Job Security, All About It

layoff Graph

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During my work career, I was employed by 8 different companies before I settled on a large company made up of over 50 "divisions". Each division of that corporation was like a separate company and I worked in several of them. I was laid off 3 times early in my work career (1956- 1959) so I know a little about the subject of job security from direct personal experience. I was NEVER laid off after that .

Many people around me are still getting laid off and they always feel badly about it (So did I).
Some of them know why it happened to them and some don't. I am now retired and have been since October of 1996. I often thank my lucky stars that I was not laid off during the period 1974 through 1996, when my company was "downsizing" every now and then. I think of those times as sort of walking along the top of tall skinny crazily-weaving fence with loose boards under foot most of the time. Time-after-time there would be a lay-off in my organization and always, after the dust had settled, I was still there.
Why? I kept asking myself "Why not me?". Before I decided to chronicle my 36-years long journey along the wall of "still there", I used to say "how lucky I was", but as I started to analyze each situation, I began to realize that it was not all luck, rather it was (mostly)the way that I was perceived by my employers (my boss and their bosses) of the moment. Well, the rest of this document is my own answer to that question, based upon my own personal experiences. I have attempted to generalize each event into a suggestion, but every single entry here has roots in something the happened to me or something that happened around me or something that I caused to happen.

Contents of this page:

1. Some Reasons for Lay-offs
2. Do I even want to stay?
3. List of 36 Ways to avoid the Lay-off or to make your job more secure and successful
4. Summing it all up

Some Reasons for Lay-Offs

Companies lay people off for many reasons. Here are some:
Increase profits
Cut labor costs
Cut manpower
Increase stock price
Make the company look better to potential buyers
Get rid of marginally productive employees
Reorganize and modernize
Consolidate organizations within a larger organization (like just after a merger)

Do I even Want to Stay?

Unless that company is going to completely close its doors, once the lay-offs are over, someone will still be there.
Will you be one of them?

I have very little experience with union shops, so most of what is in here relates to working in an open-shop environment.
But, I want to tell you that most of the principles in here will apply to union shops as well particularly if you want to move through the union ranks into supervision and management in your company.

Ask yourself this question before you go further:
Do I even want to stay here after the lay-off or in my opinion, will the nature of the company be so much changed that I wouldn't' want to be here anymore anyway?
If the answer to the above question is "yes". Then you need to figure out how to make sure that you are a survivor.
If the answer to the above is "no", then you need to prepare to get a job that's as good or better, and right away.
Being technically prepared in either event should go without saying. But, fortunately for you the methods you use to prepare your people skills for either situation are pretty much the same.

36 Ways to Make yourself so valuable that they won't choose you for the next lay-off.
(Not 100% perfect answer, but pretty close).

1. Know more than you need to know just to do the job at hand. Be better prepared than anyone else around you.

2. Find ways to improve what is happening in your company and department. Don't just complain; find a problem, research it and develop and suggest improvements for the good of the whole business.

3. Get a copy of the book "The Art of Getting Your Own Sweet Way" and commit the whole book to memory. Use its tools for the rest of your life.

4. Read the Book "Love the Work You're With" with an open mind.

5. Jump in to big problem areas; turn big problems that were unprofitable into solutions that are profitable.

6. Go out of your way to listen to and to understand customer problems. Bend over backwards to solve them.
"Customers" are the people that you do your work for. They may be external customers, like someone buying groceries at the local food market, or they may be the next person on the assembly line who receives your output.

7. Visit with customers and field people, if possible. Then use your new insights to design and implement programs to solve their problems to their satisfaction.

8. Always strive to improve your own output:
There are 4 ways to increase your own output---
1. Work harder
2. Work longer
3. Work different
4. Work Smarter
I prefer working smarter. That way you can get a lot done, without necessarily working harder.
Never be late for work, never be the first to leave, always do the paperwork,
Always try to be productively busy. If you run out of work, go looking for more. After all, you ARE being paid to work your full shift, right?
On your way to ask for more work, look around for things that need being done and suggest some of them if appropriate.
If your ideas need a little testing first, test them yourself.

9. Develop better problem solving skills. Learn to solve problems in such a way that everyone involved feels good about the solution, even those in sister departments.
If you are involved in teams, take great pains to make the team members look good. Listen attentively when other team members speak. Always ask yourself this question: "Am I really listening or am I just 'waiting to talk'"?

10. "Return on Investment" is what all companies are after. They invest in you and they expect you to be a good deal for them. ---If you are a "better deal" than the next guy, YOU survive! One of your goals needs to be: Always look for ways to improve the profitability of the organization. Even if what you do isn't the most profitable at the moment, you should strive to keep it constantly improving.

11. Fill out a performance appraisal. If you don't know what this is, ask your boss for a blank one.
Do it as though you are in the boss's shoes. Be brutally honest with yourself.

12. Keep on Learning!!! Take advantage of any training that your company will support. Pay personally for any training that you need. You will be seen as a person who is interested in improving him or herself and you WILL learn more than you could with only "on-the-job" experience.
Besides, if you look for your own shortcoming, identify them and suggest how to improve BEFORE your boss has to tell you, you will be viewed as a dedicated worker.
Don't think that holding the same job for a long time means that you are viewed as being very good at it. There is an old saying in management circles: He doesn't have 25 years of experience at the job, he only has one year of experience, 25 times.

13. Getting a new boss:
When a new manager is appointed, the old manager and the new one often sit down to talk about the people under them.
Well, folks, this is the time when the new manager gets a quick summary of you, your current capabilities, your potential and maybe some comments that don't even make it into the written performance appraisal..
If there is anything that the old mgr didn't like about you, now is the time that it WILL get fed right to the new boss.
Moral of this story: Don't be thought of as a screw up if you want to hang around.

14. Become the "Expert": By this I mean really truly knowing more than anyone else does about a thing that is clearly important to the well being of the organization. ------Not just you thinking you are the expert.
This comes from hard work to find out what's important, who cares that it's important, then knowing enough or learning enough to actually become the expert.

15. Bring new expertise or knowledge of the world around you into the organization.
Join relevant trade associations, attend and participate in their meetings and bring back important information to help your organization improve its competitive position. After doing this for years, the management will feel very secure in that they can't be blind-sided because they know you are taking care of certain areas of the "horizon".

16. If appropriate, become a spokesperson for your department, division or for your company.
Not everyone likes this role nor is everyone good at it.

17. Take some courses in Interpersonal Skills.
If people seem to bug you a lot, Maybe it's not them!

18. All businesses have to make cost, sales, market and "manpower" forecasts. Do anything you can to help make these forecasts as accurate as possible.

19. Bosses sometimes have ideas, too. If you want to really flatter your boss, make positive comments about his or her good ideas. Offer to help develop them. And then do it.

20. Take risks now and then. That is, try something that is new to you, or try doing something in a new or different way.

21. We have all heard about the case where the employee comes up with a new idea and the boss takes credit for it.
I have always viewed that as a blessing, not a curse. Bosses like to feel good too. If my job is to make the boss look good, fine. HE knows where it came from.
I once had a boss who would immediately object to any new idea that I brought to him. But after a while, I realized that new ideas were hard for him to accept so he would have to think about them for a while before they would become comfortable to him. Originally, I'd take the new, freshly hatched idea to him and say something like "I have this new idea to XXX and I want you to approve YYY dollars for me to pursue it".
He'd immediately find something wrong with it and say "no".
Notice that I had set myself up for failure under these circumstances by:
1. Backing him into a corner- The only choices I gave him were to say yes (right at that moment) or to say no.
Saying "no" was always the less painful alternative for him.
2. I was taking new, rough ideas to him. That made it easy for him to criticize because I hadn't worked out all the possible scenarios for success or failure ahead of time. Nor did I have good data on the advantages of doing the thing---- the advantages from HIS point of view, not necessarily mine!!!
3. I had failed to realize that he was the kind of guy who couldn't take the half-baked idea route on faith.
Some managers can, some can not. That doesn't make them bad or good, it just makes them different and it is our job as employees to figure out how they think and how to handle the situation if WE want to succeed.

22. Don't ever argue with a boss when the boss has more to loose that you do. This situation occurs whenever there are others in the room! Since the boss has more stature to protect, he (or she) MUST win and that means YOU MUST LOOSE! When put into a situation like that, I would always "bite my lip". ---Or maybe say something like "Gee, I didn't' realize that and I will be sure to take that into account next time".

23. Take the time to learn all about the key people that you may have to deal with in your organization. Learn what really makes them tick. Some call it developing a dossier. Try to imagine yourself in their shoes, with all the needs and pressures that THEY have to deal with.
You need to do this so you can learn how to deal with them without shooting yourself in the foot. You must be able to see a situation accurately through THEIR eyes, not just yours, because THEY are the ones who have the money, the position power, the energy to get things done, the power to say good things about YOU, etc. to make a difference in your own business life.
After you have used this powerful tool for a while, you will start developing the all important credibility!!! Then, when the Key Person hears that YOU have an idea, they will become comfortable because they know that you understand how they think and that you will never miss any things that might be important to them.
----Of course you have to maintain that trust once you have it.
24. Admit your mistakes at once. You'll shock most people because most people take great pains to hide them from the very people who know most clearly who did it anyway. Also, develop a process for analyzing your own mistakes quickly. With this process in hand and well learned, use it to analyze your own errors honestly, accurately and quickly. Then, IMMEDIATELY and with appropriate remorse, "report yourself" to the proper authorities along with your analysis of the failure and your plan to keep that from ever happening again.
You may find this hard to believe, but in my own experience, people don't even remember my mistakes when I admit them promptly and, almost in the same breath, offer a solution so the thing won't happen again.
I've made plenty of mistakes in my career, so I know what I'm talking about.

25. Never go around with your hands in your pockets or looking like you are wandering around aimlessly, even if you are. This may sound a little crass, but I ALWAYS carried a clip board of paper (not blank paper either) or an obviously well used presentation folder, so it always looked as though I was analyzing something (I usually was). By the way, the top sheet on that clip board ALWAYS contained a current list of EVERY project or idea that I had in progress.
But note that 2 guys can be doing the same job mentally or physically- but one LOOKS like a laggard (for one reason or another) while the other looks to be on top of things. Which one do you want to be?
I'm not saying that you should try to get ahead by play-acting, but put yourself in the boss's position: He is constantly trying to figure out if he's getting his money's worth out of you or not. And one way to do this is to compare you with others, in any way that presents itself at any time.
I had a boss once who told me (often, and often in front of others) that I was the most organized guy he's ever met.
He meant it. I never felt I was that well organized. All my career I tried to find better and better ways to get organized. I would even put objectives into my own performance appraisal to that effect. The point here is that whatever it was I was doing for this boss, it made him feel comfortable, probably more comfortable with me than with his other people.

26. Say good things about others in crowds. This goes for peers, employees and bosses. The good things MUST be true and easily understandable. The setting must be appropriate. Saying a heart-felt good thing about a boss in front of other important people has untold value. On the other hand, if you have something bad to say about someone, keep it to yourself.

27. Know what your priorities are ALL the time; so well that you can tell anybody what they are if they ask.

Calendars and scheduling:
28. Take responsibility for your own calendar and scheduling.
I worked with a guy once who kept one meeting calendar with him while his secretary kept another. He missed a lot of meetings and ALWAYS blamed it on his secretary's failure to let him know about updates.
In truth, it was HIS failure to ask about them and adjust his calendar to match. Also, he failed to give his secretary workable instructions so she could do her meeting planning job properly. That way he could always blame her for what really amounted to a failure in mind reading.
No one else blamed his secretary; they knew who was screwing up on a regular basis!

Returning phone calls/emails, etc.
29. Always return messages promptly. Many people don't. Everyone knows who they are. If you are one of them, I can assure you that everyone around you knows you are one of them and talks about it behind your back. No matter what your own personal excuse is to yourself, you loose "points" with everyone around you for this inconsiderate act.
I always felt that when someone asked me for some information, they needed it to get their job done. So if I did answer them quickly, then the whole organization would be a little bit ahead for it.
Some people feel overworked and only return boss-type messages quickly. Mistake. It makes peers feel you are not a "team player". It makes subordinates feel even more so. They can torpedo you quicker than your boss. On the other hand, they ALWAYS know more ways to help you than you can ever know.!!!
Everyone feels that their own work is important. Anything you do that makes them feel less valuable will hurt you sooner or later.

30. Have some flexibility in your own allotment of work time. Make conscious decisions about how hard and or long you want to work at your job.
One answer may be: 180 hours a month.
Another one might say: 8 hours a day.
Yet another: 10 hours a day, 5 days a week and 4 hours on some Saturdays at home, Etc.
The point here is that you need to decide how hard and now long you are going to work NORMALLY.
Then, about Flexibility---- Everyone must, in my opinion, have some flexibility to give to the job when the going gets tough, and it sometimes does. This flexible add-on time can't go on forever, but I feel it must be there. If you don't have any flexibility that is obvious to your peers and to your boss, you will be viewed as an "8 to 5er" and not the kind of person that they want to have around in a pinch, or keep around after a lay-off.

31. If you are in a management capacity, don't stick yourself on a pedestal and stay there. Get your sleeves rolled up at appropriate times and be seen helping wherever you are needed.
Yes, your management job should be "amplifying" the effort of you organization, but ----

32. Work and lead by example:
Look organized and be organized.

33. Don't swear or tell dirty jokes
Firmly discourage those who do. At least let the events shrivel up from obvious neglect.

34. Get to work on time!!!!
A boss hires people to do work. When you accepted the job offer, you contracted to do so much work (or to be there working for so many hours) for so much money. When the people that the boss hired and therefore pays money to don't arrive when he expects them, he starts to worry. Other bosses who notice your empty seat worry too. HIS boss worries. They all think "He isn't even a good enough manager to get his people to work on time, let alone get the work done!". This worry costs you "points". Believe me.

35. Know what your boss REALLY thinks about you! Not all bosses know how to tell their employees when things aren't going right, but they all know how to fire you or to put you on the lay-off list.
No one was born a boss. Unfortunately, all too many bosses were promoted from the ranks of capable line employees, but employees who don't necessarily have a lot of management knowledge and skill or mind reading ability. To further complicate matters, when a person is promoted from the ranks, he often is put in charge of the people who used to be his peers.
So, maybe he still wants to be "buddies with the guys". So he doesn't tell Joe that Joe had better stop coming in late. You are Joe. You think you two are pals and that this new boss will look out for you, but:--- one day this new supervisor's boss notices that You aren't there and that things are falling behind. The new supervisor eventually has to fire Joe or loose face with his boss. You (Joe) say you never knew what hit you!
This still can happen at all levels in a company for many reasons.
The point: You can NOT depend upon YOUR boss to tell you that you are doing something wrong or on the verge of this or that before it's too late. "Too Late" is when he is forced to lay you off or fire you. But the boss KNOWS. It is YOUR job to be ahead of the game and KNOW what the boss REALLY is thinking about you. Even asking him or her may not get at the truth. You have to use your deductive reasoning powers to figure this out. If you don't figure it out, you are liable to the old "lay-off" whenever things get tight.
Example: (from previous comments)- You come in late a couple of times a week. Then you read this article. You think that you and the boss have a good relationship and that he doesn't mind that you are late now and then since you are such a good worker (he has never chewed you out very hard). So you go to the boss and ask if he has any problem with your occasional infraction of the rules. He sort of mumbles and says he guesses its okay even though some of the others around you complain that you are getting special treatment. You go away thinking that you are safe.
Wrong! Bosses talk to other bosses. Your peers talk to people in other departments, Times change. Your boss could quit, die or be promoted tomorrow. The old boss usually tells the new boss who to watch out for. The new boss may not go along with your tardiness. When the outfit does have to downsize, they look at who is the weakest. Assuming everyone in your department is at the same level when they ARE at work, which employee goes to the top of the lay-off list? Answer: the one who is DIFFERENT---- the one who comes in late! Here I have used tardiness as an example, but any manifestation of COMPARITIVELY poor performance is viewed the same way.

36. All bosses are not perfect. Bosses should never do things for personal or get-even reasons, but sometimes they do.
Sometimes they do things out of fear of the unknown, or fear that an employee will create problems for them.
Bosses remember things for a long, long time. Even though most progressive companies are supposed to throw away (from your personnel records) old entries of negative things about you, the bosses still have the memories.
So, when layoff decision time comes, they have to rank (formally or informally) each employee as to their value as a "keeper".

Summing it all up:

NO company has t-o-o-o-o many excellent employees. Which kind are you? You must know enough about the way that your management thinks to know how THEY feel about you. You MUST learn to look at yourself as others truly see you!!!

Most companies have to consider seniority, but if they really want to get rid of you they will think of a way to get around it and get to you.

I hope the forgoing helps you to understand the forces that drive the lay-off decision.
And, I hope you can see the many opportunities for personal success and for improved job security by taking heed of these forces.
These things are just as true today as they were 20 or 30 years ago.