You may have seen the 2009 movie, "Up in the Air," in which George Clooney travels from city to city laying off people. As someone who is occasionally involved in this type of work, I can tell you that what happens in the movie is not too far from the truth. Here's what typically occurs.
Sam Smith, a 55-year old accounting professional, was working one morning in his well-appointed 16th floor office at the ACME Financial Services Company as he had for the past 19 years. The company was going through some difficult times and there had been several layoffs in the past few years. He had heard rumors that another layoff was imminent, but he felt his job was secure.
Then he received a call from someone from the Human Resources office asking him to come down to one of the small conference rooms on the 12th floor. He knew that this was it.
When he arrived at the conference room, his boss and the human resource person were waiting for him. During the next few minutes, a well-orchestrated series of events took place that would dramatically alter his life.
They asked him to sit down. His boss then pulled out a script and, with his hands shaking, in a wavering voice, he read through a carefully-crafted message about how the company needed to restructure, that his job was being eliminated, and that today was his last day.
The HR person then pulled out a thick folder and walked Sam through its contents. It included information about his severance, COBRA, and some legal mumbo jumbo that proved that the company was not discriminating due to his age.
Sam was speechless. It was all one big blur. The entire exercise lasted about 10 minutes. They then brought him to another office where someone from an outplacement firm told him how they were going to help him find a new job. That took another 5 minutes. He opened the door to leave and someone was there waiting for him with his coat and briefcase ready to escort him out of the building.
15 minutes and it was all over. He felt that all of his hard work for the company, all of his late night working from home, all the travel, was all for naught. No party, no pat on the back, no nothing. He was just unceremoniously ushered out of the building like a criminal.
What was he going to do? He hadn't looked for a job in 19 years. He still had a mortgage and kids to put through college. Who was going to hire a 55-year old at his salary level?
Could this happen to you? Probably, yes. Probably it has already happened to someone you know.
Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in today's workplace. Restructuring, downsizing, and mergers force companies to layoff even good performers. Many employees, therefore, live in a constant state of fear about losing their jobs. Our research in more than 80 organizations has shown that, on average, 1 out of 2 employees believe that they do not have a good future with their organization.
WHAT TO DO
Here are 25 things you can do to increase the probability that you will stay employed.
- Focus on accomplishments.
You will be valued in your current organization and in the marketplace if you can point to tangible accomplishments that you have achieved either directly or indirectly. You deliver value to your organization by amassing accomplishments, and there are only 3 ways to do that: make the organization money, save the organization money, or develop something new for the organization.
- Volunteer for assignments.
Be the first person to say yes to a new assignment, project, or committee, if you believe that your participation will lead to tangible accomplishments that you could tout at your next performance review, list on your application for an internal promotion, or add to your resume.
- Provide value to your boss.
You should have a clear understanding of what is important to your boss and how you can help him or her attain tangible accomplishments. Become the person who your boss turns to when something important needs to be done.
Make certain that you are not spread too thin. Focusing on one or two projects, activities, or initiatives will increase the probability that you will achieve tangible accomplishments.
- Become a valued resource rather than a
readily available commodity.
If you are just one of the many accountants, claims representatives, or sales consultants in your organization, you will be viewed as a commodity that can be easily replaced. Develop a unique expertise, clientele, or knowledge base.
- Avoid becoming an expert in
If you focus on becoming an expert in an aging technology, product, or service, you will eventually become a dinosaur and a prime candidate for the next round of layoffs.
- Don't make enemies.
You never know what might happen if you make enemies within your organization. Your enemy could speak ill of you to your boss, spread damaging rumors about you, or even become your next boss. Provide the best service possible to all of your internal customers. Make certain you do not intentionally embarrass or speak ill of others in the organization.
- Don't finger point.
It is easier to change your own behavior than to change the behavior of others. Instead of pointing fingers at other departments or other people, focus instead on what you can do to improve the situation.
- Be visible.
If you just hide out in your office or cubicle, you will not develop the relationships with others in the organization that can help you stay employed.
- Work on assignments that are core to
If you focus on working on activities that are at the periphery of the organization's core business, you also will all be viewed as peripheral.
- Stay ahead of the curve.
Just as late adopters to new technology are viewed as behind the times, late adopters of any new philosophy, goal, or strategy are also not valued.
- Get involved in "sure thing projects."
Seek out opportunities to become involved with projects, programs, or initiatives that have a high probability of success.
- Move to the tension with your boss.
If you believe your boss does not view you positively, move to the tension. Avoiding your boss or denying that there is a problem will only make it worse. Schedule a sit down and discuss any concerns about your performance so that you can improve.
- Start looking when you are assigned a
When you are assigned a new boss, your days may be numbered. The boss that hires you is invested in your success. A new boss is usually not. Do your best to meet all of your new boss's expectations, but realize that he or she might prefer replacing you with a handpicked new person.
- Curry favor with your boss's boss.
Maintain visibility with your boss's boss and go out of your way to meet his or her expectations.
- Recognize the signs.
Don't turn a deaf ear to news about the organization's declining profits, rumors about a merger or acquisition, or changes in the direction of the organization. Also, recognize the signs of your boss not holding you in high esteem. Ignore these signs at your own peril.
- Be ready and willing to abandon ship.
The unstated employment contract today is that organizations will be loyal to employees only as long as it is in their best interest. You need to adopt the same attitude. Your loyalty to the organization should be based on whether it is in your best interest to stay. If you are not learning or growing, doing the type of work you enjoy, or earning the money you feel you deserve, be ready to leave at a moment's notice. Protect yourself psychologically by viewing your job as you would a home that you rent rather than a home you own.
- Keep your resume current.
Keeping your resume current will help prepare you for sudden unemployment. It will also focus you on amassing tangible accomplishments in your current job.
- Network within the organization.
Get to know the department heads and other key players in other parts of the organization. You never know when a transfer will be something that you need to advance or stay employed within the organization. Switching jobs internally is often more beneficial that switching organizations because it will enable you to keep your seniority, salary grade, benefits, accrued vacation days, and retirement vesting.
- Network outside the company.
People who are well connected to others have a much easier time finding jobs than those who live and work in isolation. Seek out opportunities to get to know people in other organizations who might eventually hire you or provide you referrals. This includes colleagues in other organizations, competitors, suppliers, and consultants.
- Join professional associations.
Become an active member of at least one professional association in your field. Attending professional meetings will enable you to learn from the speakers and your colleagues. It will also be a place for you to learn about new job opportunities. Choose organizations that meet at least monthly so that you have the opportunity to get to know the other members. Volunteer to work on a committee, but choose one that provides you with additional opportunities to get to know others in your field rather than one where you could be working in isolation.
- Keep in touch with recruiters.
You may periodically receive what you view as annoying calls from recruiters. But they often know about opportunities that are not advertised. When you receive calls from recruiters, if you are not currently interested in leaving your organization, thank them and tell them to keep you on their call list. Also, get their contact information and enter it on your personal computer, not the organization's computer, which could be confiscated if you are suddenly laid off.
- Continually develop your marketable
If you don't have one, consider getting an advanced degree by attending evening school. Also, seek out opportunities at work that enable you to amass new marketable skills. These could be hard skills such as a new programming language or accounting method, or soft skills such as managing, selling, or marketing.
- Keep in touch with former co-workers.
Former co-workers are an important part of your professional network who you will likely rely upon heavily during your next job search. Keep in email or phone contact with them. Go out of your way to meet with them as well.
- Keep in touch with former bosses.
Your former bosses are also very important members of your professional network, particularly if you know they continue to respect your skills and abilities. If they hired you once, they might hire you again or refer you elsewhere.
You never know. Through no fault of your own, today could be your last day at your current job. Staying employed involves more than just doing a good job. Don't be caught unprepared. Take stock of whether you are doing all of the 25 things above to stay employed.