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Will You Be Laid Off? Spot the Warning Signs

Fortunately, twentysomethings are not usually the first employees to be laid off when an economic downturn forces employers to cut staff. After all, relative to more experienced employees, we’re cheap. But we’re not immune from being laid off and, in today’s economy, that reality could face any one of us any day.

The looming possibility of a layoff doesn’t mean you should start surfing for a new job at your present employer (doing so might just put your name a top the cut list). You should, however, be on the lookout for warning signs that your job is endangered. If you spot them, it might be time to at least get your resume in shape.

1. Your company has already laid-off coworkers. If it happened to a coworker, it can—and is potentially more likely—to also happen to you. Your employer may assure you that more lay-offs won’t be necessary, and the company probably hopes that is the case. But you never know, and once things get rough, they have ways of getting rougher.

2. Your company implements a hiring freeze. Are there job openings posted on your company’s Web site? Is the company replacing employees that resign or retire? Often companies will attempt to reduce staffing levels (and expenses) by natural attrition. But attrition alone usually doesn’t happen fast enough (especially in slow economies) to meet the numbers companies need. That means layoffs could be imminent.

3. Budgets are cut. Usually staffing is the very last expense an employer wants to cut. That means they’ll try to find savings everywhere else before turning to the guillotine. Have you noticed marketing or advertising spending cuts? A reduction in travel expenses? Has your employer cut employee benefits? All are evidence the company is trimming fat. If these measures aren’t enough, expect them to trim employees next.

4. Missed projections. Some companies are more open about their financials than others, but if your employer provides access to annual revenue goals and actual performance, take a look. If your company has failed to meet earnings projections for more than one or two quarters, or if your companies sales are lower than they were a year ago, watch out. Both are sure signs the company may take drastic measures to cut expenses.

5. Water Cooler rumors. It’s usually best for your career to stay away from the office rumor mill. Office gossipers do, however, have a tendency to know when trouble is brewing; I’ve even known people who have known they were being laid off days before their boss told them. Listen to what people are saying around the water cooler. Don’t believe everything they say, but if more than one coworker is whispering about layoffs, don’t think it couldn’t happen.

How to Protect Yourself

The best way to avoid a layoff is to make your self indispensable. Learn ways to manage yourself and increase your value to your employer. But if you do spot the warning signs, it can’t hurt to prepare for a potential job search. Job hunting is harder in a slow economy, so just make sure it doesn’t catch you off guard.

Published or updated on October 20, 2008

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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