12 ways to make your job more recession proof
The moment Shirley Bennett realised her employer needed to cut back on staff she feared her job as sales manager at a Manchester electrical goods supplier was probably on the line. “I thought there was a good chance that I was facing the chop if I didn’t do something about it,” she remembers.
With two people being made redundant every minute, it’s an all too familiar situation in the current economic climate, but a year later Shirley is not only still in her job, but also has had a promotion. “I decided to make myself indispensable,” she smiles. “And it seems to have worked.”
How can you try to make your job recession proof in these uncertain times? “No one is immune in the present climate,” says Derek Walker of Oxford University’s Said Business School. “We all know people lose their jobs who are perfectly competent, while others keep theirs who aren’t. But if you’re a strong performer you’re in a much better position.”
What you do and where you do it can play a vital part in deciding whether you’ll be told: “We hate to lose you, but we’re afraid you’ll have to go.”
For instance, where you live can have a dramatic effect on how redundancy proof your job is. The safest places at the moment are the north east, southern England, East Midlands, Humberside and north west.
And thank your lucky stars if what you do is in specialist retailing, education, public health, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, food and drink manufacturing or the clothing industry. All have comparatively stable prospects for the coming year. So does anyone involved in the misfortunes of others - insolvency experts, debt collectors, pawnbrokers, prison workers, security operatives and loss adjusters.
But not everyone can be so lucky. According to Angela Baron of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development: “Companies wanting to cut costs look at the back room first, but if it’s a downturning business they’ll look at front line staff.”
Other studies confirm that when times are hard the jobs to go are those that cost money rather than make money - usually support positions like administration, human resources, public relations, customer service and accounting.
But if you can solve costly problems or save big money in your present role, get busy doing that - and make sure your boss knows about it because you can be just as indispensable if you save money as if you make it.
That’s just what Shirley Bennett did: “I went on an outsourcing course at my own expense and was able to suggest ways in which we could save on accountancy and stock taking that has saved nearly £50,000 this year. There’s no doubt it’s also saved my job, too.”
“The ability to innovate is probably the greatest protection against redundancy,” confirms Dr Jonathan Trevor of Cambridge University’s Judge Business School. “If you can do that successfully you’ll probably have a job for life.”
Of course, the easiest survival strategy would seem to be a no brainer - keep your head down, keep quiet and don’t draw attention to yourself.
“Absolutely wrong,” declares career consultant Craig Randall of DHR International. “This is the time you should beef up your performance and prove your worth. Laying off someone who keeps quiet is much easier than getting rid of someone who other people know is working hard. The people who hide are usually the first to go.”
Studies at the London School of Economics show that there are other groups of workers whom bosses often find almost impossible to lay off, regardless of their output or performance. They are employees who know a company is legally obliged to find them alternative work, those who are likely to start up in opposition with their redundancy money and workers who know their legal right to suggest how redundancy can be avoided.
And workers who are part of more than 20 redundancies are legally entitled to at least 30 days’ consultation - and firms are often reluctant to spare that amount of time.
Of course, there’s never any guarantee that you won’t be laid off in the coming months, but there are ways of making your job more recession proof. For instance:
• Take stock of your current situation and work out an anti-redundancy strategy. Watch for signs of cut backs such as cancellation of social events or reduction of bonuses. Don’t panic - just be prepared.
• Be proactive. Brainstorm ways for your company to both save and make money. Devour professional journals, websites and books that will broaden your thinking about money and business.
• Be visible. Get yourself noticed by taking an active interest in all work issues and make constructive suggestions at meetings. This isn’t the time to be turning up late or pretending to be sick. Make sure you’re seen being on time every day.
• Focus on the job and meet your deadlines. You might think that staying late will impress the boss, but it could be seen as a sign that you have a struggle to get your work done on time and perhaps aren’t up to the job.
• Be positive and let everyone - especially the boss - see how much you enjoy the job. He’s more likely to keep a happy worker than one who’s continually moaning.
• Find a mentor to give you an extra perspective on your situation and help you plan your anti-redundancy campaign.
• Take on more responsibility and volunteer to help out when necessary, but don’t aim too high unless you can realistically cope.
• Update your skills by taking advantage of training courses or seminars that will bring you up to speed on new trends and developments in your industry. Make an honest assessment of your skills and see how you can improve them.
• Invest in yourself if that’s the only way to get more training and qualifications - and so convince the boss he can’t afford to let you go. If it stops you getting the chop, what could be a better investment?
• Take every opportunity to lead a group, team or committee and so gain more experience in influencing others and increasing your value to the boss.
• Look for ways of saving the company money. A worker who cut his department’s printing bills by 40 per cent still has a job when six of his colleagues no longer have.
• Know what’s going on. Find out who the real company power brokers are and get to know them. Discover who the back stabbers are as well - and keep well away.
“The key to avoiding redundancy is not so much to recession proof your job, but recession proof yourself,” Angela Baron says. “With a bit of forward planning people can make themselves more marketable by thinking where their job might be in the future and what they need to be able to do it.
“At the end of the day, the way to keep your job is to be a top performer. Even when they’re shedding people in a recession, companies will always be keen to hold on to their best talent.”
Is your job recession proof?
Answer ‘yes’ to the majority of these questions and you should have a good chance of surviving redundancy, according to management consultant Dr Caela Farren.
• Is your job critical to your organisation’s purpose and future?
• Does your job closely affect the customer? Are you a vital link?
• Do changes in technology make your job more vital to the firm’s success?
• Would it be difficult to outsource your work?
• Are you regarded as a key figure in the organisation?
• Are you the person people turn to in a crisis?
• Have you acquired all the skills needed to keep pace with changes in your industry?