Strategies to protect your job


Published: January 27, 2009

Strategies to protect your job (while all around you people are losing theirs)

This is not the time to be high maintenance at work.

That's one piece of advice from national career experts on how to keep your job as the recession takes a sledgehammer to the job market.

U.S. companies announced layoffs - estimates ranged from about 40,000 to 70,000 on Monday, including blue-chip companies Caterpillar, Pfizer, Home Depot and Sprint Nextel.

Arizona's unemployment rate jumped to 6.9 percent last month compared with 4.2 percent in December 2007. Some economists believe the state won't start to see a jobs recovery until 2012.

Amid the dire news, job counselors advise you to take charge of your personal situation as much as you are able.

"It's possible to keep your job," said New York author Stephen Viscusi, author of Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out on Top at Work.

"You have to get into a bulletproof mindset; this very specific mindset that happens only during a recession."

That's particularly true for young workers who did not experience the job market of the 2001 recession and even for those who weren't working during 1990-91 recession.

No one is safe, even those with great performance evaluations and important titles. When given orders to cut staff, many managers consider subjective factors such as attitude and ability to teamwork.

It is cut-throat. It may be arbitrary. But devising a strategy gives workers a chance to hang onto jobs.

"Doing something is always better than doing nothing if you're worried about a layoff," said Julie Rojahn, a regional vice president who oversees Arizona operations for staffing firm Robert Half International.

Here are a few suggestions from experts:

 Get a sense of where you stand. Viscusi suggests that workers meet one-on-one with the boss for five minutes. Ask him or her: "I know there are no guarantees, but where do I stand if we have layoffs here?"

The boss could reply: "I'm just as nervous and you and I don't really know anything" or "Your performance hasn't really been up to par and I'm concerned about you."

Such a meeting will establish a baseline of where you stand. But keep it short.

Thank the boss for his or her time and add something like, "I really like my job and want to keep it" and slip in a way to humanize yourself. Maybe you're putting a child through college. Maybe you're caring for a sick parent.

"Even the meanest boss hates to fire anybody, but it's very easy to fire somebody you don't know," Viscusi said. "But it's harder to fire somebody you know something about."

• But don't brown-nose. Bosses usually can sense disingenuous underlings.

• Find your champion. Who are the people who support you and have influence on your ability to stay with a company? Do you stand out to them?

• Be optimistic. "If you're pessimistic or negative or gossiping . . . you're going to probably shoot yourself in the foot," said Dr. Maynard Brusman, a San Francisco-based consulting psychologist and executive coach. "It's all about appreciating what is working. It's very critical what you tell yourself."

 Get in early, stay late. This tactic doesn't have to add extra hours to your workday. Get in five minutes before the boss and leave five minutes after, making sure his or her car has left the parking lot.

"You always look like you're on the job," Viscusi said.

• Cut down or stop telecommuting. If possible, spend as much time in the office to ensure that the higher-ups see for themselves how hard you're working.

• Take on extra projects. "Even if the worst happens and you do get laid off, your colleagues and manager will have a really good impression of you," Rojahn said. "They can speak on your behalf if you need references."

 Clean up your social networking. This is really not the moment to have Facebook pictures of your college keg stand. Don't give your boss or human resources a reason to doubt your professionalism.

• Don't freak out. It'll "cause your productivity to suffer," Rojahn said. "You really want to show your worth and let your supervisors know you're indispensable to your firm."

While unwelcome, recessions are a normal cycle of business. The economy will bounce back.

• Don't wait for the shoe to drop. Start reconnecting with friends and former co-workers, make new connections at networking events, update your resume and post it online confidentially.

If all else fails and you are let go, realize that everything happens for a reason.

Brusman has counseled clients who've been laid off and who are forced to consider their career options for the first time in years. They are suddenly liberated to pursue their dreams.

"Sometimes it turns out to be better in the long run," he said. "You always have other options."