Getting the flick in today’s job market is not uncommon and it affects almost every profession and industry. It can be like being evicted from your home in a storm. The horrific head winds facing job seekers today will make finding shelter with a new employer all the harder.
I am a big advocate of loyalty to your employer but sometimes you have to read the signals and work out if you should stick around to fight the battle or get the hell out of there on your own terms. There are many signals that may show you if you are likely ‘on the list’, so learn to read the signs to figure out when it’s time to bail and stabilise your career.
It really doesn’t matter what term your employer used – terminated, laid off, let go, restructured, dismissed, downsized, right-sized, made redundant… the fact remains that you just lost your job. We use to think that 100-year-old firms were somehow safer than the brand new start-ups around the corner, but if you follow the daily news, you will find plenty of examples of how dangerous it can be to be in any industry, at any time. I have been exposed to some of the very best and most professionally handled down and right sizing during my time at Vodafone and Optus but I have also personally experienced some of the worst and most poorly handled down sizings. The part that always shocked me the most was how quickly people who I’ve worked with and supported through tough times suddenly turn into animals with no regard for personal circumstances or achievements.
The ‘psychological’ contracts between employer and employee have lost their meaning. In addition, the traditional safeguards of legislation, enterprise agreements and / or employment contracts signed by both parties to secure the relationship may not be as strong as you think. The emotional bond between employer and employee dies pretty fast when communication and behaviour suddenly change and when your peers and managers abandon open and honest communication. This is when you really need to be reviewing your future with that employer. Here are some of the most typical warning signals:
Your company has financial troubles
If your employer is struggling financially, it’s a safe bet that staff cutbacks aren’t far behind. You don’t have to be overly observant to work out if your employer is in financial stress – just open your eyes to the sudden or creeping changes around you. How to fight back: If you are happy with your work and if you want to stick around then you better look for ways to strategically snatch up a couple of niches that you enjoy and are really good at. Another option is to try and preserve your employment by acquiring a diverse set of skills and starting to perform a variety of different roles at your company. This may keep the target off your back for a while when it’s time to make cutbacks, but it probably won’t safeguard you long term. If there is a choice between two equally qualified employees, it may come down to who’s more likable or doing some of those extra duties that others can’t do or don’t want to do.
If things are looking particularly bad for you and/or your employer, then I suggest you seriously consider not sticking around. When the option is there, it is often better to leave on your own terms.
Talk or news / media rumours of an upcoming merger or acquisition
Mergers and acquisitions involving your company don’t augur well for job security. There are likely to be many duplicate positions. For example, there are only so many human resources people a company needs. Face the facts and don’t assume that you will be one of the lucky guys who are taken on by the new owners.
If your company is the one being taken over then you are more likely to be on ‘the list’. That’s because a merger or acquisition typically creates a situation where two or more people fulfil essentially the same role at both companies and then have to compete for one role within the new organisation created by the merger or acquisition. Typically, that’s a battle won by whoever works for the company that came out on top in the merger or was the acquirer rather than the acquired. Often, you may not even be aware of ‘that battle’ for a position even occurring.
Middle management is especially susceptible to cutbacks resulting from mergers and acquisitions because managers often perform similar duties and they and their teams can be easily consolidated. I don’t really have any suitable suggestions on how to fight back. If you are in middle management, consider getting the hell out of there. If you are offered a package then take it and move on to greener pastures. Don’t wait for, or expect, miracles.
A noticeable change in your boss’ behaviour towards you
Bosses are people too (believe it or not) and many of them aren’t gifted with a strong poker face. Watching your boss’ behaviour, especially when he or she is interacting with you, can tell you a lot about how secure your job is. So, look out for things such as:
- Not socialising anymore or a reluctance to socialise with you
- Being less friendly with you than he/she used to be
- Not looking you in the eye like before
- A general feeling that he/she is uncomfortable or hiding something
- General change to the way in which he/she interacts with you, particularly if it becomes more formal and distant
If you notice some or all of the above, then you can be pretty sure that something serious is likely going on. How to fight back: Of course, it’s better if you and your boss maintain a good relationship, but if you sense some social weirdness from your boss, the best thing to do is to step up your game at work, regardless of how they feel about you as a person. The No. 1 metric bosses use to decide who to keep and who to let go first is job performance, so try to buy yourself time and ramp up your performance. Always remember that there are a lot of managers who don’t necessarily have a good personal relationship with their reports, but if they’re producing quality and important work, the manager is more likely to keep them around. So, dig your heels in and work harder whilst preparing a smart exit strategy (perhaps even involving an exit when they least expect it).
Unusual requests for documentation
I am always amazed how badly some companies are organised regarding their paperwork and not not because I am German born — sure you get the joke?! J So, if a manager is looking to let you go, they’ll likely want to perform some due diligence including reviewing key documents related to your work such as important documents you’ve produced; application materials; your employment agreement; your last bonus or target agreement; … and the list goes on. Employers who aren’t great at holding on to paperwork may end up having to ask you for one or more of these documents. If they do, that could be a red flag, so get ready to fight back.
By the time an employer is legally vetting your dismissal, your job is probably as good as lost. So, if you’re fairly sure your days at a particular job are numbered, start to focus on working on your resume and reaching out to contacts at other companies to see who’s hiring before you’re let go. This can help you get your next job. Prepare for your job search early, go into stealth mode and hit the keyboard. But, don’t do it from your work desktop or laptop! Getting a jump on the job hunt is important as the average job seeker takes at least four months once you’ve got your resume, your cover letter and reference documents done. If you’re 45 years and older prepare yourself for 6 – 12 months.
You’re kept ‘out of the loop’ by co-workers or clients
It usually starts to happen slowly that you are left out of critical conference calls, emails, meetings and project assignments. This can be an indication that your manager is preparing to let you go, so to speak. Almost no one is straight forward anymore and everyone tries to cover their bases. It’s stuff like being left out of memos or when the boss calls three or four guys together to give them the update on something, and you used to be in that group. All of a sudden you don’t find yourself on the ‘inside’ and they never would have had that meeting without you in the past. If questioned they may say things like, “Sorry, we couldn’t wait.” So, keep your radar sharp and watch for these signals.
How to fight back: Sometimes good job performance isn’t enough if the people you work with aren’t aware of it. Making sure clients, bosses and co-workers know what you actually bring to the table can help you avoid being cut out the loop and increase the chances of you saving your job. If your customers, your clients, your co-workers and obviously your boss don’t respect what you do and how you do it then you’re definitely in trouble. No matter how many widgets you produce, if they don’t have that respect for you, then you’re vulnerable. So, prepare to exit by doing your homework and working swiftly in the background to facilitate your move to (hopefully) greener and safer pastures.
Unusual delays and disruptions in workplace cycles
Changes in the regular rhythms of how your workplace operates that put you out of step with your co-workers are a dead giveaway management is considering letting you go. A classic example is a disruption in the timing of performance reviews that seems to apply only to you. Often, companies will try to avoid doing a performance review if they’re considering terminating an individual because a positive review could give employees ammunition in a wrongful termination suit. Getting a performance review earlier than your co-workers also can be a bad sign, as your employer may be trying to build a case against you as a worker. So, make sure you have some kind of record or notes in your calendar when you are actually due for the next review and always hold on to your notes, emails or documents from previous evaluations and performance meetings.
Employees on the bubble may also see raises or bonuses delayed by employers to save money and to avoid giving any overt sign your performance is satisfactory. If that happens, try to obtain written confirmations or statements when the payments are planned to occur. How to fight back: Don’t wait for a performance review. Instead, ask your supervisor regularly for honest feedback on your job performance. Not only will that make it tougher to justify a redundancy, but it may address whatever problem an employer might have with you in the first place.
Book yourself for training or a seminar or request that long promised piece of equipment
Another useful way to check the radar is to present a training or seminar booking request. You know what I am referring too. Of course, it has to be the type of event that would definitely improve your ability to service your company or clients. If the answer is dragged out or a straight rejection follows your (reasonable) request, then your name is more likely to be ‘on the list’. Similarly, you can also try to request a long promised piece of office or work equipment and see what sort of response you get. If the response is strangely and unfairly negative, then start to unfold your parachute and prepare to jump before they push you out.
I believe that employers generally treat their long serving employees better than the newbies since reputation and cost (think redundancy payouts) are at stake and these are major deterrents to giving a long-serving employee the flick. But, you need to be prepared that ‘long term’ in today’s society and employment culture usually means 3+ years. Anything less than that and you are an easy target, no matter how good you are, especially if the company is in trouble and needs to cut overheads or labour cost.
So, keep your radar pinging and when it’s time to pop the parachute, hunt wisely!