There’s nothing like the rumor of layoffs to turn a pleasant office into a Lord of the Flies-like battleground. Suddenly, everyone’s on edge, the office gossip mill is working overtime, and normally friendly co-workers start looking for ways to make themselves look good—even at the cost of making someone else look bad.
Times may be tough, but there’s no need to panic. By knowing how to prepare yourself and make the most of your work relationships, you can increase your chances of staying on the team—or, at the very least, make the transition to a new job as painless as possible.
Step 1: Be Prepared
First, prepare yourself for a potential worst-case scenario. No, we’re not advising you to start hoarding office supplies and move back into your parents’ house. But you should think about what you would do if the company were to let you go and position yourself to be able to bounce back as fast as possible. Just knowing that you’re ready for whatever comes your way will help you sleep better at night.
Part of this means making sure you are professionally up to date. Remember that LinkedIn profile you haven’t checked in two years? Well, now is a good time to update it, along with all your other social networks. If you do lose your job, it’ll be to your advantage to already be connected to friends and associates who can help point you toward a new position.
You should also take a look at your skills and figure out what you need to do to make yourself competitive in today’s workplace. It could be as simple as transitioning from a paper resume to an online portfolio, brushing up on your communication skills, or taking an online class or two in your field to ensure you’re up-to-date on all the latest advances.
Preparing yourself for the worst also means reigning in your finances. Until your job future is more stable, it’s a good idea to cut back on unessential spending and put off big purchases. Being responsible with your income will give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that, if worse comes to worst, you’re not going to have to cash in your 401(k) to pay your credit card bills.
Step 2: Stay Above the Fray
When layoffs are on the horizon, office relationships can get ugly faster than you can say “unemployment line.” Your co-workers’ stress levels will be at an all-time high, and it’s inevitable that people will start to speculate about who will make the cut and who will (or should) be the first to go.
Although it might seem tempting to blow off a little steam with an office gossip session, try to stay away from negative or malicious conversations. Discussing the upcoming cuts will only ramp up your own anxiety levels, and alienating co-workers is not in your best interest—now or ever. Think of it this way: the co-worker you’re talking smack about today might be the person you’ll need to ask for a job reference tomorrow.
It can also be tempting to constantly check in with your boss about the status of the layoff process. Don’t. Your boss may not have heard, or he may have been asked to keep the information confidential, and pestering him will only make the process worse for everybody.
In the end, joining in gossip sessions or fretting about impending doom will only distract you from your number one priority—your job.
Step 3: Earn Your Keep (And Let Your Boss Know About It)
If there’s ever a time to put your nose to the grindstone and prove that you’re worth your salary, this is it. The best thing you can do to alleviate stress around the office—and make sure they want to keep you around—is to ensure everything keeps running smoothly. Make sure your work is thorough and completed on time, and then take the initiative to pick up extra tasks (especially ones that make your boss’ life easier).
And while you’re bringing your A-game, you’ll want to make sure that all this hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. If you and your boss meet on a regular basis, make sure to mention anything new you’ve taken on. You can even offer to provide your boss with an outline of projects you’ve accomplished or money you’ve brought into the company, in case he needs to justify your salary and position to your company’s higher-ups. I know, you might be reluctant to toot your own horn—but often the best way to keep a job is to prove that the company profits by keeping you around.
When companies are deciding which employees to keep and which to let go, a lot of factors come into play. You can’t control them all, but you can prepare yourself and use your work relationships to your advantage. With some hard work (and a little luck), you can keep both your job and your sanity during layoff season.
Photo courtesy of Richard Moross.