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How To Save Your Job- How To Know When Layoffs Are Coming

November 12th, 2007 · 14 Comments

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This is part one of a five part post on How To Save Your Job. Here is Part 2.

The Weatherman Technique

To paraphrase from a famous cartoon character, Knowing is Half The Battle.

When downsizing is on the horizon, your best chance for survival is to be the first one to know about it. The sooner you can read which way the wind is blowing, the sooner you can position yourself to find shelter from the coming storm.

Surprisingly, the average worker can often have the best perspective on a company’s health and the overall business environment. In fact, depending on your particular job, you might be able to read the tea leaves far sooner than the higher-ups can.

Keep reading for the top layoff signals…

Think about it. If you’re in sales, you have day-to-day knowledge of the health of your company’s initiatives. If you’re in customer service then you would know – before anyone else – that your last product release was buggy as hell and people are switching to your competitor in droves. If you’re in HR, then you probably would get first word of hiring freezes.

What are the key signs to look for when trying to anticipate future layoffs or downsizing?

Early Warning Signs

  • Project postponements or cancellations. This is the earliest indicator, especially cuts to new initiatives or speculative projects. In flush times, businesses will try to grow. In tight times, the first thing businesses do is try to “return to basics”, i.e. retrench and focus only on things that actually make money.
  • Travel cuts. See the above. If traveling is reduced only to “meetings where we know they’re going to sign the contract,” that’s a signal that your company is trying to focus only on what is working.
  • Consultants are let go. Again, when a company is growing, it happily asks for outside advice on how to grow bigger. When times turn bad, your bosses suddenly realize they knew exactly what was working all along— and consultants suddenly seem frivolous and unhelpful.
  • Abrupt retirement or resignation of top people in the organization. If you say to yourself, Gee, I never expected So-And-So to retire; he’s been here from day one… it’s probably time to start worrying. Key people, especially founders, tend to leave most often right before the seas turn rough. Why? Well, if they’ve been there through all the good times, they’ll want to protect their reputations. They want to be remembered for the good times, not the bad.

Intermediate Signs

  • Bad news is announced that could affect your industry negatively.
  • You notice your competitors are beginning to struggle.
  • You notice your own company is beginning to struggle.
  • Profit/sales numbers are missed.
  • Attrition without replacement hiring.
  • Support staff/temporary worker reductions.

Screaming Signs that Layoffs Are Imminent

  • Product elimination. It’s one thing for new projects to be trimmed or culled, but when entire product lines are abandoned so that the company can focus on it’s “core” that usually means nothing is selling well.
  • The rumor mill starts to kick into gear. Learn to trust the rumor mill. By the time people start whispering in earnest, times have probably been bad for a while.
  • Budget cuts… especially budget cuts to unusual things like office supplies, office perks, entertainment, etc.
  • Serious travel/expense account cuts. If the travel or expense policy is specifically revised, that means someone was told to sit down and cut that expense category by x percent.
  • Streamlining. Suddenly you have more work on your plate and are doing additional tasks that others used to do. Positions that used to be filled by multiple people are now filled by only one.
  • Management restructuring. You find you have less people to report to.
  • Entire functions/divisions are now being “outsourced” to other companies.
  • Earning/profit warnings.
  • Hiring/salary freezes.

If you play the part of the weatherman, then you should be able to sense downsizing long before it becomes a reality. This is key because you’ll need all the time you can get in order to take steps to protect your job. Tomorrow we’ll begin to talk about evasive maneuvers you can make to shield your position from danger.

Continue Reading Part 2- The Lifeboat Technique 

Related posts:

  1. New Series This Week: How To Save Your Job.

Tags: Career Change · Getting Ahead · Jobs · WorkLife