Archive for Sunday, October 3, 2004

Signals can help employees predict layoffs

October 3, 2004

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Your job is not secure.

A change of management or a reorganization may knock you off your perch. Shrinking consumer demand or an angry supervisor could do you in.

A bag-your-own-groceries machine may be waiting for your job to open. Or somebody in another country.

No, your job is not secure.

But Tom Krieshok thinks he knows an approach to make the loss of employment less jarring.

Krieshok is a Kansas University professor of psychology and research in education. He and Christopher Ebberwein, a recent KU graduate and now a psychologist in Wichita, conducted a study with 18 people to see how they navigated the rough waters of a layoff.

One of Krieshok's key pieces of advice: Keep sniffing around for signs of trouble in your workplace.

Everything from the economy's effect on your industry, at one end of the scale, to your standing with the boss, at the other, can turn your career into a careen.

There's a difference, of course, between watchful vigilance and paranoia.

But Krieshok recently interviewed a person who manages 100 employees, and the person says he'll have to lay off 10 percent of his workers in 2005.

"I lose sleep over that," the person told Krieshok. "I have a list, and these people think their jobs are fine."

I repeat: Your job is not secure.

In Ebberwein and Krieshok's study, published in the June issue of the Career Development Quarterly, the researchers identified several healthy responses to job loss.

One is to act with some degree of urgency.

For example, one person in the study put 50 resumes in the mail within five days of learning about her layoff. Another delayed taking any steps and had become aggravated and depressed.

Another healthy response, Krieshok said, is daydreaming about your next career step, even when you've already got a job.

And, if you do lose your job, don't just jump into stopgap work for the purpose of making an income that approaches what you used to make.

Krieshok and Ebberwein found that folks who took that approach did worse than others.

They might have been better off drawing unemployment and applying for jobs they really wanted, Krieshok said.

Those who did the best, Krieshok said, were those married to someone making enough money to support both people or those who got a severance package or had a nest egg. That cushion bought them time to do an intensive job search.

The researchers found that on the other side of the layoff, an employer can make a big difference in the attitude of employees let go.

A severance package is only the most obvious and practical source of support. Employers also can help employees find their next position through outplacement and career transition services.

"None of the participants who were offered such services expressed animosity toward their previous company," Krieshok said.

In a world of employment insecurity, the Boy Scout motto seems to apply to employees: Be prepared.

If you're an employer and you're going to whack somebody, other Boy Scout rules apply: Be friendly, courteous and kind.

If you work for people who think like scouts, or if you happen to be one, you're fortunate.

But even then, your job is not secure.

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