Job Loss: Warning Signs For When The Writing Is On The Wall

Recently, I have had a spate of resume clients who have come to me because they are getting bad vibes from their employer.

If you have ever been in this position, you know this feeling all too well.

Some people can’t quite explain it, but it’s a sense of unease, intuitive feeling that something is up, and observation of a sudden cloud of secrecy that appears among upper management.

This can set the alarm bells ringing, and many people start dusting off their resumes.

And they are absolutely right to do so.

Time and again, clients have come to me expressing these same concerns, and within a short span of time, their worst fears come true.

My advice: Always listen to your gut.

If you think something is up, it usually is.

When job loss has nothing to do with your performance and everything to do with the company’s health, you need to be your own advocate and get the heck out of Dodge.

Here are some warning signs for potential impending job loss:

  • Poor company publicity in the news / corporate scandal. Anytime a company undergoes close scrutiny in the media or experiences a scandal, this can impact the longevity of its survival, depending on the severity of the issue. Customers don’t like to be associated with businesses embroiled in high-profile issues, and end up quietly slip away. Drops in revenue usually means rapid staff cuts.
  • Mass layoffs… not yours. Yet. Sure, you missed the chopping block this time, but just because you dodged the bullet this time doesn’t mean that you are saved. Everything is up for negotiation, including your job.
  • Bad corporate financial reports. Keeping an eye on internal financial and staff reports as well as stock performance can tell a lot about the overall health of the company. If things are not robust, it might be indicators of changes to come.
  • Severe external economic and market turmoil. The great recession of 2007-2008 taught everyone that bubbles do burst.  Companies that survived this downturn trimmed employee head counts down to the bare minimum. Last hired usually means first fired when things start to go bad.
  • Lots of shuffling around of staff / shakeup. Companies change. That’s a fact of life. Shake-ups and “change management” is fairly common, but if your employer is undergoing a major radical shift, that means no stone is being un-turned, and that includes your job.
  • Sudden surge in company executive closed-door or off-site meetings. While this does happen occasionally for non-nefarious purposes, employees have intuitive radar to know when something is up. As stealthy as managers think these meetings might be, they aren’t fooling anyone. When the whole management teams starts disappearing in a flurry of meetings, it is something to pay attention to. Always.
  • Abnormal paychecks. Your pay is the company’s obligation. When they start faltering on the amount or when you actually receive it, this is a red-hot flag. If they can’t meet their obligations, that means your involvement in the company is running out.
  • Direct observation of unethical corporate behavior. As much as some dastardly companies think they are pulling the wool over someone’s eyes, justice usually finds a way of prevailing. If you witness unethical behavior on a grand scale, it’s not too much longer before someone catches on. And that can be a whole kettle of trouble for the company. Time to disassociate and bail.
  • Company not rehiring vacant positions and asking less people to do more. As the economy fluctuates, belt-tightening is normal. But when it gets to this extreme, it means that bosses are getting rid of dead wood and possibly moving towards actual layoffs. Be keenly aware of these types of moves.
  • Manufactured reasons to put you on performance improvement plans. This is a tricky one because we all don’t like addressing and accepting the fact that we have goofed up or done something wrong. But if there sincerely and genuinely is no reason why you’ve been put on report, it could mean that someone has an agenda and is laying the foundation of a case to get rid of you. The company is merely covering its bee-hind by creating documentation in case you sue them after they terminate you.
  • Rumblings of a corporate merger or acquisition. As much cheer that is spread about how “we’ll be a new, stronger organization,” it’s just a few more corporate heart beats later post-merger that the ax begins to swing. True, many people do retain their positions, but be aware that oftentimes, the new entity will draw out exactly what they need from you to keep things moving before bringing in their own people.
  • Benefits are cut. Traditional expectations are suddenly revised or scaled down to bare minimum or none at all. This could mean elimination of perks, parties, and extras that once were enticements to come work for the company.
  • Travel expenses / professional development activities suddenly eliminated. The most immediate stop-gap to a company bleeding financially is to “trim the fat” which unfortunately means that they are often cutting off the hand that feeds them. But major cuts like this are a true indication of the actual financial state of the company.
  • Drop in supervisor interest and increase detachment. Any boss that has checked out has lost their investment in their job, the company, and you. They also are trying to detach themselves from any professional emotional connection before they drop the guillotine.
  • Reverse of previous point: Your work gets put under a microscope. A quick rise in interest / scrutiny of your work could mean bosses are trying to glean as much as they can about your work so when you are gone, they minimize the impact to company momentum. If supervisors take a keen interest in spending more one-on-one time with you, look out.
  • Your work is suddenly being parceled out or assigned to others. If you are being coaxed to give up work, or if it is suddenly ripped out from underneath you, this is a very bad sign. Stripping employees of responsibilities is definitely a death knell and spells job loss.
  • A new position is created that is the same / redundant to yours. You of all people know what your work entails, and whether another position could help shoulder the burden of the tasks you are charged to complete. If a new position comes open that mirrors yours and the work simply doesn’t justify it, you could be training your replacement.
  • Management stops talking about long-term plans. Whether it is long term plans for you and your career at the company, or how your work has long-term impacts on the company, then they have lost the capacity to see you growing or even continuing on with the business.
  • Your position suddenly appears in job ads. A client of mine found out that her job was posted online by her employer (while she was still working there) by another employee. It was so humiliating to know that the world knew about this and she didn’t. You guessed it. They tossed her to the curb.
  • Management steps in to direct your employees. Any time responsibility is removed or circumvented, this is a direct show of management’s lack of confidence in you, justified or not.
  • You are excluded from meetings in which you used to participate. “Oh, it’s ok. You don’t need to be there” are words you never want to hear.
  • People start avoiding you. Sometimes, when a job loss is afoot, loose lips and gossip spread out before the actual job loss happens. People tend to disassociate from co-workers about to be let go.

These are just some examples of things that could indicate potential job loss.

But the most sure thing that can predict this unfortunate situation is your gut.

Your intuition is simply your best defense against job loss.

Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is a Certified Advanced Résumé Writer and the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Career Services. Clients from across the United States and Canada and from all career levels have benefited from Dawn’s highly-focused and results-oriented résumé, cover letter, and job search coaching services. Many professional groups as well as colleges and universities have appreciated the insights and expertise she shares during presentations on career management topics, and she is a frequently requested national speaker as a result.

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