No matter how long you’ve worked for a company, the economic ups and downs of the last decade have proven that no one is completely safe from being laid off. Having worked many years for fortune 500 companies like General Electric and Prudential, I have observed a number of different layoffs and have been privy to some of the decision processes that can go into them. While no one is ever completely immune to being identified for dismissal, the following are behaviors that I have seen help professionally savvy individuals survive a company down turn.
1) Work on critical projects – Asking to work on a critical project is a great way to build credibility and create advancement opportunities for yourself at any time. But I have also seen many under performers survive a lay off purely by being on the right project at the right time. Senior management is often reticent to introduce any risk to a high visibility, highly important project, even if they are unsure of the true value of an individual.
2) Do whatever is asked of you – At difficult times, such as when a company has to drastically reduce costs, individuals who are willing to step up and do additional work, perhaps even outside the scope of their normal responsibilities, are truly appreciated by senior management. If a difficult choice has to be made between two individuals, it is likely a manager will fight to keep the one who performed without complaint and was willing to wear many hats.
3) Keep your certifications current – Besides having the added benefit of making you more marketable should you have to find another job, sometimes there are requirements for the business to keep a certified individual employed. For example, some software companies require you to have a certified individual on staff in order to resell their software.
4) Make yourself Indispensable – Don’t become complacent in the role that you hold. Always look for opportunities to learn and do new things, especially if you see the organization moving in a different direction. I have a colleague who was asked to step in to become the Chief Security Officer when the prior incumbent resigned even though it was not his core competency. When the company reorganized to cut costs, they still needed a security officer to assess risk, and my colleague was assured a position.
5) Keep you head down – In business, unlike entertainment, there is such a thing as bad publicity. If you are aware that the company is looking to cut costs, don’t try to get yourself noticed. I have seen cases where individuals emailed or made unsolicited drop ins to speak with the decision makers, only to be red flagged for a deeper review. If you have been doing your job successfully, you should not have to catch the eye of senior management, and if you haven’t been, you don’t want to get their attention now.
6) Keep your job options open – Surviving a layoff doesn’t necessarily mean staying with the same company or in the same role. I’ve had colleagues who needed a layoff to get them to leave a job or role they had become comfortable in, and ultimately ended up in a better position. Also, should you get calls from recruiters, take them. Maintaining network connections, even when you aren’t actively looking for a job, will help you should you ever be confronted with being asked to leave your organization.
7) Don’t burn bridges – If you do happen to be affected in a job action, behave professionally and maintain a good relationship with your management and peers. You never know when you may end up in the same company again or may need references from a former employee for a future position.
There is no magic bullet to ensure that you will you never get laid off. But keeping your skill set current, staying positive, and looking for ways to remain valuable and relevant to your organization will minimize your risk. And it will make you more marketable should you ever need or want to look for another job.