When the job market falls apart…

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Sep 10

With unemployment over 6% in the United States (some 8% if you use the criteria from the 1980’s) and some industries really taking it on the chin, Cubicle Warriors necessarily feel uneasy about their positions. It make sense.

But worrying about your position doesn’t do you much good. What follows are eight killer steps to take when it looks like your job world is going to fall apart.

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” Richard Kipling

Let’s be frank: it’s a tough market out there for knowledge workers. If you consider the economy – all over the planet, not just in the US – plus the move to outsource  jobs to cut costs, you have good reason to worry. But, really, worrying won’t do you any good; in fact, worrying could simply add more stress to your situation.

Much better to take action. Here are eight practical tips to do when the world is falling apart around you.

Focus on the tasks to be done

The most important way you can help keep your job is to continue to actually do the job. Most people, when under stress, stop doing the work. They freeze. Consequently, their productivity goes down. They stop having accomplishments.

And that exactly fits the profile of someone a manager would not want to keep in trying times.

And think about it: even if you are eventually let go, the most important resume theme is continued accomplishments in hard times. Doing the tasks gets the accomplishments.

Have consistent manager meetings on your performance

Your manager can be your friend, a neutral influence, or your enemy. But in tough times, you need to know where you stand with the person who has the most direct influence on your current job.

These meetings should evaluate your work on current projects, what work is coming up that you can be involved in, and ways that you can continue to improve your work.

Two things will happen from these meetings outside of getting a view of your work. First, by consistently meeting with your manager, you may inadvertently get information about other things happening in the company. And not repeating them to your coworkers will most likely get you more information.

Second, you can see changes over time from the meetings. If a month ago there was plenty of work to be done and now there isn’t, that should be ringing loud bells about the viability of you and your team with the company. If more work is coming, that means your chance of staying are higher. Look for the changes in the substance of the meeting. You don’t need to ask much or anything that is out of bounds. Just ask about your work, how you can improve, and what the next thing is for you to be working.

By the way, never ask if there will be more layoffs. You will either get a non-answer (“nothing at this time”) or a direct answer (“yes, but we don’t know who or when”). Neither is useful in determining YOUR status and your status is the only thing you should be concerned about.

Listen to the rumors, but don’t contribute

In trying times, rumors will fly. It is human nature. Depending on the organization you are in, rumors will be accurate and others will be speculation. Very few will be factual.

What is a fact is that if the rumors of impending anything are going on, it means there is enough worry out there that something will happen. Just not what and not when.

It is important to evaluate the tone and depth of the rumors you hear. What I mean by this is there is a difference in a rumor about a company being bought and a company that is planning layoffs. A company being bought brings on a different set of challenges in keeping your job compared to a company planning layoffs.

The consistency of hearing the same rumor also tells you how solid the rumor is to fact. Consistency will probably the “what” will happen will actually happen, but not the “when.”

Rumors won’t change what will happen to you in the end. But they are useful in knowing the direction to take your career and also deciding whether to stay with your company or to go.

Follow news on your company from a “Wall Street” source

I suppose it is the management’s necessity to put the most positive spin on the current troubles associated with the company.

But their spin is NOT in your best interest. Only news about your company outside of your management makes a difference when compared to the spin your management is saying.

If you work for a publicly traded company, go to Yahoo Finance and track your company news by inputting the company’s stock symbol. Press releases don’t count.

When I plugged in my last company, Washington Mutual (WM), I was greeted with consistent news stories that were never mentioned in management briefings or were quite contradictory to what was being said by management.

If all you do is listen to management, you jeopardize your career by drinking the Kool-Aid.

Maintain your network

One of the worst pieces of advice out there is to “be visible” by “eating lunch at your desk” or “work more hours.”

Never taking breaks adds to your stress and makes you less effective in your work. But, worse, it takes you away from your network of friends and coworkers – the very people you need to stay in touch with in order to find the next job.

Instead, go to lunch with people every day. It is more critical for you to maintain your network and know what is available for you in tough times.

Document your accomplishments

If there really is nothing to do, the worst advice ever is given all the time: “look busy.” Phooey.

If there is nothing you can be doing for the company because there is nothing to do, that tells you that your department’s world is adrift. And that’s no place to be in tough times.

If there is nothing to do, then document your accomplishments. Do so while you still have access to the reports that can help you measure your accomplishments. While you still have status reports you can comb looking for the accomplishments you no longer remember. And list out what new skills you have learned in this position.

Documenting your accomplishments while you are still in a position is infinitely easier than trying to remember them when you no longer have access to company systems.

Save Money

This is hard to do. I understand that. But save it any way you can. Unless you have a year’s worth of take-home pay in the bank (perhaps less if you are assured of some pay from severance), you will have a difficult time maintaining a sense of control about your work.

In other words, without savings in the bank, the possibility of being laid off is much more stressful – and worrisome – than if you have the savings in the bank.

In the global economy, having little debt and lots of savings is a critical component to being a Cubicle Warrior.

Decide to stay or leave every day

In the real world, laid off or not, it takes time to find a new position. I like to think that it takes a minimum of six months to find a new position, employed or not.

It is very easy – humans are incredibly adaptable – to simply stay in a position long after that position has already been deemed worthless by management. Yet, your challenge is to look out in the future six months and say, “based on what I know today, will this position still be viable in six months.”

If your answer is no, you need to be looking for another job. If the answer is maybe, you need to have criteria that you evaluate that will help you decide yes or no. If X criteria is met, it is time to go. If not, it is OK to stay.

But, you need to do this every day. And once you decide to go on one day, that’s the decision. Because if your job is such that in six months you don’t think it will exist any more, you’re probably right. There is no going back once you say it is time to go. You lose the mental edge to stay – even if you stay – so you are better off to find another job.

Keep these strategies in mind as you work. They will help you do the hard-headed work on protecting your job and career in tough times.