Sooner or later, you’re going to be laid off. Not because you’re not working hard enough, not because you’re not staying late enough, and not because you don’t do great things for your company and your team. You’re going to be laid off because rapid growth and equally rapid contraction is the new norm for businesses, especially those in the digital world. You can’t prevent it, but you can see it coming.
Early in my career, I was laid off from a publishing job. I should have seen it coming and prepared myself for it, but I didn’t. I was young and naive. I thought that as long as I did good work, my job would be safe. It wasn’t. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to survive multiple rounds of layoffs in publishing and digital. Over time, I learned to see them coming. While that didn’t make them any less nerve-wracking, it did teach me to prepare myself each time for getting the bad news. I know that my number will come up again, and I don’t intend to be caught off guard. Neither should you.
Signs That a Layoff is Coming
Dire earnings reports or missed revenue goals. This should be at the top of your early warning list. If you’re snoozing during quarterly meetings, knock it off and pay attention. If the line on the revenue chart pitches down and to the right, get your butt in gear. Nothing says “black sails in the sunset” like missed earnings projections.
Executives leaving in droves. If the bosses are either getting canned or running for the lifeboats, you need to run with them. It’s that simple.
Risky pivots or strategic gambles. Desperate execs can pivot their business model to focus on something that was dangerously risky. Listen to your gut. If it says that the new idea is a bad one, get ready to move.
Hiring freezes. When money’s tight, open head count is the first thing to go. If your HR partner suddenly tells you that they can’t add that project manager you’ve been asking for after all, things might be about to get bad.
Bad press. Is your company getting ripped to shreds in the media? If your company’s new smartwatch-that’s-also-a-kale-dehydrator is getting savaged by the pundits, it might be a good time to polish up the old resume.
Budget cuts. Keep an eye on cash flow. Are your expense reports taking forever to get reimbursed? Has your marketing budget been slashed? If you work with vendors, you’ll know pretty much immediately if they’re not getting paid on time. If one or more of these is happening where you work, guess what?
Your boss is being shady. If you sense a disturbance in the force, casually ask your boss about the company’s future during your next one-on-one. You can couch it in a question about team growth or overall strategy. If your boss becomes evasive, uneasy, or just more awkward than usual, get ready to get gone.
Getting laid off is not your fault, but not seeing it coming almost always is. Sooner or later, the bell will toll for thee. Keep your head up and your eyes open. And don’t keep more personal items in your desk than you can fit in a Trader Joe’s bag. I learned that one the hard way.