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Signs You May Lose Your Job (Part 1 of 2) Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Mark Swartz
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dear Mark: Up until a few weeks ago I worked for one of the big Canadian banks. One morning my boss came by my cubicle and called me into her office. A few minutes later I found myself cleaning out my desk, jobless, with no warning at all. Two months back I scored top marks on my performance review. Everyone there thought I was super. What on earth did I miss?

-- Narayana V., Truro, Nova Scotia
Dear Narayana,

Quite often when I work with clients who have just been terminated from their employment, they begin by telling me a similar story: 'I was simply doing my job to the best of my abilities, and one bleak day -- with no advance notice whatsoever -- they came in and let me go.'

For the most part, the claim that there was no advance notice at all ends up being somewhat exaggerated. Not that you're expected to be Sherlock Holmes in picking up clues. However almost always there are advance signals that your job could be in jeopardy. The problem is that they may be quite subtle, or else they appear in places you might not be looking. In any event the signals typically come in two distinct forms:

(1) General Indications that your job could possibly be at risk (2) Specific Signals from your employer that your days in particular are probably numbered In the case of (1), you become aware of circumstances that broadly suggest you should not take your job for granted. These could be factors beyond your control, such as when your company's financial performance had been less than stellar for a while, or perhaps your boss has lost the ear of senior management. Other factors could be more directly in your control, like when you yourself have been experiencing performance issues, or possibly haven't been getting along with your peers. What makes these indications general is at this point your employer has not taken action against you specifically as a target for downsizing. We'll focus in more detail on (1) in a moment.

As for (2), this is when your employer starts giving you hints that you in particular are being targeted for possible termination. Clues may include being excluded from important meetings, having vital responsibilities taken away from you, receiving a negative performance review, etc. More about this, and how to deal with it, next week in Part 2.

General Indications themselves do not necessarily mean you're on the verge of getting turfed. But if you choose to disregard them it's at your own peril. There are two main types of these indications, as described in the list below. Impersonal Factors are those you have no real control over. Personal Factors include those elements you can influence directly.

IMPERSONAL Factors External (Things that happen outside of your employer)
  • Your employer is about to be -- or has recently been -- acquired by another company
  • The industry you're in has begun to decline (for instance, automotive production in Ontario or forestry most anywhere in Canada)
  • New laws or policies have a significant negative effect on your employer's ability to compete

Internal (Things that happen within your employer)
  • The company is re-organizing in order to reduce costs or compete more effectively
  • Your boss, who absolutely loves you, is replaced by someone who has different priorities or their own favourite people
  • Your boss falls out of favour with the higher ups
  • There is a shift your employer's direction and your particular skills or experience are no longer key to the organization's success

PERSONAL Factors
  • Your own performance has been slipping in noticeable ways (e.g. reduced output, showing up late, leaving earlier, failing to submit your work within deadlines, etc.)
  • You hate your boss or the company you work for
  • You dislike the work that you do itself
  • You are vying for a promotion and one of your competitors gets the nod instead of you
  • Your boss or colleagues dislike you

Regardless of whether the warning signs are impersonal or personal, you might consider hunkering down and doing your job better than ever. Also scanning for outside opportunities is not a bad idea. Hopefully you can stave off being involuntarily downsized.

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