Learn to Read the Writing on the Wall
Every day, companies lay off employees and managers. Could you read the writing on the wall telling you that your job was in jeopardy?
Harold, like many managers, missed the signals. The first warning came when upper management restructured manager responsibilities to give Harold fewer projects to oversee. With the projects went the employees assigned to them, leaving Harold with fewer direct reports. Harold's new projects had short, defined timelines. Oddly enough, Harold joked about his “good” fortune. Although he had seen upper management ease other managers out using these same tactics, it never occurred to Harold that the same thing now might be happening to him.
Sure, sales were slumping. But every company in the industry was going through a slow time. These cycles were normal, and sales would climb again in due time. The problem was, upper management wasn't interested in due time. Stockholders were getting anxious and wanted a better bottom line now.
Finally Harold's boss, a senior vice president, took Harold to lunch. Harold interpreted the invitation as camaraderie and commiserated with his boss's concerns rather than offering proposals for improvement. When Harold received a layoff notice two days later, only he was surprised.
In the Middle: Insulation or Isolation?
Being in middle management might insulate you from the pressures at the top and the struggles at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but don't let it isolate you from reality. You are only as good as your last success, and only for as long as others remember it (which is never as long as you do). If your company begins laying off staff, don't let yourself get lulled into a sense of false security because you're a manager. Managers are not inherently immune to staff reductions. In many situations, in fact, managers might find themselves among the first to go.
If you suspect that your job is on the line or a layoff is imminent, is there anything you can do to save yourself? No, not usually, unless the issue is purely performance (and this should never be a surprise to you, just as it should never be a surprise to your employees when it comes time for their performance evaluations). Ask your direct superior; sometimes he or she will be able to give you a straight answer.
As a manager, you are judged not only by your own performance but also by the performance of your employees. If your department's productivity is down, it looks like your problem — regardless of the real reasons (which might have little to do with you personally). And when it looks like your problem, it is.
Always Be Prepared for the Worst
Recognize, however, that often upper management cannot give you advance notice that you are about to be laid off or your job is about to be eliminated. Sometimes a sympathetic manager might give you a heads-up, but this could be at great personal risk. Most companies have policies and procedures they must follow to avoid discrimination and wrongful termination claims. It's always a good idea to be prepared to find yourself on the seeking end of the job hunt. If your company is downsizing or reorganizing, it's critical. Here are some ways you can stay ready for whatever changes might come your way:
Keep your resume current.Every time you attend a training program or workshop, take on new responsibilities in your job, complete a major project, or achieve a key success, update your resume. At the very least, pull out your resume every six months to review it.
Network. Collect business cards from people you meet at professional gatherings and even social events. Once a week, make it a point to call, have coffee with, or go to lunch with someone you know who works for another company that has people who do what you do.
Determine how your skills and experience could translate into positions in other fields. Could you teach, work in health care instead of the computer industry, or be a customer service manager in an auto dealer's service department rather than in a retail setting?
Consider volunteering in positions different from your job. In addition to fulfilling needs within your community, this will help you to expand your skills and extend the network of people you know.
Finally, try to set aside enough financial resources to carry you through three to six months of unemployment. This is a challenge for most people, who tend to live from paycheck to paycheck. Just setting aside a small amount from each check — as small as 2 to 5 percent — can quickly add up to a tidy emergency fund.