As an immigrant living and working in the United States for the past 6 (almost 7) years, I am getting familiar with a marketplace that I knew only from reading whatever was communicated internationally through the news: unemployment rates, large corporations opening thousands of positions etc. Living here, though, I am learning first-hand what it means in one’s life to be an employee, an employer, and an entrepreneur, all because I either am or have been in that position a few times during these past years. Most recently, I learned what it means to be laid off as well: my 4-year employment was terminated last August, and my husband, who had never experienced that over 20+ years of experience working in Brazil and Argentina, has gone through it twice in a 3-year period since living in the US.
Coincidently, this article from the Ladders hit my inbox this week, and I decided to take a look at their tips on how to recognize that you are about to be laid off. Have my husband or I missed any signs? Well, I had known that my layoff was coming for a long time because my company was being restructured, but his came somewhat out of the blue. So, how does our experience stand to these tips?
You are not that busy: I can only partially relate to this one because while I was not that busy, he was constantly working on getting new businesses from other companies. However, business development takes time, so results were not substantial. So, yes, this one is partially true in our experience. Yet, we have to remember that any line of business has peak times and times where things are not happening as much. For example, usually, the time around the holidays is very slow. Also, when you work for tech companies, the times around the version releases are the busiest, while others may be more manageable.
You are given loads of days off: neither of us had that, so this one is questionable to me. For example, in Brazil it is very common for car manufacturers to give their employees weeks at a time of days off without that meaning they will be let go. Instead, it is actually a resource to prevent layoffs – they do that when production is slow for some reason (governmental barriers, imports not happening etc.) and they need to reduce costs.
Your manager is reducing your involvement in matters that you used to require your participation before: I didn’t have that experience either. I was involved in everything that mattered until the very last moment, which shows loads of respect from my managers for me as professional. And I am very thankful for that.
Your company is downsizing: well, this one is kind of obvious. If your company is downsizing, no one is safe. It is a matter of knowing how much the company needs you and how polyvalent you are. For example, every time that I, as a manager, had to downsize my department, I always considered two things: the person’s competence at their position, and their additional skills. Could they be useful in performing other tasks in the department? Not only that, I’ve also considered their skills in general. My thinking was: if I keep this person now and next quarter I have to downsize again, can I move him/her to another department based on their skill set, instead of letting them go?
You find postings online of your company hiring for your job position: this is a tricky one. Yes, if yours is a very specific position (say IT manager), your company is not present in different locations around the globe, and it has only one IT manager (you!), yes, it may be time to talk to your manager or HR about your performance so far, the company’s needs and where it is heading. Otherwise, you may be worrying for no reason.
Other individuals start becoming overly involved in your department or with your responsibilities: I can see how this could feel like a red flag, but it doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything. Some people just overstep their responsibilities and need boundaries, which may require the involvement of your manager. Now, if you bring the issue to your manager and they don’t react immediately to endorse your authority over your department or job responsibilities, it may be time to ask for a one-on-one.
Being on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP): This is certainly not a good sign. However, don’t lose sight of the fact that sometimes a PIP is a resource used by managers to try to improve the performance of someone whom the company can’t let go because he/she is not easy to replace! In this case, the PIP is more a resource to try to coach you back to your former performance level than a step towards letting you go.
The truth is that these are just general flags that may require your attention, but if you are attuned to your company and job responsibilities, it is very unlikely that you will miss an upcoming layoff completely. My husband, for example, just knew in his gut that he was going to be laid off every time those fateful “one-on-one” meetings were put on his calendar, no matter how often or recurring they were for him. It may be that he is just an intuitive person, but I believe it goes beyond that. I think that we have an internal alarm clock that goes off when things are going off rail.
What if you are really on that dreadful list?
Now, what can we do if that is the case? Well, it is not an easy situation to be in, for sure, for many reasons. First, even if it is happening and you address it with your manager when you have that internal intuition, they may have to deny it until the actual notification date. The same goes for HR: these decisions are kept confidential for legal reasons until the very last minute and, it doesn’t matter how much the company cares for you, they may not be able to share the information before given the green light. You may try to step up your game when you feel that something is wrong, but the effectiveness of this resource is limited to when you realize that: if it is after the layoff decision is made, it may be too late. But most important is the reason for letting you go. For instance, if they are letting you go because they are downsizing, it doesn’t matter what you do, you may still be on the list. But if the reason is performance, then you may have a fair chance of reverting the score.
Finally, one thing that will never fail is networking. Inside the company and outside. Move around, make connections with other employees and managers, across departments. Ask questions, make yourself known before you are notified, and after. If you are not being let go because of performance, most companies will offer some notice before termination, and they won’t oppose you looking for positions across the company during that period. Don’t waste that opportunity. But, most of all, be proactive in building relationships during your employment period. There is never such thing as “knowing too many people”. Everyone we know is a connection who can help us get to someone that may be able to help us somehow. Invest in building relationships through making yourself useful, because that is what you will take with you, no matter where you are working.