If you’ve been following financial news for the last few days, you haven’t been performing your requisite Irish duty of drinking for three days straight if St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Monday. That, and you may have heard something about a company called Bear Stearns. The details of Bear Stearns’ crisis are not important to this discussion, so suffice it to say that it’s another “bank in trouble” saga but on a bigger scale than usual. Not being mentioned much in this whole affair is the fact that a lot of good people in the 13,000-employee company are probably going to lose their jobs. In cases like this—major financial disasters that wipe out huge workforce numbers—it’s almost impossible for individual employees to do anything to protect their jobs.
For every massive set of layoffs like the one that will soon rip through the remnants of Bear Stearns, there are many more smaller job reduction events due to economic pressures. In our current recession-esque economy, it’s now more important than usual for people like you and me to take measures to keep our jobs secure, especially if it’s looking like job cuts may be in store at our respective employers.
So if even the hint of layoffs is wafting in the air at your workplace, here’s a series of things you should be doing (and hopefully have already been doing) to shield yourself from the Axe of Doom.
- Keep up with the latest news at work. An informed employee is in a better position to make effective layoff-avoidance maneuvers than Joe Fingers-in-his-ears who turns a blind eye to office politics and obvious signs of distress.
- Don’t look worried about layoffs. This follows partly from the last item. If your co-workers seek your thoughts on the likelihood of layoffs, always insist that they’re not going to happen (unless you’re their boss; then you’re on a whole different playing field than them and can afford to be more honest). While this is a bit sneaky and underhanded, it can help make sure your co-workers are the ones unprepared for layoffs instead of you. In addition, by coming off as unconcerned about layoffs while your co-workers spend half the day pacing nervously, you may convince your bosses that your co-workers have better reasons to worry about layoffs—namely because they suck at their jobs.
- Stay on the radar. There’s a fine line between brown-nosing and hiding in your cubicle, and you’re going to want to ride it like a horse made of money when tough times are on the horizon. It’s much easier for managers to lay off no-name, no-face workers, so do what you can to keep yourself in the spotlight at work.
- Get along with others. You know that guy you work with that everyone loves? He’s always the first to help you out when you get hammered with lots of work, or maybe he buys a round of drinks every so often when the team goes out to eat. As long as he’s pulling his weight on paper, nobody’s going to lay off the office “friend to all.” But you know Bertha down in Accounting who talks too loud on the phone and tries to convert everyone to her cult? Yeah, she’s totally gone in the first round of layoffs.
- Find a safer position than your current one. If you’re on a 500-person project nearing the end of its schedule, and a great spot opens on another project within your company, you might want to jump ship as soon as you can. Similarly, if you’re in a large-sized organization that looks like it’ll need to shed some workers sooner or later, and there’s another spot down the hall on a smaller, overworked team, it might be in your best interests to give that new opportunity a shot.
- Resist the temptation to slack off. If the word “layoff” starts getting around your workplace, productivity almost certainly will take a hit immediately as people spend more time worrying and less time working. Don’t fall into the same trap. Keep your productivity up and a smile on your face. Complete the look with one of those hard-working cat posters so your boss knows you mean serious business.
- Volunteer for compromise opportunities. Some businesses these days try to avoid layoff situations by asking for people to voluntarily give up certain perks, take modest pay cuts, or switch to part-time for a while. You’ll need to weigh the cost of volunteering for these initiatives against the cost of potentially losing your job. Also, if your employer puts a call out for telecommuting (working from home) volunteers, try to be the first one to sign up since it could be a sign that your company is trying to save money on office real estate before moving on to saving money on personnel costs.
- Increase your value to the company. Building up your skill set, signing up for extra work, and finding ways to help your employer make more money will certainly help you differentiate yourself from the rest of the crowd.
- Make yourself indispensable. There are a lot of ways to help ensure you are seen as a vital (and not merely “important”) worker who should not be placed on the bad side of a layoff. Working hard and coming up with smart or money-saving ideas are two ways. Making sure nobody else knows how to do your job correctly is another.
- Take your job to another company. Preempt that pink-slip by moving on to another employer not facing the same economic troubles. If you have friends in your field at other companies, now is the time to start talking to them. And if you end up switching companies but you really liked your old one, keep an eye on its financial climate for the potential to move back once the storm has subsided.
- Get knocked up. If hard work and dedication isn’t up your alley, you can always play the sympathy and/or legal card. Loading a bun into your oven and telling the world about it has the double effect of winning you some compassion and adding you to a class of workers who could cry foul over getting canned. Watch lots of legal dramas and work on your best sobbing “They fired me because I was pregnant!” Men, please note that this tactic may not work for you (though it could qualify you for another class of protected workers—the mentally ill).
Bonus tip: if you’re slacking off and reading this article at work right now, your chances of getting laid off just went up 12%. Go tell your boss you like his new tie—yeah, the ugly neon “power tie”—to undo the damage.