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How to Avoid Losing Your Job

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Imagine that a layoff is in the works. The HR Director and executive management team are reviewing employee rosters to decide who will be included. What are your odds of escaping the layoff list?

To save your job, you have to think like a manager. Managers cut employees the way that you might cut expenses. To trim your personal budget, you might consider three expense categories: Lifelines, Essentials, and Extras.

"Lifelines" are items necessary for survival, like power and water. "Essentials" are less critical, but hard to do without, like cable television or your cell phone. "Extras" can be sacrificed with much less pain. Concerts, gourmet coffees, and that extra pair of shoes could fall into this category.

During a layoff, which category would you be in?

The answer depends on three factors: Results, Relationships, and Reputation.

I. Results

How much can you contribute to the success of the business?

A. Your Position: The more critical your job is for business survival, the safer you will be. For example, salespeople and accountants are usually more secure than people in public relations or training. There's nothing personal about this. It's just a fact of life. Also, if you are the only person who can perform your function, you will be safer. Large groups of employees may be viewed as relatively interchangeable.

Job Saver Suggestion: If you are in a less critical function, help management see how your work contributes to the top or bottom line. If your position is one of many, make every effort to be viewed as a top performer.

B. Management Priorities: In any position, your job security will be greater if your goals support management's top priorities. But if you spend 50% of your time on things that management doesn't care about, you will be much more expendable.

Job Saver Suggestion: Meet with your boss or your boss's boss to agree on the most important objectives for your position. Try to associate yourself with high-profile, high-priority projects. Concentrate on tasks that management views as significant.

C. Flexibility: During layoffs, employees are often moved around in an effort to keep the best people. If you are able to contribute in a variety of areas, your odds of being retained may increase. But if you have a narrow set of skills, your usefulness will be limited.

Job Saver Suggestion: Try to acquire knowledge and skills that could make you useful in a variety of positions. If you are a supervisor, be willing to accept a non-management role.

D. Up-to-date Knowledge: If you have allowed your knowledge and skills to become outdated, you may be vulnerable during a layoff. Not only will you be seen as less useful, but you may also be viewed as lacking initiative.

Job Saver Suggestion: Take steps to update knowledge in your field. If technology has changed the way your job is done, acquire the skills needed to succeed in the new environment. Be sure that your manager is aware of these efforts.

II. Relationships

How well do you get along with people?

A. Positive Attitudes: Layoffs can provide an easy way to get rid of those who are seen as difficult, defiant, or rebellious. So being viewed as a pleasant, friendly, cooperative, helpful employee will enhance your job security. If management likes you, your job will be safer.

Job Saver Suggestion: Develop as many positive relationships as possible, especially with managers. You don't have to become a suck-up. You just need to "manage up" intelligently. If you tend to resent authority, find a coach or mentor to help you change any oppositional behaviors.

B. Expanding Your Network: Compiling a layoff list is often a collaborative activity, during which managers compare notes. If you are viewed positively by other departments, you will have more advocates. Relationships with higher-level managers are especially important. As the old saying goes, it's not your boss who protects your job; it's your boss's boss.

Job Saver Suggestion: If you tend to be an "office wallflower", get out of your cubicle and spend more time interacting with people. When you have an opportunity to talk with upper managers, ask intelligent questions or share interesting information. They will be more likely to remember you.

C. Working with HR: Human resources people often influence management decisions about employees. So getting along with your HR manager is a smart move.

Job Saver Suggestion: Get to know your HR manager by asking for information and advice or volunteering to assist with HR projects.

III. Reputation

What do people say about you?

A. Your Accomplishments: If no one knows what you do, then your value will not be evident. It will therefore be easier to let you go. For your accomplishments to count during a layoff, someone needs to be aware of them.

Job Saver Suggestion: Make a habit of talking with your manager about your work. Provide regular updates on projects and goals. Be sure that your boss knows about challenges you have overcome or improvements you have implemented. This is not bragging. It's just keeping your boss informed.

B. Grapevine Reputation: If you are consistently pleasant and helpful, then comments about you on the office grapevine will be positive. Colleagues will say "he's really great to work with" or "I don't know how we would get along without her". If managers have to choose between you and a less cooperative coworker, your reputation may save you.

Job Saver Suggestion: Always be the kind of person that others enjoy working with. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by being difficult or offensive at work.

C. Being "The Problem": If you are seen as "The Problem", you will be doomed during a layoff. Layoffs provide a safe and easy way to get rid of people who might otherwise be difficult to fire. No one will tell you this, but it's a fact.

Job Saver Suggestion: If you are viewed as difficult or troublesome, you should immediately start repairing the situation. Go to your boss and explain that you want the future to be different than the past. Ask what you need to do differently, then do it. If HR or upper management has talked to you about performance issues, then you should have the same conversation with them. You may not enjoy these discussions, but they could save your job.

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