As a career coach, I often work with people when they’re dealing with an expected job loss. They’ve either been terminated for cause, laid off, or asked to resign. In any case, it’s never an easy situation.
Most people tell me they were blindsided—they had no idea! Yet, after some time spent reflecting, almost everyone realizes there were signs along the way, and they simply missed them or ignored them.
At the time of this writing, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is certain. At this point, we should all be prepared for anything—literally anything—to happen.
But really, this is true even in “normal” times. Too often, we get lulled into a feeling of security at work. When that happens, we miss important signs that things might not be as stable as we think they are. We have to keep an ever-watchful eye on our surroundings, and recognize when danger may be on the horizon.
In the spirit of being proactive, I wanted to share a few of the commons signs to take note of. The following is a list of things that suggest your job might be in danger. Don’t let this scare you though! My goal is to simply increase your awareness, so you can take some important steps now to make life easier in the future—no matter what happens.
Regardless of your circumstances, I recommend that everyone should be prepared for an unexpected job loss at any time. You just never know what might happen. That means, have your resume up-to-date and ready to go at all times; make sure your LinkedIn profile is robust; and be an active, generous networker even when you’re not job searching.
If you read the items on this list and having a sneaking suspicion that your job is not as secure as you once thought, it’s time to kick things into high-gear. Don’t wait for circumstances to force you into action.
Business is Slower than Normal for Longer than Normal
Look, this is an unusual time. Many organizations have been profoundly impacted. Some are experiencing unprecedented growth and demand! Others are struggling to make ends meet. Most organizations are used to the normal ebbs and flows of business. They can weather a slow-down for a bit. But at a certain point, something has to give.
If your organization has lost key accounts or clients, experienced multiple months of dramatically reduced revenues or increased costs, or had a major delay in their ability to deliver products or services, trouble may be brewing. Even if YOU are still busy, the company still needs money to pay you. Don’t get so focused on your own work that you forget the bigger picture.
That being said, in slow times when resources are scarce, employees who are contributing greater value are much more likely to be kept. Make sure that the cost of employing you is a no-brainer when compared to the value you’re delivering.
You’re on a Performance Improvement Plan
If your performance is struggling, your job is in danger—even if your organization is thriving. To be clear, I’m not saying you’re destined to lose your job. Just because you’re on some kind of a Performance Improvement Plan (whether formal or informal) doesn’t mean you can’t improve. I’ve seen many people overcome performance issues by taking the right steps.
But you should see it for what it is: a dire warning. You were hired to do a job. If you’re not meeting expectations, that job may not be yours for long. This is especially true in difficult times. Employees who are not already peak performers are almost always the first to be let go.
In some cases, turbulent situations (like, say, a global pandemic) are convenient excuses for organizations to “clean house.” Even if it’s not financially required, they take it as a welcome opportunity to set poor performers free.
Downsizing has Already Started
If other areas of your organization are downsizing, your job may also be on the line. Even if your department is thriving, it can still happen. When cuts need to be made, leaders often want to share the burden, instead of forcing a small handful of groups to suffer disproportionately. Don’t convince yourself that you (or your team) are untouchable.
In fact, many organizations conduct “rolling” layoffs as a way of distributing the disruption. Instead of letting a large chunk of the workforce go all at once, they let smaller groups go incrementally over a longer period of time. It’s horrible for morale—and it really ups the ante on the fear factor for those who remain—but it’s a common practice.
Again, DON’T FREAK OUT.
As you’re reading this, I know your anxiety is rising. Breathe deep.
In. Out. In. Out.
Okay? You’re fine. And no matter what happens, YOU WILL BE FINE.
I believe in confronting reality, even when it’s hard. Now that you’re seeing the possible danger, the most important question is this: What are you going to do about it?
Don’t just sit around worrying. Make your plan. Get prepared. Start dipping your toe in the job search waters. You don’t need to jump in head first at this point. But if you start now, it will be a much less stressful and overwhelming process if/when something happens.
Lastly, you should know that (at the time of this writing) all states in the US are “at-will” employment states, which means that employees and employers can part ways at any time, for any (legal) reason, without notice, and the decision can be made by either side. (NOTE: I am not am employment attorney and there are some exceptions to this law, so do your own research.)
My point is this: You never know when your job may be disrupted. It could be for any reason or for no reason. Much of the time, there are clear signs of danger you can see if you’re looking. But not always. So, even if none of these things are happening, it’s still always a good idea to be prepared for ANYTHING.