Watch For The Signs

Not everyone who gets laid off from their job sees the layoff coming.  Sometimes these things happen with little or no warning.  And the warning signs are frequently not obvious to many workers, even management.  However, there are some warning signs to watch out for, and steps you can take to make sure you’re prepared for the unexpected.
If you work in the public sector, for the state, federal or local government, a social services agency, not for profit corporation, or any area of employment that is funded from outside sources, layoffs typically happen during certain times of year.  Depending on whether the annual funding cycle is based on the calendar year (January through December), fiscal year July through June, layoffs usually occur in the final quarter before the end of that cycle.
So for example, if grant filing dates aren’t being met, you can expect layoffs.  If the programs you work in are receiving less funding due to budgetary shortfalls or cuts from the funding sources, expect to see layoffs.  If work is based on fee-for-services arrangements, and fewer hours are being billed or fewer services are requested, there will be layoffs. Sometimes the layoffs are swift as a cost cutting measure, and other times those being cut will receive some advance notice.
In the private sector, things are a bit less predictable, but there are still some signs.  If major contracts aren’t renewed, there will be layoffs.  A sharp decline in profits and/or stock price usually results in layoffs.  When production benchmarks or goals aren’t met, when product release dates are pushed back extensively, and when other metrics or standards and expectations aren’t met, you will see layoffs.  If you’re hired for seasonal work, when the season is over you can expect to be laid off.
Should you worry about whether your position is in jeopardy?  Maybe not worry, but try to stay aware of what’s going on that could affect your employment status. Even productive, rule-adhering employees can unexpectedly get the ax. Public or private sector, typically there is a reverse hierarchal chain that must be applied: last hired, first fired.  An employee who may produce less revenue but who has longer tenure with the firm frequently stands a better chance of job retention than a new hire.
And while there isn’t much you can do when circumstances beyond your control necessitate that your employer make staff reductions, there are some actions you can take to better prepare for the unexpected.  And these are generally good ideas regardless of your position.

Put as much money aside in an emergency fund as possible, and start doing so now while you are employed. You’ll accrue a larger amount the sooner you start saving.  Open a separate emergency savings account and designate a portion of your deposits be directed to that account, in the same way you would to put money away for your kids’ college education, a new car or any other major expense.  Make regular deposits into this account and don’t touch it for any reasons other than emergencies.

Be prepared to make sacrifices, like eating out less frequently, cut unnecessary expenditures, and save on your regular bills and costs whenever possible.  Is there something you’re regularly paying for that you can do without?  Put that savings into your emergency savings account.

If possible, start car-pooling or taking public transportation to cut down on commuting expenses. Your employer may offer a pre-tax deduction for the purchase of commuter bus or rail passes.

Make sure your resumes, cover letters, online profiles and professional networks are all in order so that when you start looking for that next job, it will be easy to reach out to the right people.

There are probably a lot of other steps you can take based on your personal circumstances and needs, but doing some advance planning is always a good thing.

Work and life can throw you some unexpected curves.  Whether you know the work ax is going to fall or not, take these cautionary steps to soften the blow, should the worst happen.  Ben Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  If your income suddenly stops, you’ll be glad to have some savings and some contingency plans.