The threat of a layoff hangs over many corporate cubicles these days.
But the smart IT worker can avoid being pink slipped well before the danger signs appear, according to Blaine Loomer, corporate sales consultant and author of the book Corporate Bullsh*t: A Survival Guide (Mitchell Publishing Inc., 2009).
A 20-year sales and management consultant, Loomer says he’s seen many an IT worker too focused on their work to realize a downsizing is imminent in their organization.
“IT professionals need to observe what’s going on in their workplace so they’re not blindsided,” he said.
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Reading the signs
Don’t just concentrate on what’s being said around your office, pay attention to how things are being said, and actions that accompany the conversation, Loomer urged.
For instance, he said, management may not be vocal about the future of a department, but if a section of the business is bound for the chopping block, there are usually signs.
“If you see other employees applying for positions in a particular department, or if one department appears to be getting a larger share of the budget, perhaps that’s where promotions, salary raises or job stability is present,” Loomer said.
“Conversely, if there seems little action in your team, if its employees have been working on the same computers for the past 10 years, this department is a likely candidate for retrenchment.”
Are you suddenly being asked to document your job’s procedures? Have you been told — on short notice — to take on an understudy? It could be that your company is just hiring additional staff in anticipation of the economic recovery.
It could also be a prelude to your pink slip.
Another expert, though, has a slightly different perspective.
Documenting your procedures isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to Tom A. Limoncelli, blogger at EverythingSysadmin.com and author of The Practice of System and Network Administration, and other books.
He said when you document what you do, it helps the company to establish standardized procedures. “This action on your part can actually increase your value to the firm and help save your position.”
Another mistake many workers make is failing to take the time to learn about their company’s health.
Getting your paycheck twice a month is not adequate proof that the firm you’re working for is on solid ground.
Keep an eye on the industry that your company is in. Is the area in a downturn? Did your company recently take a substantial financial hit? Was your company or any of its officials involved in a major scandal or fiasco?
Sometimes knowledge about these things could spell the difference between just postponing that request for a raise, and finally updating your resume.
Keeping your job safe
One of the surest ways for IT professionals to safeguard their jobs is to let management know they contribute to the bottom line, Limoncelli said.
“Very often IT workers do their jobs very well but don’t know if their efforts are in line with their boss’s priorities or not.”
For instance, Limoncelli recalled that years ago he had been very focused on uptime and costs during a networking project. It was only after a performance review that he discovered his superior wasn’t as interested in these areas as he.
However, Limoncelli cautioned workers who want to “determine what makes their boss’s bottom line” to do it discreetly.
These are things best discussed during a formal one-on-one meeting, such as a review. How you approach the topic may differ depending on the prevailing corporate culture but it’s advisable to start with telling your boss you “want some guidance on aligning priorities.”
Limoncelli said IT professionals need to be upfront about their contributions to the company.
“Many IT workers tend to be quiet about their accomplishments. However, they can make these known by providing superiors with reports and metrics about problems they’ve solved or developments they’ve made.”
I his book Corporate Bullsh*t: A Survival Guide, Loomer offers 14 ways you can show your value to the company:
1) Be part of the bottom line – You need to help make money otherwise it would not be worth it for your company to keep you around. You can’t do it all, so just focus on items that use your time and resources most effectively so you connect back to the company bottom line, said Loomer.
2) Avoid troublemakers – Stay away from time waster, the office flirt, gossip spreaders and other bad news.
3) Don’t waste time – Remember time is money. For example don’t put in eight hours on a presentation when you can deliver the same results with only an hour’s prep time. “Management wants the content of your message, not a bunch of fluff and pretty artwork.”
4) Don’t be afraid to abandon ship – Be flexible when it comes to your career path. “Be prepared to change and stay ahead of the curve. Flexibility will take you a long way especially during tough economic times,” according to Loomer.
5) Don’t be tempted by a shiny new title – A lot of people go for a promotion just because they think it means more money. Remember that higher salary has a bunch of responsibilities tied to it. Take the time to evaluate a promotion. If you can’t take the long hours and the accountability stick to your job.
6) Recognize “deal or no deal” situations – Whether it’s a big contract, a job, a promotion or a new car, you have to be willing to walk away from the deal if you’re not sure you like what you’re getting. Don’t be afraid to say no. “When you’re willing to do so, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better your negotiations turn out,” said Loomer.
7) Constantly add value – Always find ways to improve yourself and your processes.
8) Sing your own praises, but not too loudly – You can really help yourself by making sure managers and supervisors understand the effort you put into your job. “Provide the right information about yourself but don’t beat your accomplishments to death,” warns Loomer.
9) Get smart – Take the time to learn the basics about the operation of your company. Learn organizational charts and reporting structures, study your company’s financials.
10) Be an innovator – Pitch your new ideas. Look for ways to do things better. Trust your intuition. Be confident about your abilities and don’t be afraid to take in criticism.
11) Don’t ask for more than you deserve – Evaluate you value to the company and ask only for fair compensation.
12) Keep an eye on your e-trail – The best way to cover yourself is to save e-mail and electronic data relevant to you and your actions, says Loomer. “If you ever receive an e-mail from someone asking you to confirm something, that person is likely covering his a*s.”
13) Get a life – Avoid being burned out. Try not to take your job home. Give yourself some time to decompress and get rid of the workplace stress. When you take a vacation take your vacation. Say no to a working vacation.
14) Shut up and listen – “If you don’t know what you don’t know, then seek some experienced, advice,” according to Loomer. A mentor can warn you about things you may never have considered.