With economic uncertainty on the rise, unfortunately some employers are starting to play defense; reducing headcount in their organizations through layoffs and downsizing. Snap, Bed Bath and Beyond, Predictive Index, Groupon, Wayfair and others all made headlines last fall for reducing headcounts by as many as 39,000 jobs, according to Crunchbase.com.
In 2008, I was laid off from a large, global hotel chain. When I look back on it, the signs were all there: An economic recession causing a downturn in business results, a new CEO and a new head of HR formed the perfect storm for reducing corporate headcount. Layoff anxiety is a real thing, and unfortunately can have the unintended consequence of contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy. By cutting back your efforts out of fear (please don't make me say "quiet quitting"), you could become a target if times get tough.
So how do you make yourself more valuable at work? By working smart, thinking ahead and maintaining a good attitude, you can keep your career moving forward and (hopefully) avoid being considered for job elimination if your organization goes down that path.
Before we dive in, I'll state that one doesn't necessarily need to work longer hours to become more valuable; work-life balance is the sign of a healthy work relationship. Further, I'll also state that layoffs aren't just for front-line employees. Plenty of folks in the management ranks are often affected when an organization turns to downsizing as a way to solve problems. With that in mind, here are my tips for increasing your chances of being viewed as indispensable at work.
1. Own it. Take full responsibility for your job performance. When problems arise, suggest solutions. When you run out of work, suggest new projects or tasks that could be completed. If you're struggling to meet your goals, take the initiative for additional training or mentoring. Don't wait to be told what to do. "Waiting to be told" represents the absolute lowest level of initiative.
2. Go above and beyond. Think about the hats that your boss wears. Are there responsibilities you could offer to learn? Can you think ahead about what might need to be done next week, next month, or next year? Can you provide a little better service to your customers or co-workers? A good friend of mine from New Orleans calls this "lagniappe," which means "a little something extra." What can you do to stand out as a little more special than your peers?
3. Keep your cool when the heat is on. Working well under pressure is a great way to build trust within your organization. Keep a positive attitude and focus on solutions, not problems. Someone who takes action to solve problems is much more valuable than someone who complains about problems or escalates problems when they arise.
4. Be a team player. It's unlikely that the employee most willing to pitch in and say "yes" when new projects, situations, or opportunities arise is someone the organization would want to dispense of. Saying yes to new opportunities, in the short-term may seem like "more work for less money," but ultimately is a good way to open new doors in your career. Raise your hand when the boss asks for help and you're more likely to find yourself as an essential member of the team.
5. Be replaceable. Wait, isn't this article about being irreplaceable? Yes, but putting yourself in a position where you're training and teaching others means that you are free to step up and take on new responsibilities. Time and time again I've seen people "hoard" information or job duties which creates a toxic environment and a risk for the employer. By being someone who will teach and share, you're demonstrating essential skills of leadership.
I know, I know. This seems like a lot of happy talk. While it's true that there is nothing I can say that will guarantee downsizing won't impact you, the tips above will set you up for success whether in your current position or a future move.
Kelly Gust is the CEO of HR Full Circle, a Springfield-based consulting firm that provides talent management and human resources consulting to organizations of all sizes and stages. This article originally appeared in the October 2022 edition of Springfield Business Journal.