With millions of jobs already lost and economic conditions not getting much better, workers at companies small and large are getting ever more anxious about their jobs and livelihoods. Not a day goes by when news comes out that another large company has decided to cut its workforce by 5, 10 or 20 percent. This is reflected in the high unemployment rate, which some experts are predicting could go higher thanks to our bumbling Congress and another recession. Companies are laying off people at all levels and locations, sometimes just in order to have sufficient funds to survive the next quarter.
With a deteriorating economy, management at your company probably has layoff plans already in place in which you could well be a casualty. In order to be better prepared for a potential layoff you need to determine if your job is in real danger, otherwise you will suffer undue stress related to “will they or won’t they get rid of me” type of questions. Here are some obvious signs that you DO NOT want to see at your workplace if you value your job:
1. You are no longer in the loop: This is one the biggest signs that you are on your way out. If your manager is not telling you what’s happening or you find out that decisions about your immediate work activities or projects are getting made without you then you are clearly on the outer. To ensure this is not a communication oversight, try and approach other colleagues to see if this is happening to them as well and finally confront your manger if all else fails. If the feedback is vague or you cannot get clear assurances about your job, then start aggressively preparing for a layoff and your next steps.
2. Colleagues are avoiding you or treating you differently: Eye-contact or small talk is difficult to make with someone if you know his or her head’s on the chopping block. If your fellow workers act overly sympathetic or cold to you in a relatively sudden manner, chances are that they have been informed of your departure (and won’t say anything for fear of losing their jobs). Time to get the dust of your resume and start the job search process ASAP.
3. Are you being given impossible jobs with no chance of success or menial jobs that you were doing years ago: You are either being setup for failure or to get so bored you quit. This is one of more cowardly ways companies use to get rid of employees, which is why it’s so popular with management. When you get the impossible project, and little support from senior management, then you should smell a trap. Particularly if your colleagues don’t want to talk or be associated with the “kiss-of-death” project. On the other hand, if you’ve been given a thankless task, management is hoping you quit or get the message that they don’t really value your skills. Another blatant tip-off that you’re about to be let go.
4. Are you being asked to document everything you do or train a backup (cheaper resource): What this means is that you are being transitioned out management is trying to retain the company specific knowledge you have. This should be a big red flag if it happens all of a sudden and there is constant pressure on you to have your operational documentation up to date. If no one else on your team is being asked to do this you can be almost certain that your position is about to be terminated (or is under serious review). One way to delay the inevitable is to stall on completing your documentation, particularly if you are the only person in the company with the particular system or process knowledge. This will give you time to start your job search, while still getting a pay check. Some may call this unethical or unprofessional, but I can assure your company or the senior management that terminated your position will not lose any sleep over your job loss.
5. Money talks – Have you got signs that your pay will still the same, or worse be cut: If the entire company institutes a wage freeze in order to cut costs, then you can probably say you are not currently a specific target. However if you are one of few that face a pay cut or freeze, then this is as a direct a message as you can get from management saying you are not worth as much to the company as you were. Time to start planning your next move before it is forced upon you.
If two or more of the above signs are unequivocally true for you, then I would say your job is at high risk. So what to do now? Here are some steps you can take to effectively navigate a layoff.
A. Ensure you are financially prepared for a layoff: Here is a detailed post I wrote on this topic a while back. The key thing to deal with an impending layoff is to get your financial house in order by having an emergency fund (which covers 6 to 12 months of household expenses) and a budget plan in place for life with one less paycheck. It is also not a bad idea to apply for some no-fee credit cards while you have a job in case you need emergency funds down the road.
B. Start looking and networking: Unless your layoff is a complete surprise, you should start seeing signs (as above) that your job is danger. Once you are relatively sure your job is on the chopping block, it is time to shed any loyalty to the company and starting looking out for yourself. Ensure your resume is up to date, have copies of some your best work, start online/offline networking and begin applying for your next role.
C. Alternative income sources: Of late there have been a number of articles written on how to grow alternative income sources to replace your normal (job related) income. These range from starting a commercial blog to mowing your neighborhood loans. Building an alternative income source to match a day job takes a lot of effort and time, so don’t expect any miracles and stay clear of get rich quick schemes. However in the event of an impending job loss or while you are looking for a new one there are many ways to generate some serious side income.
D. Unemployment benefits: One thing to be aware of is your state’s unemployment benefits. Depending on which state you live in, it can be a major hassle to get qualified and receive the benefits. This post provides an excellent first hand review and FAQ’s around unemployment benefits.
E. Further education or your own business: Sometimes a layoff can be a blessing in disguise, because it forces you out of your comfort zone. It could provide the impetus to start your own business or even go back to school, if funds permit. Starting your own business is a risky endeavor but could give you a way to escape the corporate career cycle and best of all you will be your own boss. Further education, like a masters degree or MBA, have an opportunity cost related to lost wages but could result in getting a better job at completion.
At the end of the day an unexpected job loss is a traumatic event that will have an adverse impact on your life and psyche. The key is to minimize the impact by preparing effectively both before and after the layoff. Good luck and feel free to share any other tips you may have on this topic.