by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Even in the best of times, workers get laid off from their jobs. The situation only gets worse — and more frequent — in poor economic situations.
Furthermore, it’s not just “bad” — dissatisfied or incompetent — employees that get fired. For any number of reasons, workers at all competence levels will most likely feel the sting of being fired at least once in their careers. The better you are at your job, of course, the smaller the chance — but don’t let that feeling of security block you from some of the key warning signs that layoffs are coming to a job near you, including your own.
The purpose of this article — and our accompanying assessment, How Secure is Your Job? A Job Jeopardy/Layoff Assessment — is to help open to your eyes to an impending layoff so that you can be better prepared to find a new job whether the layoffs come or not.
The warning signs that your job is trouble can be separated into two categories — corporate issues and individual issues. Both categories deserve your careful scrutiny and analysis.
Corporate Issues that May Signal Layoffs
Obviously, whenever the organization you work for is having some sort of negative financial issues, you can expect some degree of internal turbulence — from simply rumors of bad things to come to actual bad things occurring. Your goal is to sort through these signs and prepare yourself for the worst scenario.
- Your company announces weak earnings — weaker (and perhaps showcasing ongoing weakness) earnings than expected. Every organization has cyclical sales, so this sign alone may not mean too much, but watch for accompanying signs listed below. If you work for a publicly traded company, watch for deep drops in stock price and stock analysts’ reports downgrading the company’s value.
- Your company is rumored to be — or is in — negotiations with another organization that will result in an acquisition or merger. While the word is always that staff will be minimally affected, you should always expect layoffs to result from this type of activity.
- Your company has hired consultants to help redefine the organization’s mission, strategic direction, or operations. While consultants can be a benefit to right a struggling firm, their recommendations often result in an organizational restructuring and downsizing.
- Your company has announced a variety of cost-cutting measures. Implementing one or two of these might simply be good fiscal responsibility, but in combination can signal the start of a very bad situation. Cost-cutting can range from reducing spending on office and kitchen supplies to cutting expense accounts and travel budgets to implementing salary, promotion, and/or hiring freezes.
- Your company begins studying — or worse, implementing — a plan to outsource major functions to overseas suppliers. We’ve heard stories of workers actually being asked to travel to the outsourcing company and (unknowingly) train their replacements.
- Your company does other “strange” things, such as announcing a relocation to smaller or less expensive offices, starts a security system or hires additional security guards, or purchases a large order of empty moving-type boxes.
- Your company competes in an industry that is dying or in a major down cycle. While your company may not be affected yet — or has not reacted to the downturn yet — you can be almost certain it will have to retrench (and reduce workers) to deal with the economic realities it faces.
Individual Worker Issues that May Signal Layoffs
While some of these points are more subtle than others, unless you really look closely at your situation it is often easy to miss or ignore these key signs.
- You have a new boss who is either “too busy’ to meet with you or simply brushes you off. This issue alone is not enough to think layoff, but try to remedy this situation as quickly as possible. If your new (or current) boss does not totally understand all the things you do for your job, you become more expendable when budgets get cut.
- Your workload gradually (or worse, suddenly) lightens and even asking your boss for new assignments results in none forthcoming. Worse, you’ve been reassigned from one or more major (strategic) projects to lesser ones.
- You are either taken out of the loop of key team meetings, or when you do attend a meeting and offer your suggestions or raise questions, you’re ignored.
- Your boss reassigns you to a completely different job/position without your requesting it — to something that “better suits your skills.” This sign is major, especially if the new position is at a lower level or has less importance to the organization.
- Your boss penalizes you in some way, such as docking your pay, giving you a demerit, or informing you of a negative performance review. Worse, your boss places you on probation.
- Your boss is too busy for anyone in the department. Either she/he is never in the office or is involved in secret meetings behind closed doors. Worse, your boss gets downsized.
- Your co-workers have begun to treat you differently. (These could be very subtle changes from not returning your phone calls to more obvious ones as giving you the silent treatment.)
- You’re asked to write a memo explaining your role within the organization, including a list of daily job responsibilities and key contacts. Typically this request is made after the company has hired consultants or during a merger or acquisition — and in both situations it’s a sign that upper management has no clue what you do and/or wants all your key information before dropping the axe.
- You’re asked to take a pay cut (whether “temporary” or permanent). As soon as this request reaches you, it is past time to be seeking new employment. If you accept the pay cut, you are essentially admitting that your job is not valuable to the organization — and by making the request, the organization has already told you that your position is no longer valuable.
Final Thoughts on Being Prepared for a Possible Layoff
When you look around — both at yourself and your employer — and see several of these warning signs happening, it’s time to move quickly… not necessarily to a new job, but to preparing yourself for the worst (while looking for a new job).
Read this article for 10 tips to help you prepare for a potential layoff: Developing Your Job/Career/Life Survival Plan: Preparing for the Possibility of Losing Your Job in Weak Economic Times.
Finally, if it’s just the economy and not your employer that is hurting at the moment, you’ll want to read this article on Quintessential Careers: Seven Strategies to Recession-Proof Your Career: Build Your Future Regardless of Health of the Economy.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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