On September 15, Lehman Brothers announced that it had filed for bankruptcy, and within hours, Lehman employees around the globe were seen leaving their workplaces with their personal belongings in boxes, having been told game over, company gone, jobs lost. A week later, thanks to Lehman’s shotgun wedding to Barclays, a lucky ten thousand of those employees will have a chance to hang on to their jobs after all.
Those Lehman employees are on orange alert, totally under the gun to show their worth and prove they’re keepers. I’ve got news for you: we’re all on orange alert. In today’s economic climate, no one’s job is secure. So how to make sure you’re one of the lucky ones who dodges the layoff bullet?
First, bulletproofing your job is almost entirely about the relationship you have with your boss. If your boss knows you, likes you, and has a good impression of you, you’re much less likely to be fired than someone who doesn’t enjoy that relationship with the boss. There are four strategies I advise for elevating and improving your standing with your boss: be visible, be easy, be useful, and be ready.
Being visible means making sure your boss knows who you are. If he or she doesn’t know you, you’re really easy to fire. Being easy means making your boss’s job easier, not harder. Being useful means going above and beyond the call of duty, which is even more important during challenging economic times. And being ready means being ready for whatever might happen.
So for example, one way to be visible is to:
Arrive early and stay late. This sounds a little like a trick, but it’s not. You only have to arrive five minutes earlier and stay five minutes later than your boss to give him the impression that you’re always there. Also, not taking long lunches or personal days or other dumb ways you send the message that you’re not at work, working hard. If you’re not there, you’re easy to fire. Out of sight, out of mind.
Another way to be visible is to:
Introduce yourself. People tend to shy away from interacting with managers outside of their immediate team. But if you look for opportunities to introduce yourself to the big bosses—at conferences or company meetings or whatever—you widen your exposure. The more higher ups who know you and have a favorable impression of you, the more bulletproof you are.
Being easy means avoiding being a High Maintenance Employee—someone always complaining or having dust-ups with coworkers or otherwise making it harder on everyone around him. Layoff time is the perfect time for the gripers or the misbehavers to be let go. Same goes for the office gossip or the office Machiavelli. I always say, know the office gossip, just don’t be the office gossip. Understand the politics in your office, but don’t be known as someone who plays politics. Just stay off your boss’s “troublemaker” radar.
You can also be pro-actively easy. Being dependable, for example, is an old-school way to bulletproof yourself. Do what you say you’re going to do every single time. No excuses, no buck passing, no dog ate your homework, no computer crashes. If your boss knows without a doubt that he can depend on you, day-to-day as well as in an emergency, you will get a pass on the pink slip.
Sharing credit is another way to improve your standing. Being generous with credit is a twofer! You look good for whatever you’ve done and you look even better for being confident enough to praise others for it. The bonus is that it gives you an implied ownership over the whole accomplishment.
Being useful seems so obvious. Just do your job, right? Wrong. There are all kinds of ways to be a hero in any office. The more of a role you play in the important work that gets done, the more indispensable you are to your boss. Show initiative—don’t be afraid to raise your hand and say, “I’ll do it.” Volunteer to train or mentor colleagues. Your boss will thank you because you’re doing a job he usually hates to do. And try to find ways to add dollar value. Especially in rough times, I would never fire someone who’s putting money in my pocket.
Being ready is the biggest favor you can do for yourself during good times or bad. For example, having money in the bank and a sharp, up-to-the minute resume gives you confidence that you’re prepared for any eventuality. And that confidence is very attractive. It makes you seem more capable, more valuable, more of a keeper when layoffs are in the air. I also advise people to go out of their way to help the people in their network. When you’re known as someone who’s always eager to help, when the time comes, others will be just as eager to help you.