Anticipating a Layoff!

By Joe Stein

It seems like every day brings more news of an ailing economy. This may come from a turbulent stock market, high oil prices, and the simple skyrocketing cost of a gallon of milk. With all of this disturbing news comes additional stress for workers in WNY and across the nation. The stress that comes from worrying about the stability of your current employment.
 
“I never saw it coming” is something I can’t tell you how many times I have heard spoken by Job Seekers. What that they never saw coming was their loss of employment. But is that really true, do you really never see it coming? Perhaps, but maybe this is due to not being focused on the clues that were apparent. In that spirit, let’s take a look at some of the telling signs that a layoff may be upcoming. If you are currently employed, check this list with your current situation to determine your risk. If you are unemployed, use the vision of hindsight to determine whether in your past situation the signs were there regarding what occurred.
 
The reason that anticipating your layoff is so important is that it can provide you with a needed head start on your Job Search. This is especially true if you anticipate that your co-workers (who will be laid off with you) may be in competition with you for open positions. Every day that you give yourself a head-start of the layoff will be advantageous and (who knows) you may even find your next position before the layoff occurs. You may also use this warning time to consult with your financial advisor regarding selling company stock or changing your 401k portfolio.
 
Signs That You May Be At Risk:
 
·         Your Supervisor Becomes Invisible – I was talking to a person a couple of weeks ago whose husband had recently lost his job. She said they were kicking themselves because they should have seen it coming. His supervisor had been the classic micro-manager, checking in with her husband numerous times throughout the day. Well, in the weeks leading up to the layoff, he went silent, barely making any contact with her husband. They thought that was odd, but never connected it to an upcoming layoff. They lost valuable time on his job search. If your supervisor’s behavior suddenly changes, that may be a sign that he or she knows something that cannot be divulged.
 
·         Your Supervisor Becomes Suffocating – On the flip side, your supervisor (because of pressure to perform) may suddenly become overbearing, analyzing and questioning every decision.
 
·         Financial Policy Changes – If you are privy to the budgeting or accounting practices of the company, many clues may be provided from this area. If the company announces less favorable terms to vendors, that may be a sign of trouble. It may also be more overt than that, such as vendors calling for payment when you know that you submitted the invoice a long time ago. If restrictions are placed on expenses, such as travel, that can also be a troubling sign. All of these may be signs of current cash-flow issues for your organization.
 
·         Hiring Practices – A hiring freeze is the most overt sign of trouble on the staffing front. A hiring freeze is a way to reduce headcount by not replacing attrition. If it is not successful, then the next step would logically be a layoff.  It may also be more subtle, such as delaying the process to buy more time. Another example of concern is Management insisting that you only look at internal candidates even though you know that they are not qualified. The thought being that they may not want an external to give up his or her current job to join the troubled organization.
·         Presence of Visitors – If you are at a field site that rarely receives corporate visitors and suddenly you start having visitors, then that may be a warning sign. They may be on-site conducting an assessment of the building or market for continued use.
 
·         Changes to Benefit or Compensation Plans/Policies – If your % of medical goes up significantly compared to your employers contribution or your 401k match is reduced, consider yourself warned. If your annual review is delayed or your increase is much smaller than in past years, that can also be a troubling sign. The sign may be as subtle as a review that is more critical than in the past, perhaps lowering your review and reducing your increase. 
 
·         Resignations – Are others figuring it out before you and leaving the organization? If you are seeing significant turnover, especially amongst senior management, then consider yourself warned. They probably know something that you don’t.
 
·         Rumors – Generally speaking, where there are rumors there is usually some truth. If there are rumors that a layoff is impending, then take that as a sign of concern. Growing, healthy, thriving companies usually don’t have many lay off rumors. If you ask your leaders about these rumors and you get the proverbial “runaround”, then consider yourself warned.
 
·         Little Things Matter – Does your current employer have little benefits such as free coffee or a merchandise discount? You know, the things that employees can easily take for granted. Well, if they suddenly are discontinued, take that as a warning sign of concern.
 
·         Reduced Responsibilities – If you find your project list has shrunk considerably and funding is becoming more difficult to get approved, then consider yourself warned. If you normally attended certain meetings and received a particular assignment and no longer are given those responsibilities, then you may be at risk.
 
·         Customer Signs – If your employer has considerable resources tied up in a single customer, then follow that company closely. Is the contract due? How is that customer doing financially? 
 
·         Supplier Signs – Are product receivables not coming in? Is inventory at an all-time low? This may be a sign that management is either preparing themselves for weak demand or having problems with suppliers due to your company’s non-payment.
 
·         Industry Woes – Are you in an industry that will be hurt hard from the current economic issues? If you are in an industry that is exceptionally reliant on disposable income for non-essential items, you may be at risk. Stay in touch with the industry environment by not only following your company, but also the actions of your competitors. Examine any recent press releases, financial reports, and start trending the stock prices of relevant companies.
 
In a difficult employment situation, sometimes people will ignore the warning clues in order to obtain some temporary peace of mind. A savvy Job Seeker will want to get a head-start and will constantly be evaluating the viability of their current employer. Review the signs above and determine how many of these clues apply to you.
 
As always, I wish you the best of luck in your job search.
 
The following has been prepared for the general information of wnyjobs.com website visitors. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.
 
Joseph Stein
WNY HR Professional