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The company I work for occasionally goes through rounds of layoffs. It has laid off a few team members last month and there is a general belief that more layoffs are coming. I would like to save my job due to the following reasons.

  1. As per the contract, I won't get full benefits of layoff, like notice period, etc..
  2. I am not in a position to get a new job immediately.

What can I do to make sure I am in a position that minimizes my risk of layoff?

  • BVR you might find this post of mine in the chat helpful (chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/11049425#11049425) – Rhys Sep 2 '13 at 22:05
  • Can you just confirm whether you are an employee or a contractor? Your first point seems to cast some doubt. – DJClayworth Sep 3 '13 at 14:59
  • @DJClayworth: I am a contractor from vendor – Babu Sep 3 '13 at 15:00
  • This answer is relevant. – enderland Sep 9 '13 at 20:17
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    This question is something which is relevant to many people. Having a comprehensive and good set of answers to "how can I minimize risk of being laid off?" will be a very useful reference to the numerous questions which have related components in the future. – enderland Sep 9 '13 at 20:54
41
+50

What best I can do to make sure I am in a position that minimized my risk of layoff?

Managers don't want to lay people off, but sometimes are directed from above to do so. Sometimes managers have leeway in whom they lay off, sometimes not. When they do have some leeway, you want to be in the best position you can be to avoid being high on their list. Here are some thoughts:

  • You can work hard - it's easier to justify laying off lazy workers
  • You can at least work harder than others around you - you don't want to be the worst worker, since they are often the first to go.
  • Wherever possible, you should try to get assigned to important projects - important projects are harder to dismantle, unimportant projects are easier to disband
  • Wherever possible, you should try to get assigned to projects that make money for the company - companies are in the business to make money, and when deciding who to lay off companies often avoid projects that contribute positively to the bottom line
  • Wherever possible, you should try not to get assigned to overhead projects - overhead projects don't make money for the company - see the previous item
  • Try not to run out of tasks
  • Try not to be a middle manager - these are often the first to go, as a company can often get by with less management for a while when times are tough (I've been there and done that)
  • Try not to be overpaid - when creating a layoff list, it's often necessary to trim the budget by x%. If you are overpaid, getting rid of you might mean keeping more folks that are paid at a lower rate
  • Try to be friends with the decision makers - it's sad but true that companies do play favorites and favor their "friends"; perhaps that's just human nature
  • Try to be flexible - workers who can do many jobs might be in a better position to stick around, over those highly-specialized co-workers who cannot
  • Try to get lucky - (often there is nothing you can really do but hope for the best)
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    +1 - though I'd also add "be friends with someone in the decision making process (or their family)". I've seen a number of people kept on simply because "oh we can't lay off XYZ!" – Telastyn Sep 9 '13 at 21:03
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    I would add "avoid being without tasks". If, for some reason, project is "paused" or you notice that you're running out of things to do, don't hesitate to ask. If they can't find anything, comment your code, clean it, google how to make it better, anything but doing nothing. – Trickylastname May 28 '15 at 18:27
  • Closely related to "work hard", I'd add "keep a spotless disciplinary record". – Julia Hayward May 29 '15 at 15:59
  • Excellent answer. I would add trying to work out what skills the company is going to really need soon, and learning them. – Patricia Shanahan Jul 8 '16 at 23:05
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    "Try not to be overpaid" I've actually seen a layoff round where the list of people to be laid off was very obviously the Top N salaries. – Juha Untinen Jul 9 '16 at 21:14
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In some companies, there is nothing you can do. It will be done by seniority (hire date) within each department or team. But this is not the usual case.

The more things you can and are willing to do, the less likely you are to be laid off. Imagine a team that needs to:

  • write code
  • write documentation
  • test code
  • meet with users about using the code
  • meet with management about business strategy that can be implemented in code
  • maintain code
  • learn about the newest tech as it comes out
  • manage the build system
  • manage the source control system
  • write unit tests
  • write requirements
  • 10 other tasks I don't want to list out

Now imagine there are ten people in that team and 4 need to go. That means 6 people and 21 tasks. If you can/will only do 1, do you think you'll be staying? If you are good at 10, and most people only 2 or 3, do you think you'll be going? No matter what your salary is?

When they say "who can we not live without?" you want them to think of you. Be good at a lot of stuff. Be willing to do what needs to be done and not be a "not my department" kind of person. Be pleasant to work with. Learn, learn, learn - what the rest of your team does, where your team fits into the company, what your customers need, and of course how to be better at your tech and your day to day work.

  • Hate to disagree, but being the one who does all 10 is no sign of anything. I worked for one of the largest banks in the world when I still did coding, easily did all the tasks mentioned plus has specialist domain knowledge, as did other colleagues. When the bank had layoffs, they made us all apply for our own jobs, senior managers who could do none of the above had a 1 to 1 ratio (one person to one job), the do-ers (ie coders like myself with the specialist knowledge) were told we were at 8 to 1 (8 apply for 1 job), and the lucky few became checkers for offshore who took up the work. – The Wandering Dev Manager Jul 9 '16 at 4:32
  • And strangely, while they did this process "blind" (i.e. they select based on the application, not on who they liked) they moved offices as well. When we got there they said "we've fitted some of you to the floor plan, but some will have to use temp space as obviously we're overstaffed", and by sheer co-incidence, everyone who had a real seat kept their jobs, and everyone in the overflow got laid off... – The Wandering Dev Manager Jul 9 '16 at 4:37
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Make your manager look good

Ultimately the person who is most likely to responsible for the decision of who gets laid off is your manager. The worker that consistently make their manager look good is going to be the last person they want to let go. Everyone has that fear that they might be perceived as someone not worthy of their job. The last thing you want to do is let the person who is helping to push you up the ladder, get knocked off.

Make your team look good

People who help the team look good are the people who help the team function better. They are leaders by example and are the people who are the ambassador of their team. Groups that appear to perform well and deliver well are less likely to be targeted for cuts in the first place, and often have smaller cuts to make when they are required. These are the teams that get more work when the other teams are forced to cut. So if you can make your team look good then you are helping protect yourself from being laid off.

Make your manager's job easy

When cuts have to be made, people who are perceived as being involved in conflict are more likely to be targeted. Conflict creates more work for your manager, reduces productivity, and makes everyone involved look bad. This includes arguments, finger pointing, and Avoiding requires thinking ahead and seeing potential problems before they prop up. When you are forced to react you are more likely to get involved in a conflict, if you can address something proactively you are in a better position to avoid the conflict. And while it should go with out saying, avoid conflict with your manager. It is fine to provide your opinion but if your manager disagrees or says to do something else you should do your best to make that a success.

  • Also part of #1 is, "Make your manager's job easy." People who are difficult to manage, all things considered, are... well... annoying and a lot more likely to be laid off. – enderland Sep 9 '13 at 20:29
  • @Enderland - Thanks I actually changed my 3rd point to that. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 9 '13 at 20:58
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    Especially like point 3. ANd in times where layoffs are possible, do not annoy your manager over petty crap like not doing timesheets on time or coming in late. You don't want him to think of you as that annoying person I always have to bug about stuff. And don't let him get blindsided from above with bad news you hid from him or lied to him about things being fine. – HLGEM Feb 14 '14 at 19:29
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Be Visible

In my experience some of the first people to go are the ones who don't seem to do anything, the ones that clock in at 9, clock out at 5 and stick to themselves all day. The ones who no-one knows what they do or why they do it, sometimes your perceived value has more of an affect than your actual value.

So the easy solution is to be more visible, a big project is coming up? Volunteer to help out! This both gets you more visible and also provides tangible value to the company, both helping them avoid needing to do lay-offs and helping to make sure you don't go first!

Avoid the blame game

You aren't going to make any friends by getting into a problem and immediately yelling "Joe did it!". Focus instead on helping to fix the underlying issues that caused Joe to do such a thing. Patching up faults and being a team player are important in developing vital relationships that could one day pull you out of trouble.

Be one step ahead

Ok so maybe something new has just been released in your field, maybe something that could be of importance or use to your company. This is the perfect opportunity for you to learn it before its needed so you have vital skills that your company can utilize! This both increases your worth and provides more value to your company, reducing the need for lay-offs in the first place.

Go above and beyond

Find out whats important to your boss, or your bosses boss!, and go out of your way to meet their expectations. Don't overwork yourself, but if you really want to be seen as a valuable person who they couldn't survive without then make sure you are really giving it your all!

Core Projects

Work on core projects that are vital to your companies success! If you work on peripheral projects you too will be seen as peripheral, the best way to be seen as core to the company is to work on its core money makers!

Conclusion

Either way all these suggestions are designed to either increase your worth to the company or to at least increase your perceived worth to the company. Maintaining both is important in ensuring you aren't the first for the chopping block.

Most suggestions even have the advantage of making it easier to get more work if you do get laid off, which is a nice side effect!

1

Create more value for your company than what they pay you.

If your company pays you $50,000 and your employment results in $100,000 of profit for your company (through greater sales/lower expenses/etc.), then terminating your employment with this knowledge in mind won't be a financially sound decision.

Short term, medium term, and long term profits steer decision making for more companies than any other factor. Make certain they can't afford to let you go.

-1

The other answers for the question feature a lot of platitudes, and seem to rest on several assumptions that I do not think it is safe to make:

Unsafe (But Popular) Assumptions

  1. Your manager behaves in the same manner as their managers before them

  2. That the company itself will behave in a more or less predictable manner

  3. That there is something you can in fact do to protect your job

Therefore, the advice given elsewhere will only be effective if the assumptions hold true. Here are some assumptions, that if you operate by them, will leave you much better prepared for reality:

Better But Highly Unpopular Assumptions

  1. Your manager is a human being and it is more or less impossible to plot how he makes decisions or how he or she will make a particular decision

  2. The company for which you work is subject to extreme pressure from management, the board, and shareholders, and may act in such a manner that it seems to be acting against itself or towards no good purpose

  3. You can never truly change the minds of others

  4. The only thing you are really in control of is your own personal attitude and mind

My point is, there is really no way to protect yourself from being laid off. You are much better off planning for the inevitable need to move to a different job. To be constructive, here are some things you can do:

Things You CAN Do

  1. Study and improve proactively in your field of study

  2. Develop a strong LinkedIn profile and network of professional contacts

  3. Continue to exercise, read, and basically stay nimble so you can adapt when the inevitable does occur

  • 2
    In general people are fairly predictable. There is the occasional outlier that does something crazy, the reason they are entertaining is because they are the exception. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 14 '14 at 19:47

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