Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 9, Issue 6;   February 11, 2009:

How to Avoid a Layoff: Your Situation

by

These are troubled economic times. Layoffs are becoming increasingly common. Here are some tips for positioning yourself in the organization to reduce the chances that you will be laid off.
A collared lizard

A collared lizard in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. Most lizards can drop their tails as a defensive maneuver. If a predator has grabbed the tail, the advantage of shedding it is clear. But tail-shedding usually results in distraction of the predator, which can be advantageous even when the predator hasn't grabbed the tail. Shedding a tail is an expensive maneuver, and can result in lower social status and competitive disadvantages. Perhaps these phenomena explain why collared lizards so rarely shed their tails.

Troubled corporations sometimes engage in analogous behavior, selling off parts of themselves to raise cash. Usually we think of these maneuvers as signs of trouble, but selling a business to a competitor can do more than raise cash: it can distract the acquiring competitor as well, providing the seller with the time it might need to reconfigure itself to compete more effectively. This is yet another reason why positioning yourself in the most central parts of your company can be so advantageous. Photo by Marge Post, courtesy U.S. National Park Service.

These are unusual times — few of us have ever seen anything like this. You have a job now, but you're concerned about possible layoffs, and you want to reduce the chances of being laid off. Many career strategies of long standing no longer apply. For instance, a job with room for advancement might have been attractive a year ago, but a very secure job might be more attractive now.

To keep your job, when many others are losing theirs, recognize first that you aren't the only one thinking this way. Many of your colleagues are hitting Google looking for "how to avoid a layoff". Many are already applying what they've learned.

We've already examined tactics for stabilizing your own frame of mind and strengthening your relationships. Here are some tips for enhancing your relationship to the organization.

Be irreplaceable
Normally, being irreplaceable is undesirable, because it reduces the chances of promotion. These aren't normal times. Hang on to assignments that put you in positions the organization cares most about. Strategic importance is less critical than tactical importance.
Work in the most important business unit
If things get really bad, entire units — divisions, product lines, locations, subsidiaries — will be sold or closed. Being an irreplaceable part of one of those units won't matter.
Work in a stable line of business
Some companies serve multiple markets. The more stable the market, the safer you are. For instance, in advertising, serving the automotive market is riskier than serving health care.
Skill up
Acquire any skills, knowledge, or experience that would enable you to take on some of the responsibilities of a co-worker. If you already have such skills, make certain that the right people know. These skills will enable you to take on the duties of that co-worker after the layoff. Not having them makes you more eligible for layoff than someone else who has both those skills and yours.
Tactfully decline re-assignment
Unless a re-assignment puts you in a more secure position, you'll be the newbie when you get there. Newbies are more vulnerable to layoffs.
Hang on to assignments
that put you in positions
the organization cares
most about
Be alert to high-level personnel changes
Any change in personnel in your upward report chain could be significant for you. When you hear of a change or potential change, learn why it might be happening and what the consequences might be. Prepare yourself.
Set Google alerts on your company and your report chain
Google alerts can provide information about conditions and rumors long before any concrete events, by automatically sending you email when Google finds a hit that matches a search string you define. You can specialize to news. By setting alerts for your organization name and the names of people in your report chain, you can be tuned in to changes that might affect your position.

There are no guarantees — layoffs might eventually affect you. What to do then? A topic for another time. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Four Popular Ways to Mismanage Layoffs: I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
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