The hard realities of the economic downturn are changing the face of employment in Japan and, for many, downsizing and potential job losses are a real threat. The question is, how best to weather the storm. Below are six clear and easily identifiable signals that a job may be at risk.
1. Cost-cutting measures throughout the organization. An announcement on the need to reduce costs could be a sign that an employer is also considering cuts in staffing. However, almost all companies are currently carefully watching costs – taken on its own this is not conclusive evidence that a job is in danger.
2. Workload is lighter than usual or projects are being reassigned. This is a strong signal that there is not enough work to justify the number of employees, or that the company is redistributing the workload in anticipation of downsizing. If you are getting less work than others, then perhaps you are being considered for the required cutbacks.
3. Work is cyclical in nature and downtime is increasing. Not having enough to do is a sign that a function is not as vital as it once was. Companies that are looking to cut staff often focus on departments or positions with a cyclical workload, where day-to-day activities could be supported by fewer employees.
4. Position or department is not viewed as a revenue generator. Management’s view of a department provides a useful insight and those that do not generate sales directly or which are not seen to contribute directly to the bottom line will be one of the first places companies look at when making cuts.
5. No longer being included in key meetings. When a company is preparing to downsize, it is unlikely to include those at risk in strategy sessions. If someone is no longer being asked to plan for the future, it may be because he or she is not seen as having one.
6. Manager displays increased interest in the status of projects and how to complete them. This could indicate that a manager wants to get a better sense of how things are done and what still needs attention so that he or she can reassign these projects in the event of cut backs.
Although one or even two of these signs may apply to virtually everyone in the current environment, the more signs, the worse the outlook. For example, if the firm is cutting costs (#1) there may be no need to worry, but if workload is lighter (#2) and the individual is far from revenue generation (#4), it may be a good idea to start planning next steps.
What to do if unemployment seems imminent?
Even if cuts seem unavoidable, there are steps to take to preserve individual positions or at least provide a soft landing:
• Do not become so consumed with worry that work suffers. It is important to maintain focus. Continue to deliver high-quality work over and above expectations to remind managers of the contribution being made.
• Make sure managers are aware of the contribution. Enhance visibility on the job, ensure contributions are in line with the company’s business goals and talk with managers about how to contribute more.
• Enhance value-add. Actively seek out new business deals and volunteer to participate in new projects. An enhanced revenue-yielding capability will boost status as an asset that the company needs to retain.
• Try to stay positive. People like to be surrounded by cheerful, optimistic colleagues, even more so when times are tough.
In tandem with these job-saving strategies, it is important to prepare to re-enter the job market, in the event the situation deteriorates and temporary unemployment is inescapable. Here is a brief checklist of immediate actions:
• Resume update. It is always a good idea to maintain an up-to-date resume - in difficult times, it is essential.
• Network actively. Target professional organizations and support groups whose members can either help find a new role or provide guidance to that end.
• Look for ways to save money. Job searches can take a very long time, particularly in a downturn. Be financially prepared.
• Reinforce bridges. Continue to act professionally and perform at work. Ensure relationships with coworkers remain intact—in the event a job is lost, colleagues will remember grace and dignity and an offer to return when the economy turns around could result.
• Improve marketability. Take classes or volunteer for activities that enhance skills.
• Get reacquainted with other markets. Talk with friends/family/colleagues overseas, or speak with a recruiter, to get a feel for overseas markets and the breadth of options.
Knowledge of what may lay ahead allows you to plan for any contingency, including the real possibility of keeping the job and weathering the crisis. When it comes to career planning, doing something is always better than doing nothing
(David Price is Japan's Managing Director for specialized recruitment firm Robert Half International)
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