Three (More) Ways to Ensure Job Security in a Massive Shakeup

Photo courtesy:  Unsplash

Photo courtesy: Unsplash

Mass layoffs are part of corporate life. Rather than fear layoffs, a more pragmatic approach would be to accept them as reality and understand how to play this game strategically. Earlier in the year, I gave three ways to protect your job. Today, I give three more ways to protect your career during these corporate storms.

A quick recap of what we discussed before: Whether it is due to a trade war between countries, adoption of disruptive technologies, new government regulations, a new CEO with a new vision, or a host of other factors, a company at some point will decide it is time to downsize. So unless you work for the government, you will likely experience a mass layoff at least once, if not multiple times, before your career is over. You need to understand the rules of the game. The three we shared before were:

·       Rule #1: Be at the core. Because, like in real estate, location is everything. Do all you can to be in a core department of your business. Core departments are those that are central to the raison d'être of the company. An example would be engineers in an engineering firm or accountants in an accounting firm. A variant of this rule that we didn’t touch on before is that the core doesn’t have to be a functional core like in the examples above. The core can also mean the division that is making a lot of money. There was a time when General Electric (GE), an electric appliance company, made a lot of money from its financial services. I imagine that those employees with business degrees at GE did just fine even though GE is a technical firm.  

·       Rule #2: Be a studious student and Rule #3: Be a likable teacher are cut from the same cloth. This is because those employees who are a few years in, as well as very old-timers, are the most at risk during a layoff. The former because they are perceived to be not as malleable as newbies, and the latter because they are seen as being too expensive to keep. To challenge this stereotype, you need to be a rabid learner and a generous teacher.

Rule #4: Cultivate and leverage both strong and weak ties

Strong ties are relationships you have with people you see in the normal course of your day. Examples are those in your department or in another department you frequently interface with. Go out of your way to know more than just their first name. Develop the relationships. Weak ties are with people you normally don’t see on a typical day. Examples include members of the same professional association. Your network should include both strong and weak ties. Cultivate them. A good way to keep weak ties alive is to periodically check in. Ask them an intelligent question even if you know the answer or could easily have found the answer. The aim is to spur conversation and let people know you are still here. Network to make sure people are aware of who you are and how you can add value to their organization should openings emerge. Leverage both your weak ties and your strong ties during a job shakeup. Both ties are useful: Your weak ties can get you a job at a different department within the company or in a new company; your strong ties ensure you don’t leave the department in the first place.

Rule #5: Be courteous

When the going is smooth, and everyone appears needed, jerks are tolerated. Once hard decisions start to be made on who goes and who stays, the guy with the least political capital, aka the jerk, gets hacked first. Companies don’t waste crises. They know who the employees no one wants to be around are, but wait until a time of right-sizing to send them packing.

Be nice. In fact, be nicer than necessary. Courtesy pays. During a layoff, provided skill and experience level are roughly equal, nice people make the cut while the barely nice are cut out. Performance measurement is inherently and inexorably subjective. This is why it is sometimes a mystery as to why Jack is staying while John is leaving, even though both of them appear to have an equal skillset.

We are driven by the psychological need to be happy. Research shows that everything we do—including extreme acts of self-sacrifice—is designed to make us happy. We thus dislike those who make us unhappy whether by their unkind words, selfish attitude, or abrasive nature. Don’t be the person people try to avoid because of their negative energy.

Rule #6: Always be prepared for an interview

Keep your resume up to date. It should be a good representation of your latest skills and experience. Practice and hone your 30-second elevator pitch. That means you should be able to say who you are, what you do, and what you want in 30 seconds or less. Reflect on your aspirations. Where do you want to be when the dust settles? This may be an opportunity (a crisis is always an opportunity) to move up the ladder or jump to another ship that is more reflective of what you want to do. Look around the job landscapes and put out feelers. If it’s been a while since you interviewed for a job, start practicing!

There are no guarantees

If you follow these six rules, you stand a better chance of securing your job during a big shakeup. Chance is the key word in the previous sentence. There are no guarantees because of the role “time and chance” or randomness plays. The best laid plans can be rubbished by the vagaries of fate. You know that. It is healthy to acknowledge that we are not in total control as we love to think. There is a lot we can do to increase the odds in our favor. And that’s the best we can do. Every action we take, every move we make, is an exercise in probability, a roll of the dice, a step of faith. Nothing is guaranteed in this life. This knowledge keeps you humble in success and hopeful in failure. It also helps you avoid thinking that it’s all your fault if you do get laid off. The race doesn’t always go to the swift. Always pray the Serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  

Pray. It works.


I strongly believe that life is a game of chance. I have seen stupid decisions pay off and well-reasoned, deliberately planned ones backfire. I have seen prisoners become presidents; I have seen millionaires go bankrupt. I personally believe there are watchers of men, who reside in another world, that control events here. Anyone who pays close attention to human affairs can arrive at no other conclusion.

But I also believe that we, as sapient beings, have been granted permission to control much more than we think. My aim in sharing these rules is to increase that sphere of control we have been given, especially in regard to surviving a job shake-up. The more of these tips you can apply, the better your likelihood of success. If it increases your chances of keeping your job, my labor will be rewarded.