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Six Ways to Know if Your Job is in Jeopardy – and What to Do About It

by Kevin Mercadante

Even though the job market is improving, job losses are still more common than what they traditionally have been. If you are about to lose your job, there will probably be unmistakable signs your job is in danger weeks or even months in advance. What are the signs? And more important, what can you do about them? Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities, and some of the actions you can take.

Your employer has been acquired

Signs your job is in danger

Things aren’t looking too positive right now.

Though a marriage between two companies is usually referred to as a “merger,” it’s almost always a union of two unequal entities. One company is the acquirer, and the other is the acquired. This is usually true regardless of the words used to describe it.

If you are employed by the company being acquired, your position in the organization will become weaker overnight. When one company acquires another they seldom do so to gain control of their employees. It’s almost always because they’re trying to gain either market share or specific assets (the rare exception is the aquihire phenomenon popular in silicon valley).

You may retain your job for several months following a merger, and it may even create a certain level of complacency. But it will be almost certain that your job will be in jeopardy in the not to distant future.

Your employer undertakes extreme cost cutting

The degree to which this takes place will be a good indication of how much time you have left on your job. If cost cutting is on the fringes, like eliminating the holiday party, reducing bonuses, curtailing certain employee benefits or even eliminating the coffee service, they may be in the early stages of an attempt to improve profitability. If this is the case, you’ll probably have several months before you’re facing the threat of a job loss.

If on the other hand, your employer is eliminating employees, or making substantial cuts in employee benefits, your tenure will probably be a lot shorter. There’s often a temptation to believe that if you are spared in a round of cuts, that your job is safe. But if the employer’s financial situation doesn’t turn around shortly after the layoffs, more are probably on the way. It may be only a matter of weeks before your number comes up.

You get a sense that you’re being excluded

Many times a looming job loss has nothing to do with your employer’s financial situation – it’s aimed at you specifically. If that’s the case, the signs may not be so easy to recognize.

One strong clue however is if you begin to develop a sense that you’re being excluded from what’s going on in your department. All departments require a certain amount of interaction between employees in order for work to flow smoothly. If you start to notice that you’re not getting certain memos and emails, that you aren’t being included in various meetings, or that your input is no longer being requested, you’re probably a short timer on your job.

Your performance is being questioned

Another strong sign is when the quality of your work is being questioned on repeated occasions. Employers often build a case against an employee before terminating them. If your employer is suddenly finding fault with a lot of your work, this is a real possibility.

Your level of responsibility decreases

Perhaps the single strongest indication of an impending job loss is when an important responsibility, or a series of smaller ones, are taken away from you. This is particularly true if one or more responsibilities is considered critical for the job you were hired for. Your employer may be test running the future without you, before actually letting you go.

A bad review

If you have a history of positive job reviews but suddenly get smacked with a bad one, this may be another attempt to build a case against you. Sometimes a bad review is a legitimate indication that your job performance is declining. But other times it could be that your employer is building legal cover to protect themselves from a wrongful discharge suit. Documenting the decline in your performance is one way to provide such protection.

Fight or flight – what to do about it

The occurrence of any one of these events doesn’t necessarily signal that your job is on the line. However, a combination of two or more raises the stakes substantially. If that’s the case, you have two choices – fight or flight.

By “fight,” I mean fight for your job. Just because there are warning signs doesn’t mean that the loss of your job is a done deal. You can work to keep your job and there are various ways to do this:

  1. Have a meeting with your boss to discuss your concerns. If your suspicions are confirmed, ask your boss what you can do to change the situation. If the question makes him nervous, it’s time to get your resume together.
  2. Start improving your job performance. You might be able to take on additional jobs around the office, preferably the ones that no one else wants. Or you might want to focus on becoming the “go to person” in an important capacity in your department. This may cause your employer and your coworkers to see you in a different light.
  3. Get closer to your coworkers than you’ve ever been. Sometimes keeping your job is really something of a popularity contest. The more people in your department who think well of you, the less likely you will be to get the ax.
  4. Ask for a transfer into another department. Being fired is often a political outcome. If the people in positions of authority in your department are not particularly fond of you, your best chance for a staying with your company may be in another department..

You can also choose “flight,” as in fleeing to a new job. If the evidence pointing toward the loss of your job is overwhelming, it may be more constructive for you to concentrate on making your next move. Don’t get bitter or angry, but rather view the lead time that you have as a welcome opportunity to begin your job search while you still have a paycheck.

You’ll need references for your job search, so whether it’s a few months or just a few weeks before you‘re let go, use the time to build a better relationship with your boss and your coworkers. Having some people from the job who will speak well of you can be especially important if the official reason for your termination is less than positive.

And keep working to improve your performance on the job. You’ll not only be gearing up for a new job, but you may also save the one you have by changing your employer’s mind about you.

Have you ever seen the signs of a job loss well before it happened?

Photo credit: william couch


Published or updated March 20, 2014.
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