How to keep your job in today’s economy

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Print this page by Genevieve Roberts, HR Consultant and Partner, Titan Group LLC

Can you be counted on by others?  Do you keep your commitments to get your work done as promised?  These are just a couple of questions you should ask yourself if you are concerned about losing your job if your company is suffering financially.  The recession is not over, and from working with small-to –medium-sized companies, the recovery is nowhere in sight.  I continue to witness companies finding creative ways to stay afloat in this sea of revenue instability. 

It is no longer enough for employees to maintain the status quo.  Unfortunately, many businesses are still just trying to squeak by. One way they are doing this is by cutting payroll, cancelling benefits programs and other employee perquisites such as bonuses and 401(k) matches.  Let’s face it — people are usually a company’s most valuable and most expensive asset.  It’s a numbers game and as an employee you have got to arm yourself with a strategy to survive. 

Begin with the end in mind.  If you were your own boss, what criteria would you use to evaluate yourself and other employees?  When companies choose to lay off employees, it is no longer LIFO — “last in first out.”  There are many variables companies will use to figure out whom to cut — some make sense and others don’t. 

Virginia is an employment-at-will state so companies can fire you for any or no reason at all.  However, that does not lead to developing a very good employment brand for the company, and so most companies usually try to base their decisions on reasonable factors.  These factors include tenure, performance, revenue-producing versus overhead departments, salary and bonus potential. They also are beginning to look more thoroughly at each employee. Who has broader skill sets?  Who can “play” in multiple roles? Who’s demonstrated flexibility? Who doesn’t whine? Who doesn’t have a lot of absences? Who gives more than asked? Who volunteers? Who do I like working with after hours when necessary? These are some of the questions you should ask yourself.

It is not a fair world.  You will not always get a fair shake even if you a doing a commendable job. You have got to do a fantastic job all the time.  Go to your boss and ask him or her what else can you take on.  What projects can you volunteer for?  What new skills can you learn and apply, even if you need to learn on your own time?  Demonstrating that commitment now gives you a much better chance of making it through cutbacks and may pay off later when things turnaround.  And even if they do not, at least your boss can give you a strong reference compared to your peers. 

If you do sense a layoff coming and cannot afford to live on unemployment alone, try to develop a creative solution for your employer.  Perhaps you can work part time while you look for another job, or you can move to contractor status.  Other alternatives might include changing your full-time status to a commission-based status or four-day work week.  Earning a reduced steady is less nerve-wracking than facing the prospect of looking for a new job, especially with all the incredible talent on the market today.  And, depending on your employer’s benefits program, if you work a minimum number of hours per week, sometimes as few as 20, you may be eligible to keep your medical benefits.  My point is you need to get more creative and innovative than ever with your employer instead of thinking you have no control over the situation.
In the meantime, do not be foolish and think that you are invincible.  Always have your resume up to date, keep your network of colleagues strong and current and develop your reputation as the one others can always count on.  The best employees are committed to their jobs; they finish their tasks, fulfill their responsibilities, keep their promises, and complete their commitments. They don’t leave a job half undone, and they don’t quit when they get discouraged. They are trustworthy and dependable.  Remember that you need to stand out and that holding yourself accountable has always been a rare quality.

Genevieve Roberts is managing principal of Richmond-based Titan Group LLC and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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