries or different positions in the same field. Lower your salary expectations -- akin to dropping the price of a house if it's been on the market too long. Update your skills, says executive recruiter Kimberly Bishop, who suggests pulling job descriptions from corporate Web sites and comparing your experience with what companies are looking for. Then take a class -- you've got time, right? -- to fill in any gaps.
Be Prepared -- Just in Case
Even if your job seems secure, the prospect of double-digit unemployment should spur your Scout instincts. Take care of basics: Beef up your emergency fund, identify expenses you could cut if needed, and consider what you'd do about health insurance if you get the ax.
Update your resume and start reconnecting with folks in your professional network. Join industry forums, and seek endorsements on LinkedIn. And if a friend or colleague is laid off and turns to you for advice, assistance, or just to vent, be there for him or her. One day your pal may be in a position to recommend or hire you.