Making yourself layoff proof is a skill that has become increasingly important in recent years. Economist Robert Reich notes in his piece at The Guardian “profit-sharing with regular employees all but disappeared in large US corporations.” When profit-sharing was a more common practice “it… reduced the need for layoffs during a recession because payroll costs dropped as profits did.” In the news, there have been Stories of emotional CEOs laying off hundreds of employees via Zoom or similar mass job cuts that have been a part of the daily news cycle since 2020. Unfortunately, one of the methods enterprises use to squeeze a bit more profit out of their quarterly earnings is layoffs.
The fact is that few of us are layoff proof, and navigating the current rocky employment landscape can feel precarious. But there are absolutely steps you can take to give yourself the best possible opportunity to avoid the pink slip. And if the worst does happen, the steps you take now to become a “layoff-proof” team member will go a long way in getting you to your next post. asset to your company is easier than it may seem.
What Determines Who Gets Laid Off?
The most common criteria for selecting a position for a layoff are as follows:
A full-time position tends to be more fully integrated into a company’s culture, collective knowledge, and daily operation than a part-time or freelance position. This means that full-time employees are often going to be seen as more crucial to the operation of a company. They will also be more capable of taking on the additional work of cut staff members after a significant round of layoffs. If you find yourself working a part-time job you particularly enjoy and want to minimize your chances of losing it in a layoff, consider pushing into a full-time position the instant the opportunity arises.
Layoffs are spurred on by financial hardships or lagging profit growth. Employees who are seen as redundant or overhead for the company will often find themselves on the top of the layoff list. Seeking involvement with projects that pull in revenue, or gaining and using skills that are expensive to replace will make cutting your position a more difficult decision for leadership.
Your own seniority may be difficult to control for if you tend to jump from one opportunity to the next. However, if you transition into a layoff-prone or fledgling industry such as Silicon Valley startups, consider your options carefully and try to stay in one place as long as possible.
Long-lasting positions show a dedication to your work that cannot be easily replaced, and seniority comes with more than just symbolic respect, it brings along experience and knowledge that is crucial to the operation of a company that finds itself facing layoffs.
Make Yourself Indespensible
Many of the criteria for selecting layoff candidates may lie outside of your control. Becoming an indispensable asset will protect your position regardless of brief tenure or rocky financial roads.
When a company arrives at layoffs as a solution to its financial problems, it can create personal and professional uncertainty in the workplace. If you work to make yourself indispensable from the moment you start a new job, that will create an easily defensible position once layoffs roll around. The typical layoff is strategically considered, it stands to reason that strategy will also protect your position from a layoff.
Volunteer for Promising Projects
Beyond positioning yourself as someone who will always go the extra mile, volunteering for projects can create more opportunities for you to make contributions or demonstrate skills that might not get called upon in the course of your current job responsibilities. It’s hard to know upfront which project will be the one that takes off and changes the trajectory of a company. Presenting yourself as an asset that is willing to take on less glamorous, yet crucial work could be the thing that rakes in some job-saving kudos at the end of an unsteady quarter. If your plate has a little room on it, take the time to fill it with some extra work every now and then. Actions like that are remembered when layoffs roll around.
Build Out Your Skills
Companies look at seniority when making choices about layoffs because of the skills that are built up over time. If time is not on your side, then building skills is the second best option available. Learn about the inner workings of your department. Understanding the “why” of things rather than just the “how” of things will make you the person that everyone can come to when breakdowns occur. Become the lynchpin if somebody calls out sick in a neighboring department.
Going out of your way to ask for skill-building assistance will also show your face to coworkers you may not have seen otherwise, building your in-office network. In turn, by becoming a source of high-quality knowledge your coworkers can come to naturally build goodwill on top of displaying the sort of initiative and drive that is hard to replace after a round of layoffs.
Make Lasting Relationships
A good word goes a long way. Making relationships at work is about more simply finding a chum to meet up with at the water cooler. Well-established professional relationships give you someone who will bat for the intangibles you personally bring to a position. Layoffs are often calculated with a dispassionate, distant eye, so any opportunity to humanize your accomplishments and contributions will fortify your position in a multitude of unexpected ways.
Becoming layoff proof is a balancing act of hard work-related skills built up over time with a good amount of extra-curricular effort and interpersonal skills. The golden question when building a layoff-proof fortress is “how can I become a helpful coworker?” Take time to familiarize yourself with your colleagues, and lift them up when you can, and you will quickly see how load-bearing you can become when things get heavy in the workplace.
Read more about layoffs and the spike in rescinded job offers here.