It's hard to miss the early signs that a company is in trouble. It becomes more obvious when executives and management begin preparing for layoffs. This will almost inevitably be a bleak time for the company, and the atmosphere will be one of worry and doubt.
Though there's usually little that can be done about job losses, at least from the point of view of a single staff member, there are steps you can take as an individual to set yourself up to either keep your job or land a better one.
Nobody wants to work in an environment that’s being downsized – but the absolute worst thing you can do when layoffs are on the horizon is to let your work or attitude take a dramatic negative hit.
But if you want to stay employed, you should already know how important it will be to remain positive, hard-working and willing to pick up slack for at least as long as your job may be in danger.
When management is deciding who to cut, they'll start with those whose work has stagnated lately. If you’re looking for employment elsewhere, they’ll want to see you still motivated in the face of adversity and challenge. Now, more than ever, it's crucial that you demonstrate just how valuable you are.
In a period of uncertainty, people talk. It's obviously natural to want to know what's going on behind the scenes, but rumors can be both distracting and also widely false.
Avoid the temptation to take part. By all means, stay informed, but don’t make decisions based on unverified chatter. Brenda in Sales may or may not overheard that conversation about which department is next and Dave in Marketing might be dealing with a different set of rules in his department.
Stick to what you know, be cautious of who you pass on news to, and take everything with a few grains of salt.
The instinctive reaction to impending layoffs will be to keep your head down and hope that nobody notices you. But that's the last thing you want to do.
The people nobody notices are, rightly or wrong, the people who managers assume won't be missed when they go. Now, it can be the case that the employees who stay out of the spotlight are the ones who actually keep the company functioning, but appearances matter. Let higher-ups know who you are, and that you’re too good to lose.
When employed in general, it’s important to make sure others see your value and aren’t missing the source of your contributions. It’s even more important when you’re either looking to make it through layoffs or might be looking for a connection or recommendation for a new job.
You might make a point of reporting to managers what you've achieved lately and what you’re working on at the moment. Drop by their office and ask what you can help them with, even if you've already got plenty to do. These higher ups will remember you, hopefully favourably, when they're faced with a list of names.
Prepare for the worst
When the signs of an imminent termination are all there, you should begin preparing for any day to be your last before termination. Update your resume and LinkedIn page, and make sure your social media accounts don't reflect you in a negative light. Start studying up on new career opportunities, ask around for leads, and get in touch with recruitment service providers.
Do what you can to set up an escape route – as long as these efforts don't affect your work, of course. If you make it too obvious you're preparing to move, you'll be first on the list of personnel to cut. That means not only hiding your screen but it means being subtle when it comes to things like booking half days off for interviews, and not swapping hot job tips with coworkers. And, if possible, do the bulk of your job seeking efforts on your own time!
Doing this should put you in the best position to get back in work and back on your feet if you are unfortunate enough to be laid off. But would departing the company necessarily be a bad thing? If your organisation really is failing, it may be best to be terminated early on rather than have the threat of redundancy hanging over you for months to come.