Three Ways to Save Your Job

Last Updated Sep 15, 2008 11:56 AM EDT

Wall Street's next set of big numbers look like layoffs, and unemployment in the broader economy was already on the rise. Here are three things you can do to save your job:
  1. Act like you're a survivor
  2. Give your leaders hope
  3. Be a good corporate citizen
Those are the central points of "How To Protect Your Job in a Recession," by former HR honcho Janet Banks and Diane Coutu, a senior editor at the Harvard Business Review.

It might come as a surprise that you can save your job from the chopping block in times of trial, but the authors, writing in HBR's September 2008 issue (subscription required), say things aren't entirely out of your control.

I'm a survivor "During a recession, you have to start acting like a survivor if you hope to escape the ax," they say. In other words, relax. Be cheerful, confident even -- you're still going to be there when the dust clears, after all. But don't just think positive -- take some action. Be helpful with things that matter to customers. Take on extra work that shows your diversity -- they suggest, for instance, that a marketing manager with a teaching background could ask to do some training. And don't complain-- they cite an example of an executive whose group was put under that of a far less experienced manager. She threw her pride under the bus and became this manager's biggest supporter. Not only did she survive, she eventually got important new responsibilities.
The Audacity of Hope Nobody likes laying people off (I've had to do it half-a-dozen times and I'm not sure I'm over it). They recommend that you try to empathize with your boss. Don't be brazen in trying to protect yourself; if asked for ideas, suggest things that fit in with the reality of the situation. In other words, help your manager keep his or her own hopes alive.

They cite an HR employee charged with helping to improve morale after a 20 percent staff cut. He pulled together a live soap opera that people loved -- it worked so well that he got a nice promotion when things got better.

Good citizenship
Be an enthusiastic participant. Go to meetings you might otherwise skip because they aren't mandatory. Volunteer for an assignment that might look like a demotion or a reduction in influence. And if you just can't imagine work without your job as it stands, volunteer for a package.

As with any sort of change, these things are easier said than done. But they are possible, and it's better than sitting around worrying.

But just in case, Banks and Coutu recommend you develop a Plan B: what to do if you lose your job. Among their suggestions:

  • Review your Myers-Briggs or 360-degree-review results to assess your strong and weak points.
  • Read self-help books.
  • hire an executive coach.
  • have an up-to-date resume
  • start networking
  • Think about what you really want to do. Perhaps it's time for a career change.
  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.