Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Nov 11, 2009

Avoiding layoffs: Making yourself indispensible

Everyone is expendable, and in many cases there is nothing you can do about a layoff when your company is forced to reduce headcount. There are steps you can take however to make yourself harder to live without should the time come to make the hard choice of who to let go.

1. Do work no one else wants to do
In every workplace there are jobs that no one wants to do. If you take those tasks and execute them with gusto you can quickly make yourself an indispensible part of the team. This works best when it is a mission-critical task that you actually enjoy and can excel at. Even if you don't enjoy it, if you do it well no one will want to lose you because then they'd have to find someone else to fill that role (or do it themselves). But don't go around offering to scrub toilets or complain loudly about how you work late every night on the WEENIS - there are limits to what tasks will help move the team forward and which just make you out to be a martyr.

2. Find a Gap and Fill it
Whether it be a gap in process, in skills or in knowledge on your team (or even with your manager), seize the opportunity to fill it. By doing so you can make things better for your coworkers, make your manager look good, and be seen as a knowledgable asset to the team. For example, say you and your co-workers regularly labor over tedious data manipulation in excel for your monthly reports. One way to help would be to use formulas to set up a report template that everyone can use to save time and reduce errors. Or, if you happen to be interested in new relevant technologies that your team could benefit from learning about, offer to put together a presentation to share what you know. This only works if you are sincere about sharing and helping your coworkers. No one likes a showboat who only offers to help when the boss is in earshot, and touting your awesome knowledge on a subject at the expense of others will only backfire.

3. Become a subject matter expert
Like the first two tips, making yourself the go-to person for a given subject can help to make you a necessary member of the team and therefore harder to lose. This works best when you have the opportunity to dive deep into a project as you may doing tips 1 &2. This is not about hoarding knowledge or being a know-it-all; it's about acquiring sufficient experience with a subject area to be considered an expert. If you don't see any opportunities to do this within your team, volunteer to work on cross-functional teams and build relationships with groups your team depends on to get their job done. These connections can help you to become the liaison who people turn to when they need assistance from the other departments.

Implementing these techniques out of a sincere desire to make a difference is key and can help cement your place as a valuable, productive team member. Continuing to produce and add value, while "owning" certain subjects can make you a less obvious choice when the time comes to make cuts. If, in spite of your excellent performance you are still let go, you can use these tips in your new job when you want to establish yourself quickly as a valuable member of the team.

Related posts:
Ask a Manager: Managing through a layoff
Preparing for the worst: How much should you have in your emergency fund
Your unemployment experience

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