Knowing a pink slip may be ahead allows you to prepare
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- More than 750,000 jobs have disappeared from the U.S. economy this year and workers face the prospect of plenty more layoffs to come as a continuing credit crunch and weak consumer demand hamper firms trying to maintain payrolls.
The good news is that workers can look for red flags for approaching layoffs, and knowing that a job loss is coming is a first step to getting back on your feet, experts say. Here are five omens that may signal your position is on the line.
1. Others are losing their jobs
Even if colleagues have been let go, workers are often surprised when it's their turn to get called into the boss's office. You are not immune. If others are losing their jobs you may too, even if your boss says different.
"It's dangerous to assume that management has a crystal ball about these things. Situations can change very rapidly," said Monica Parker, founder of LeavingTheLaw.com, which helps unhappy layers find new work. "I don't think that people are going out of their way to deceive others. It could be that they are lacking information, or circumstances change."
The bottom line is that you need to be aware of the possibility of a layoff.
"It doesn't help to close your eyes to the situation and hope that it won't be you," Parker said. "There's this sense that it's going to be someone else. But, in fact, it's you. It's a very tough thing."
Depending on a company's policies, workers at greatest risk of layoffs may be those who were most recently hired. Other targets are workers who aren't getting the job done.
"If management sees that you are not following through with your responsibilities, that's a big piece of it -- if they don't see potential in you to advance," Parker said.
2. Hiring freeze
Vanishing job postings on Internet sites can also send a layoff signal.
"You have the ability to hire, and all of a sudden your manager says 'wait,'" said Melissa Fireman, co-founder of Washington Career Services, a career management firm.
Workers should look at whether colleagues are taking on more or less work, and whether some are being asked or told to leave.
Manny Avramidis, senior vice president for global human resources at American Management Association, said the newly budgeted positions that never get filled are the first to go, then replacement spots that used to be posted and have disappeared, and then come the retirements that seem to be welcomed by management and are not filled.
Even as businesses trim around the edges, some departments are at lesser layoff risk, and there won't necessarily be cuts across the board, he added. Workers that contribute directly to revenue may be safer.
"For example, a telemarketer selling product usually stays around," Avramidis said. "If you start to see budget dollars going away, and the people who supported those dollars are going away, there is [cause for] concern."
Workers should remember that layoffs don't translate to losses for a firm's entire work force, he said.
"As long as a business doesn't go out of business, they'll have to retain staff. The leaders know that when they get through this recession, they'll need employees," Avramidis said.
3. Training budgets cut, projects slow down
Even large companies may cut training budgets, a red flag that financial concerns could lead to layoffs.
"They are not going to train because they are not sure if everyone is going to be there," Fireman said.
While there are certain critical initiatives or projects that need to go forward if a company wants to keep up production, workers should watch out when project spending slows, Avramidis said.
"From an employee's standpoint, anytime they see an organization cutting back on its spending and cutting back on activities, as well as staff or initiatives around them, they need to think through the details and figure out at what point does it reach my desk," Avramidis said.
4. Office gossip
Conventional wisdom calls for taking office gossip with a grain of salt. But sometimes it makes sense to listen to what your co-workers are saying and doing, Parker said.
"It's helpful to listen to gossip. It makes sense to notice what the talk is and to notice how people's responsibilities or jobs are being redefined," Parker said.
Fireman said workers should be careful about gossip, but that it does make sense to keep a "temperature reading" on your boss.
"If you do have a good relationship, ask how things are looking for the next quarter," Fireman said. "When I have heard from people who have a good relationship with their boss, the boss says to them it's a good time to start looking."
5. Company is missing targets
While some management may be less than forthcoming about missed targets for financial performance, workers can investigate a company's health by checking out the budget.
"That will tell them a story they want to know," Avramidis said. "[Companies] have a budget they are trying to achieve. An organization usually only has so much tolerance in how much they want to tap into reserves, like an individual tapping into a savings account."
A major sign of approaching layoffs is a business that isn't performing well. Especially at publicly traded companies, performance is critical, because firms that don't perform to an expected level, even during recessionary times, will be forced to cut back.
Tips for keeping your job:
* Make yourself irreplaceable. Be very clear about what you responsibilities are, and make sure you are meeting them. Pick up additional responsibilities. Make sure your supervisors and colleagues are aware of your capabilities.
* Continue to build your skills. Look for opportunities at your company and elsewhere.
* Don't seem paranoid or anxious. Keep working at your current output level, and try to focus on getting the job done.