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The Hill

How to avoid being laid off

By March 15, 2024No Comments

(This column originally appeared in The Hill)


You read the news. You know that the tide has turned. Corporate employers are laying off workers by the tens of thousands.

I run a small business and I work with dozens of large corporate clients. I can instantly recognize the employees who have job security and those who don’t. To me, it’s obvious. The ones that are at most risk usually fall into one of these four categories.

A lack of return on investment (ROI)

In 2022, Twitter laid off more than 50 percent of its workforce. Did anyone really even notice? I’m a frequent user and it hasn’t impacted my life one bit. During the 2009 recession, the world watched as our biggest companies laid off thousands — and guess what? Those same companies wound up being as profitable as ever.

Don’t believe me? Caterpillar, Starbucks and Alcoa — three big names — laid off about 60,000 employees in 2009 and 2010 between them. How did they do afterwards? Caterpillar’s profit in 2011 was 83 percent higher than 2010, Starbucks’ profits almost tripled in 2010 and Alcoa saw revenues increase 14 percent. There are countless examples of this.

Which begs the question….

What were those employees even doing? If tens of thousands of people could lose their jobs, while the companies they worked for not only continued forward but prospered like never before, what does that say about those workers?

The answer: ROI.

This may sound harsh, but know this: employees are assets. Like a piece of equipment, machinery and property, they require capital to be acquired and maintained. And like other assets, employees need to be generating a return on investment. Would your employer even notice if you’re gone? What are you doing to justify your ROI?

Seventy percent of employers say that creative thinking is what they need most in their employees. Want job security? Start with that.

Easily replaced by technology

There are jobs that are already being replaced by technology; this will only continue to escalate over the next few years.

What took a software developer hours can now be done in minutes with ChatGPT. One marketing employee can now write 10 blogs with AI in the time it takes to write one the old-fashioned way. Microsoft CoPilot and Google Gemini can automatically create PowerPoint presentations, draft emails, analyze spreadsheets and even allow one person to attend multiple meetings at the same time. Salesforce and other customer relationship applications are chatting with website visitors, launching campaigns and proactively suggesting new products based on prior purchases all without human involvement. AI is only scratching the surface of its potential.

Business owners and managers like myself will use technology to replace people wherever we can. That’s a fact and it’s already happening. If your job is in danger of being replaced by tech, then you’re going to need to acquire different skills to protect your livelihood. Or, get ahead of the curve (and your colleagues) and become expert in using these tools. Remember: The one who gets eaten by the charging bear is the one who runs the slowest.

One doth protest too much

Over the past few years, I’ve cringed reading the stories about the Quiet Quitters, the Coffee Badgers, the Barely Minimum Monday crowd.

I’ve shaken my head reading about the workers at Google and Microsoft and other big companies who publicly protest their employer’s stand on political issues.

I’ve rolled my eyes at the people who refuse their employers’ demands to come into the office three days a week (three days!). Or the TikTok videos of young people complaining about their commute, or having to work 9 to 5.

Even now I wince when I read about those Gen-Zers who proudly ghost interviews or don’t show up to jobs. Or the woman who posted a “countdown” video ahead of getting laid off. Who would hire that woman again if this is how she behaves? No future employer wants that. Or any of these people.

These people don’t get it. They don’t seem to understand that their employers hire workers to … well, work. We want do-ers, not complainers. We want good attitudes, not bad. We want people who are committed to our customers and clients first, not their own needs. When it’s time to cut, who do you think goes first? You guessed it.

You are remote

Take it from someone who has been running a fully remote organization since 2005: Remote teams don’t work very well. My company is probably the world’s most dysfunctional company. We never see each other. We don’t recognize one another. We don’t share ideas, innovate or brainstorm. We have no culture, no fun, no camaraderie. Sure, my overhead is lower. But I know my company’s value is also low because of this.

Yes, people are our greatest asset. But not people spread out over the country who are only known to us via Zoom. Real companies need real people in a real office having real meetings in real time. Working from home is a great benefit, but like anything else, if you take it too far you will absolutely be out of sight and out of mind.

If you want to keep your job, make it a point to spend more time in the office than away. Otherwise, you’re likely to get laid off when the you-know-what hits the fan.

Companies across the country are desperate for talent. They understand that their growth — and survival — depends on good people, not machines. But they’re not altruists. They expect something in return. The workers who fall into the above categories are learning that lesson the hard way.

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