My friend got laid off — from his dream job

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Well, that was a surprise.

My friend -- who only early this year took a position that he considered his dream job -- got laid off. Got called into his manager's office and, in what is becoming scripted for managers, was told his final day would be November 30th (I found out about the layoff recently).

The thing is, good people invest themselves in their work. We invest in it because we believe that not only will it help us through gaining new skills, new engagements, better things to put on the resume -- but also because good work gives us a sense of accomplishment. It gives us fulfillment. Stuff that keeps us moving forward in our journey.

Oh. And, by the way, it usually helps a company meet its business goals as well.

And companies WANT us to be invested in the work because almost every pundit out there will tell you employee engagement is critical to the success of the company.

Until it isn't.

Then management lays you off because their direction changed. Or management decided what you were working on wasn't a core competency. Or that the profitability wasn't high enough, so the work ends. 

Very self-centered, that company stuff. Not often much about "the employee is our most important asset" that gets touted in company literature. Not oriented to the employee engagement requirement because the company only needs your engagement when it wants it. 

The executives have their contracts and golden parachutes when the company moves on, but you're lucky if you get a severance leaving you with your family's financial security hanging in the balance.

But the kicker is our disillusionment of being invested in the plan, the goal, the work and then having it taken away. For good workers, this has a particularly bad impact on our egos and self worth. 

That's what happened to my friend. It doesn't matter your engagement along with your accomplishments -- or how to use that engagement and skills in some other capacity within the company. It's not about your investment; just the company's investment it no longer wants to make.

It's tough to recover from that disillusionment that comes from investing in yourself with your work only to discover how easily it all can slip away.

How a layoff changes your outlook

Have that threat of a layoff hanging over your head - or having been laid off -- and you start to treat things a bit differently with your career. Cubicle Warriors treat companies differently for this very reason. Here are some of the things Cubicle Warriors do...

Figure out how long a job will last

Here is truth: every job ends. It is just a matter of when.

There's an intersection that continually changes between how long you think a job will last and how long it will take for you to find your next position. In the current job environment, maybe not so long. In a recession...quite a bit longer.

But that intersection is always out there and you need to be aware of where that intersection happens. 

In my friends case, things were good as far as the eye could see. Then his manager changed. Then the strategy changed.

And then he was out the door.

Any time new upper level management changes, your manager changes, your company sells or buys something is time to re-evaluate how long you think your job will last. 

When that time hits the time it takes to find another job, you go find another job.

Watch what the company does, not just says

Every management announcement is heralded as something that will either help customers (not likely; more like more profit - which is fine, by the way) or make the company more efficient. That's what they say. What they do is often quite different.

I worked in a company that brought on a new CIO - experienced, well respected, heralded as a fine choice to improve IT's efficiency. Doing a little Google research revealed that in every company she worked at as a CIO, she outsourced a good chunk of the IT business. 

And our company had never outsourced anything. 

What do you think actually happened? Yeah. A lot of IT got outsourced. A lot of people got laid off in the name of efficiency.

Use your work to learn new job skills for your next employer

Here's a change in your orientation of your work: use your job to obtain the needed job skills for your next job. Now, that job could be at your current company if your company actually believes in the assets employees bring to the table. 

More likely, though, is to learn job skills and have accomplishments in your work that other hiring managers want to have to help them achieve their business goals. 

I once had an outstanding manager who said in order to be promoted, you needed to be doing the work in the promoted position -- no Peter Principle here; you already could do the work.

One of my readers asked me what they should do because they were doing the work of the promotion, but the company wouldn't give the title or the pay for the work.

My answer was simple: set an internal time for the company to recognize the work and do the promotion. If that didn't happen in that time frame, start applying for new positions -- the promotion position -- in other companies.

If you're doing the work, you have a perfect reason for leaving -- I'm doing the work of the promoted position, but management won't promote me. Your resume will show all the accomplishments you have doing the work of the promoted position so there is little risk in hiring you -- at a different company.

Have your company pay you to gain the skills another hiring manager will want to be on their team.

Hold back your engagement a tiny bit

All of these suggestions, you could argue, are all about you, the employee, and totally dismisses anything about the company. 

I would agree. Since I run this site, I'm probably a little more out there on the edge than most. After all, a company will lay you off in a New York minute if management thinks it will help them meet their business goals.

I’ve become highly cynical about Corporate America, for good reason. I look at corporate pronouncements with a detached, highly critical eye. I don’t buy into any direction the company provides, outside of what’s in it for me and recalculating my quarterly “how long will my job last” questionnaire.

It’s not team oriented at all, although I help my team. It’s highly selfish, even though I am not. My goal is to be highly employable, knowing job security doesn’t exist. You don’t get highly employable unless you are vigilant in how you handle your career and pay attention to what is happening at work. It has saved my bacon more than once.

Don’t know a way around that, though I wish I did. I wish I could believe what management tells me and I could invest freely in the work along with the company goals. But I can't. I've been burned way too many times wishing something different then the reality.

Keep some of that employee engagement stuff to yourself. Help yourself build job skills, watch what the company does, and consistently evaluate how long you think your job will last. 

Doing so will save your bacon too.

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