Q: My company laid off 20% of our workforce right before the holidays. It was a big shock and we’re still reeling. I wasn’t laid off, but now I’m worried about my job stability—what if this is the first of multiple waves of layoffs or a sign that the company is failing? Should I look for a new job or wait it out anxiously?
A: Big layoffs can happen at any time, and holiday or not, they are most often a big shock to the organization. They do often breed nervousness about the stability of the company among what are often called the “survivors.” Take stock of the full situation before you panic though.
Consider why the layoff happened. What was the organization’s public statement? Was it a strategic move due to a change in direction? Did the company jettison one business but start hiring in another business? The specific impetus for the layoff is a huge part of how remaining employees should evaluate the organization and its future. Read everything published about the reduction ;internally and externally. Talk to colleagues in other areas of the organization to get a different perspective. Pay attention to what you already know about the business and its performance. If you saw that the company’s average billings fell 60% for the last three months, what would that tell you? You should know what makes the business strong and what puts it at risk, regardless of what your job is. Being tuned in to the business beyond your individual role can help you assess the future and anticipate future events.
But know that layoffs are not necessarily a sign that your company is failing. Reductions in force are part of the talent lifecycle – bringing people in, developing people, and transitioning people out. So, no, you do not need to start searching for a new job, but you shouldn’t just “wait it out anxiously” either. Always be prepared for the unexpected: keep your resume current, be able to clearly articulate your value to the organization, and take continual steps to develop yourself and make yourself more valuable to your employer. You should also reinforce with your manager your commitment to the company and your continued contributions to the organization.
Many people in your situation will ask their managers directly if they should be worried about their jobs, which is fine. Managers are bound by confidentiality, and they may not be able to share information explicitly. Stay alert for general statements which may help you, Ultimately, the decisions that you make have to be your own, and managers can try to support you in that.
Regarding your individual standing in the organization, pay extra attention to the feedback you receive. Look for subtleties in what is being communicated to you. Where do you fall on the raise scale and what message does that send? Being on the high end of the raise scale and receiving a bonus, for example, demonstrates your value to the organization. Being given—or not given—highly sought after projects will also convey a message about your value. Take notice of these subtleties and communicate regularly with your manager to address any potential issues.
Layoffs can happen anywhere at any time, and it is good for any level employee to know how marketable they are. Don’t let your anxieties run wild, but be prepared. Have emergency savings, cultivate your professional network, and prep for however long it could take to find a new job. Ease your fears by balancing the reality of potential layoffs with preparation and mindfulness of the state of your organization and the economy of your industry.