Surviving layoffs, remaining employed, is not easy. Have you or do you know someone who has survived a layoff? Since the beginning of 2023, more than 50 companies have laid off more than 160,000 employees. Layoffs are brutal. Newly unemployed people deal with emotions such as fear, worry, stress, grief and the stress of the job search. One can search the internet and any social media site to find articles, support and commiseration with their current status. However, the surviving employees at the company also deal with a wide range of emotions. There can be guilt because they still have a job, worry they might be laid off any day, and the stress of the additional work.
I survived at least 4 major layoff efforts at the company I worked at for almost 40 years. So I understand well the stress on the surviving employees. I had many colleagues and friends who were let go during those years it was hard, most of them ended up in a better place.
After the shock of the layoffs, it is not uncommon for the surviving workers to begin to wonder what if they are next to go, what would happen. Should I look for another job, is there a way I can insulate myself with my current employer, so I am not on the next list of employees to be laid off. This article’s purpose is to be a reminder you are in control of your future, not an employer. Prepare for the future you want so you can handle whatever comes.
My first experience was the most frightening. I was single with minimal work experience outside of the company and no formal education past high school. I realized if I had lost my job, the reality of having a similar position I loved and making the same or more money was slim to none. Working in education, most organizations expect you to have at least a bachelor’s degree. While there were many things I could do, I did not have anything documenting that I had a specific skill. So I set out to make myself valuable to the company or another. This article shares a few steps you can take to be as prepared as possible.
Why Layoffs Happen
Companies need to let staff go when labor costs outweigh revenue. A business cannot function if they spend more cash than they earn. In my opinion, mass layoffs happen when management puts off dealing with staffing issues such as problem employees or too many staff because of over hiring or lost business. When cash gets too tight, the administration is forced to do something. Then they need to cut costs severely, and labor is usually the company’s most significant expense. Sometimes, companies lose large contracts and layoffs are required because they don’t have the work to keep staff employed. Layoffs are a function of business and are not representative of the quality of the staff, those that are let go or who remain.
It is Your Future Empower Yourself
First, look at what you can and cannot change in your life. The first round of layoffs I went through, I was single and not getting married just so I had someone to provide for me financially. My plan needed to consider that I may never be married (good strategy, as I am still unmarried). I loved the company I worked for, the people were awesome, and I learned so much from them. I also believed in the service provided and that it was critical to helping people escape poverty. My question was how can I protect myself from getting laid off should it happen again. I determined a college degree was necessary and would make me more marketable. I also made a specific effort to offer my services to other departments.
Over the years, I was blessed with a few mentors who provided such valuable advice. Here is my list. I will elaborate more below.
- Improve your skills.
- Network within and outside of the organization.
- Keep an eye on the health of the organization.
- Keep an eye on the health of the industry.
- Continually re-evaluate your plan.
Survival Requires Improving Your Skills
When looking at who to keep within the organization, management is looking for those with the skills, ability and personality to keep the company moving forward. The more skills you have, the more valuable you are to management. Be willing to learn new things independently and during work hours. Typically, after layoffs, the company will have a reorganization to move the surviving staff into positions that will get the work done. When you remain, you want to ensure you have the skills to stay at your current level or be promoted to higher-level work. Don’t ever say, “It is not my job.” The company pays you to come to work; if you get a paycheck, it is your job.
Not every job requires a college degree, however, if you work in an industry that values education then you may want to consider going to college to get a degree. If the employer or industry requires certificates and other types of learning, make yourself as valuable as possible. For example, during our first layoffs the job I had did not require a college education and I did not have one, however, when I looked at the other jobs available all the positions above mine required at least a bachelor’s degree. College degrees were highly valued, the company offered an excellent tuition assistance program, yet many did not have college degrees.
Being a willing helper and worker will pay off in more ways than you can imagine. I don’t recall turning down a task I was asked to do. I will admit some of them where not fun others were a blast. However, I learned from every opportunity. This paid off for me because small but important program was losing their program director. When those working on the project declined the opportunity to promote and manage the program, I was recommended for the position. I got a promotion and learned a ton of new skills. I had access to executives in and outside the organization that I otherwise would never have met. A willing worker gets rewarded.
Network Within and Outside of the Organization
Get to know as many people in the organization as possible. Treat everyone with respect. Know the industry and who are the important people. Some things to learn, what is an important goal of the company, and is there a way you can facilitate that goal? For example, are there groups you can join or events you can attend that will connect you with others within the industry.
To be honest, in the beginning, I hated networking. I am a total introvert, and large rooms of people are overwhelming. If you are an introvert like me, it might be a skill you need to learn to like. I saw it as an opportunity to meet someone new. I made it a point to get to know only one new person at each event. I would look at the invitation or speaker lists and decide who I wanted to get to know. Then, I would do some research on that person and walk up and introduce myself. Sometimes the introduction resulted in long, awesome conversations; other times, it was just an introduction.
Know your strengths and weaknesses and learn how to work with them.
Health of the Organization
Pay attention to the organizations management and financial health. If the company has more expenses than income, you might want to start looking for a new job. Is the company bringing in new work, new clients, making new widgets and doing what is necessary to increase revenues. An example, the company I worked for had one program that brought in about 80% of annual revenue each year, and the company had about 80% of the market share for this work through the 90’s. In early 2000’s, management informed staff the company had lost a good portion of the market share for this work, down to less than 50%, and the revenue was reduced as a result. In addition, the company had given up some work, further reducing revenue. Revenue is the cash the organization has to pay for their expenses, including profit. The company is in trouble when revenue is decreasing and expenses are increasing.
Staffing matters, if management is consistently hiring “the new genius” it might be an indication there is trouble on the horizon. Notice how staffing matters are handled. Is management often hiring new workers even when staff are not leaving? Are there problem employees, and how are they handled? Is the issue ignored, or is there a process for handling them? Are there several employees being placed on performance plans or getting reprimanded? Sometimes people are not right for the job; a manager can try to train them or move them to a job they are better suited for or fire them. That sounds harsh, but ineffective employees cost the company money (paying for someone to not work) and usually is not good for employee morale. Strong management that cares about staff will want all employees to succeed but realize not everyone is created to do the same jobs.
A healthy organization will have a strong balance sheet and satisfied employees. Stay aware of what is happening. If you don’t know, ask the management. One of our company presidents challenged each employee to come to talk to him about the organization’s financial health. He said it was our responsibility to know that information. It was good advice.
Health of the Industry
Look at other companies who work in the same industry. How are they doing? Listen to what the news is saying about the industry. At the beginning of 2020, when the world shut down, technology companies grew massively to meet the need. Now in 2023, the need is different, and many companies are laying off workers. For example, I worked at a research company that built paper and pencil standardized tests. During 2020 and 2021, they could not offer those tests because having that many people in a confined room was not allowed. Looking at the industry now, it is different. The industry had to make some changes to survive.
If the industry you work in is changing or being taken over by new technology, be prepared to make the change. Prepare early on. Another example is the auto industry. Many states are requiring electric vehicles by 2030. If you are an auto mechanic, you might want to learn how to work on electric vehicles.
Continually Re-Evaluate Your Plan
Once you create your plan you will want to continually re-evaluate. Change is inevitable, adjusting your work plans will be prudent. Some life changes that will initiate a plan review could be getting married, having a baby, the loss of a loved one or the company has more layoffs. Another time to re-evaluate is when you feel it is time for a change. Again, the goal is to stay current and in control of your future.
You want to be in control of your future even when someone else, like your boss, can make decisions that affect you. In today’s work world it is even more important to manage your career, many companies do not offer raises or promotions requiring a job change to earn more money or move up the corporate latter. When layoffs happen at your workplace, you want to be in the “let’s keep her” category rather than “she is expendable.” This allows you to make the best choice for you.