Is Your Job in Jeopardy? Impending Worker Layoff Warning Signs

Eric Ciechanowski
by Eric Ciechanowski   Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) 
Last Updated: May 22, 2023 

Every month in the United States nearly 2 million people are laid off or discharged by their employer. It’s likely you’ll be affected by layoffs at some point in your working life, but that doesn’t mean you need to be caught off guard.

There are many signs of layoffs that can be noticed ahead of time. Some signs are performance-based, meaning you may be let go because you haven’t been hitting your marks. Other signs have nothing to do with your quality of work – it’s simply a business decision.

Either way, you want to be ready for the worst.

Clues Your Company is Planning Layoffs

You don’t have to be a business genius to tell when your employer is in trouble. Often, there will be clues being dropped by the C-suite right in front of your eyes. Follow the breadcrumb trail and you may find that it’s time to look for a new job.

Stephanie Licata, a professional career coach for nearly 20 years, says, “It’s about being very observant on a higher level and paying attention to the product or service that you may be involved with.”

Here are a few small signs of layoffs that could have big implications for your career. Be on the lookout for the following five, and consider getting a plan together if any of these take shape in your office.

1. Cost Cutting

A common warning sign on the corporate level are spending and hiring freezes. If your promised promotion has been put on hold or a position your company was hiring for is no longer posted on the internal job board, that could be an indication that the powers-that-be have implemented a hiring freeze.

On a smaller level, if your office supplies haven’t been replenished in months, or the company’s free snacks haven’t been reordered, this could be a sign that your office manager has been asked to cut spending.

“Err on the side of caution,” Licata says. “If there are budgetary problems… layoffs could be coming in two weeks or three months or a year.”

2. Your Department Is Losing Influence

If you’re in a department that once wielded influence, or had a say in the direction of the company, but is now being shut out, beware. Suddenly being left out of pivotal conversations is a bad sign.

3. You’re in a Dying Industry

Sometimes the future of your role is written on the wall of your industry. You just have to look. As recent high-profile brick-and-mortar store closures indicate, Licata explains, people working in retail are in a similar spot to folks working in print-based advertising and marketing were several years ago. These workers were in dying industries and lost their jobs as a result. If it’s only a matter of time before the jobs go extinct, it’s a sure sign you should be looking for work.

However, while a string of lower-than-expected quarterly earnings reports probably means trouble, Licata believes that it’s dangerous to read into economic indicators without some knowledge of macro-economics, lest you risk worrying yourself for no reason.

4. The Company Is “Restructuring”

There are certain words that could spell trouble for the future of your role, especially in the wake of a merger or acquisition. If your boss says there’s going to be a “restructuring” or “streamlining” of operations, they may be planning to let some people go. However, you should always ask for clarification.

“Sometimes restructuring is just a matter of who reports to who, while other times it’s about eliminating a process or a department,” Licata says. Still, when you hear these words, begin to keep your eyes open for new opportunities.

5. Leadership Falters During a Difficult Time

A well-run company that hopes to hang on to its key employees will make good communication a priority, especially during a merger or acquisition. For example, if your company is absorbed into a larger company, your boss should provide some basic information about what to expect. However, if workers from the new company start showing up to key team meetings without a heads up, it may be a warning sign of bad things to come. If nothing else, such situations can create a chaotic and unpleasant environment. If leadership seems to be failing, Licata says, it’s time to start looking.

Clues Your Boss Knows Layoffs Are Coming

Rumors about layoffs frequently trickle down from the top. Your manager will almost certainly know about them before you do.

“The manager may know something and not be able to say anything to their direct reports,” Licata points out. “Unless they’re made of steel, they may be reflecting some of that.”

Watching the boss for clues about your fate is wise, as long as you don’t obsess over it. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

1. Your Manager Leaves

This is one of the most covert signs of layoffs. Since managers typically get the bad news before their employees do, a departing manager could be a sign of impending doom and gloom, especially if they leave amid other signals.Not every departure is an omen. A high-performing, successful manager may be leaving because they received a better offer. On the other hand, Licata says, the best employees often jump ship when they sense the company is heading in a bad direction. It’s something to keep in mind.

2. Your Manager’s Vibe Changes

While it’s often against company policy to reveal layoffs before the company announces them, Licata says she’s worked with managers who share such information with their employees. When they’re less forthcoming, however, you will need to keep an eye on body language and attitude.“They might even seem uncomfortable because they’re uncomfortable with not being able to tell you something,” she says.

3. A Previously Disengaged Manager Begins Micro-Managing

Changes in management style should always catch your attention. If your boss, who previously left you to your own devices, asks you to write up your own job description, that’s a huge red flag. They could be making sure they have their bases covered when they decide to let you go.

4. Your Workload Isn’t What It Used to Be

Suddenly your boss is no longer interested in the special project that was a top priority. You notice that there are fewer and fewer assignments on your plate. When you bring this to the attention of management, but they don’t address your concerns. An ever-shrinking workload is a major sign you’ve been deemed inessential.

5. Your Manager Suddenly Becomes Too Busy for You

On its own, a busy boss isn’t necessarily a sign of doom. However, you’ll want to take note if she’s having a lot of closed-door meetings and no longer has time to talk about your key projects. Do your best to keep the communication flowing. “If you want to stay ahead of that game,” Licata says, “regularly solicit feedback from your manager, especially if it’s not built in with a performance-review process.”

What to Do When You See the Writing on the Wall

If the signals listed here sound familiar to you, it may be time to move on.

“This is also a good case for always staying current with your resume, your LinkedIn and your networking,” Licata says. “It’s important to be proactive rather than reactive.” Here are three steps you can take immediately.

1. Update Your Resume

If you didn’t regularly update your resume while employed, you may have some catching up to do. To start, you should add your most recent work experience. LiveCareer’s Resume Builder has templates and professional designs that can be customized for all jobs and industries, so you can quickly and easily find perfect wording to write each bullet point under your most recent job.

2. Start Networking

It’s never too soon to reach out to your network. As soon as you know something’s amiss, begin calling and messaging friends and former colleagues. Set up coffee dates. Tell them what you’re hoping to do next in your career. Offer to help them in return, if possible. High-end estimates say that 85 percent of jobs are filled through networking.

3. Begin Writing Cover Letters

Cover letters might be the gateway to your next gig, so you should start practicing your writing skills as soon as possible. LiveCareer’s Cover Letter Builder is a great place to start. It offers job-specific templates that will help you customize your letters for wherever you’d like to take your career next.

Most importantly, no matter what’s coming down the pike, stay cool, calm and professional.

Having a layoff in your work history is no longer something to be ashamed of, Licata says. The nature of work has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. “There’s so many more transient jobs in today’s gig economy where people may take a year to go work freelance,” she says.

Plus, keeping your head is good for your health. Don’t let the layoff warning signs overwhelm you with stress. Exercise, eat well and get plenty of rest. Once you’ve taken care of yourself, you can start looking for a new job.

About the Author

Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW)

Eric Ciechanowski Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW)

Eric Ciechanowski is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), certified by the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches (PARWCC). He graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans with a B.A. double major in Creative Writing and Philosophy. His career background includes fields as diverse as education, hospitality, journalism, copywriting, tech and trivia hosting.


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