By Elizabeth Brokamp
The possibility of layoffs is very real for a lot of households this year, with some sources estimating that unemployment could reach 10% this year. The sooner you start showing your boss that you're indispensable, the better chance you have of hanging on to your job if tough times hit your place of employment.
Here are some of the things that smart employees do to keep themselves relevant on the job:
* Act as if your job is always on the line, even if you're still on the company payroll. Strive to make yourself more valuable -- not just to your current employer, but to any potential employers you'll need to win over in the future.
* Imagine yourself interviewing for a new position. Can you point to specific ways in which you've improved your skills and grown on the job? If so, keep up the good work.
* Document your own accomplishments. Update your resume regularly to reflect your ever-increasing skills on the job -- you can use this during your performance review and salary negotiations now, or for finding other employment quickly, should the worst happen.
If, however, you've been coasting in your current position, it's time to take some initiative. Try these surefire ways to increase your value as an employee:
* Work while you're at work. According to a Gallup poll, most of us spend an average of 75 minutes a day using our office computers for activities other than work. Online shopping, online gaming, and personal email are just a few of the ways we waste our employer's time, to the tune of a more than $6,000 loss in productivity per employee per year. Do yourself (and your boss) a favor, and keep the other activities to a minimum.
* Hit the books. Take continuing-education credits at your local community college, enhance your computer skills with an advanced course relevant to your work, or look for weekend workshops that target a developing skill related to your job. Your employer may even have a program to help defray the costs. Take advantage of these paid continuing-education opportunities; ironically, it might be your old employer who writes your ticket (via updated job skills) to a fabulous new job.
* Be visible. Perception can be everything. You can be a productive, highly skilled employee, but if you continually skip companywide events or staff meetings, others may perceive you as slacking off. Make sure you attend functions where your presence will indicate commitment, arrive at meetings on time, and volunteer for tasks that will raise your profile in the larger organization.
* Look like you care. "Dress for success" means different things across different work cultures, of course, but there are always limits. Your work may not require that you wear a suit every day, but regardless, make an effort to look well-groomed, up-to-date, and ready to assume your supervisor's job.
* Communicate your ambition. Ask your supervisor what you need to do to progress in the company. Overtly expressing your ambition is the first step in setting high expectations; be ready to spring into action after that. Your supervisor may hand you extra challenges and responsibilities; these are your opportunities to differentiate yourself from the pack.
Even if you are never faced with a layoff, acting "as if" can enhance your value as an employee. Who knows? It might even win you a promotion.
This article was originally published in August 2007. It has been updated.
Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.