7 Ways to Stay Alert in Business During Economic Climate Change

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"If you are not being kept busy or your workload appears to be too easy, that’s a huge red flag." says Aqueelah Emanuel

By Aqueelah Emanuel

The biggest mistake that people make in business every day is thinking they will never be laid off. When you work for someone else’s company, there is always a possibility that you can be laid off at some point. On September 29, 2009, I was one of those people. I was working for a tech start up and we had been going through mergers and acquisitions for about a year in a half. When I had first started the company, there was an immediate structural change with management. By the time I had gotten laid off, I had almost made my 2 year mark with the company. Within that time, there were key things that I never paid attention to. One of them was that I had watched layoffs occur for at least a year before I had been laid off. Whenever I tell this story I always like to mention that being laid off was one of the best things to ever happened to me. It made me more alert in business and less naive. I always listen closely and keep an eye out. I’ve never been a slouch, but it also makes me work ten times harder than most. I never get comfortable even when people tell me I’m doing great. I always make sure that I’m well versed on my industry so that I can always remain marketable. I also instruct others to do the same when they come to me for career advice. Very often I find that I am spot on with the advice I give. I feel that, if your job has an “expiration date", you should know that before anyone else.

So here are seven solid tips that’ll help:

Keep up with company structural changes

If you want to stay ahead of the game, always assume that no matter what your role is within an organization, any structural change will affect you. If your company has been acquired by another company they will most likely start downsizing. Even if it is your company that is doing the acquiring, more often than not duplicate roles will occur. Duplicate roles are a major reason for downsizing, especially in smaller companies. In addition to mergers and acquisitions, you should also make note of any company re-branding, to see how it will affect your current role. Meaning, you should make sure you have a good understanding of how your role fits in with the company’s restructuring, if it does at all.

Take notice of changes in management

Always assume that with company structural changes, will come with a change in management. Whenever emails are sent out about new members in management pay close attention to not only their current role, but their backgrounds. Don’t be shy about doing an additional Google or Linkedin search. In some cases you will find that when some companies are no longer profitable, they will hire people to specifically come in and make the company profitable enough for selling. Which could mean that you’ll be out of a job in the near future. While not getting laid off immediately might make you feel safe, most likely you are only still around for "clean up".

Take note when you see key people leaving

This is not about playing follow the leader. It’s about taking interest when you see the company's most valued employees leaving during structural changes. Even if you feel that you are one of the company’s valued employees, when you see others that have played key roles in the company leaving, you should try and gauge why they are leaving. They could be leaving simply because they are looking for a new opportunity. Or they could be leaving because they know something you don’t. This practice is not to be confused with office gossip, you should consider any highly respected employee a reliable resource.

Don’t make assumptions about the people that get laid off before you

Once companies start layoffs employees sometimes like to create their own “mental safety blankets”. They say things like, “Oh he was laid off because of poor work habits”, “She was laid off because her salary was too high”. Though both of these scenarios could be true, you should never base your success on someone else’s misery. Never assume that you are safe because you don’t feel that you "fit the criteria” for a lay off. While your mental safety blanket may work in your head, it doesn’t always work in business.

Monitor your workload

Even if your company is doing well you should be concerned when your workload slows down. Especially if you see people on your team or those around you keeping busy. Always know that any company that deems you an asset will definitely try to find ways to utilize your skill set. If you are not being kept busy or your workload appears to be too easy, that’s a huge red flag. If you are interested in staying with the company you should first raise concern and if nothing changes you should set up a game plan to move forward. As this could be a sign that your role is slowly being phased out and that you may be on the chopping block at some point.

Don’t just be job smart, be career smart

The biggest mistake that employees make during their tenure at a company is ignoring the outside world. Being career smart means having a great understanding of your industry. It is very important to know what the competition is doing in your field and to also keep your skills up to date based on industry standards. Should a layoff occur you’ll have a better opportunity of snapping back quicker than others. For example, take classes, attend meetups, and do research on your industry.

Take note of your company’s financial state

It’s not necessary that you become the company’s accountant, unless that is your actual role. However, you should take an interest in the company's finances. When the company sends out notices about quarterly reports, don’t ignore them - look at the actual numbers. Also if the company is being transparent during meetings about their finances - ask questions. Very often you’ll find transparency of finances at start-ups more often than major corporations. Most start-ups are more likely to keep their employees up to date on company funding. Out of all the things I mentioned above, the only one you can control, is being industry smart. In this tough and very competitive economic climate, don’t settle for going to the same place everyday because you love your co-workers, or it makes you feel better to know where you are going everyday. Don’t overlook the fact that, the purpose of working is to make sure you put yourself in the position to always "be working”. Obviously only until you retire!

[Photo credit: Got Credit]

About the Author Aqueelah Emanuel: Aqueelah is a military wife and a new mom, with 10+ years experience in the Software testing industry. She has experience working as a Self Employed QA Consultant with various companies, as well as working full-time for Geometry Global, Tremor Video, the FeedRoom and CNNMoney.com. Her industry experience includes, but is not limited to: media advertising, SAAS, gaming, and oil & gas.

Aqueelah has spent the past 6 years, working as a self proclaimed Career Consultant. Her ultimate goals are to help employees make smarter career choices, as well as helping businesses understand the importance of hiring smart.

Aqueelah holds an AS in Applied Computer Science and BS in Information Science, with Concentrations in Psychology, Programming and Networking, from Johnson & Wales University. She is also a certified Scrum Master.