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How to Avoid Getting Laid Off

Dear Ron, I survived a round of cuts at my company about two years ago, but it looks like layoffs are back. I really like my job and this company; is there anything I can do to position myself to give me the best chance of sticking around?
The first thing you need to do is assess your vulnerability to these cuts on several levels. The first one would be based on your own personal performance -- how does it compare to that of your peers, how well does your boss regard you, and what kind of support do you have beyond him or her? Because if you only have your boss's support, you're vulnerable since his or her job may be at risk as well. So you want to seek out and build as wide support for yourself at your company as possible.

Next you need to assess the vulnerability of your particular function by looking at how it fits in with the company's larger strategic goals. And here you must make a clear-eyed analysis of whether your function has any future, which goes beyond the fact of whether or not you're getting results. You and your group may well be hitting your numbers, but that's not necessarily enough to pass a strategic review.

Assessing these vulnerabilities will require doing research and deftly talking to your boss and to his or her bosses. You might begin by discussing some of your concerns with your boss and asking him or her for reasons why your group might or might not get cut. If your boss can't answer this question, you'll have to find people above him or her who might be able to shed some light on the situation. This may entail some risk since you don't necessarily want to betray any undue anxiety or lack of focus, but if it's clear layoffs are in the offing, you have little to lose by raising some of these questions.

Moreover, you can and should frame your questions as coming from a desire to better understand the current realities of your business in order to do your job better, rather than simply personal fear of losing your job. So you want to ask about changes in direction and what they might mean for your particular unit. If you get more than a few 'I don't knows' as responses, that might be reason for concern; on the other hand, if you get some logical, strategic explanations for why your job and functions would likely be preserved, then that might help allay some of your concerns.

If you determine that your job and/or unit is on the chopping block, you'll want to try to identify growth areas of your company as quickly as possible where you might be able to lend your skills. By growth areas, I mean the ones that are growing right now and those that over the next three to five years could grow to be larger. And you'd want to see if you could find a way to build relationships with people in those areas, with the intention of finding an opportunity with them if you were to get downsized. Of course, it's easier to arrange a transfer when you're still employed there, so it's important to always be thinking about growth areas at your company and how you can get connected to them. Even if you are laid off, though, taking some time now to build those relationships could pay off down the line. Good luck.

Send Ron your career and job-related questions.
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