During tough times, it’s not enough just to be a good worker.
of you reading this own your company, so you don’t have to worry about being
laid off, except in the sense of being put out of work by going bankrupt in a
miserable economy. The marketplace is everyone’s ultimate boss, at least for
those of us who work in the private sector.
But this article is directed at those of you who do not have ownership
positions. If you’re feeling uneasy about your job security, you’re hardly
alone. I write this in early February, shortly after the Bureau of Labor
Statistics released unemployment data for January. It showed 111,000
construction jobs lost in the first month of this year, with the unemployment
rate rising to 18.2 percent up from 11 percent in January 2008 and 15.3 percent
at year’s end. Construction lost 632,000 jobs last year, the largest absolute
loss in 33 years and the largest percentage decline (8.5%) since 1991. That
total accounted for nearly a quarter of all payroll job losses throughout the
economy. From the record set in September 2006, construction has shed
899,000 jobs, seasonally adjusted, or nearly 12 percent of the peak figure –
the largest percentage decline of any sector in our economy. These numbers
confirm what all of you know and feel in your gut. Times are as tough as any of
us can remember.
A few months will have passed from the time this article was submitted until
you read it, and we only can hope the picture looks a little better by then.
The economic stimulus legislation that just got passed by Congress and signed
by President Obama should give a boost to government and institutional building
at least. Time will tell how many people it will put back to
Most of you who have managed to hang on to your jobs up ’til now probably are
very good at what you do. Employers tend to lay off the most dispensable people
first and move on down the line. Yet, as business conditions deteriorate, the
cuts go deeper and competence by itself is not enough to guarantee employment.
A lot of good people already are sitting on the sidelines, and more will join
them if there’s not enough work to keep them busy.
All of which raises a question: What can a person do to best protect his/her
job? Acquiring top-notch job skills certainly is a top priority, but not the
only consideration. Truth of the matter is that worker skills can be plotted
along a bell-shaped curve. The poorest performers occupy one far end of the
scale, and outstanding employees the other. The remaining 80 percent or so
occupy a big bulge in the middle, and when evaluating most people along that
bulge, it’s hard to find a lot of difference. One person may be slightly better
at one task, another better at something else. This complicates decisions about
who to retain and who to let go.
Here’s where extraneous factors come into play. A popular employee may outlast
someone whose attitude turns other people off. Team players who get along with
co-workers have an advantage over those with disruptive tendencies, even if
they may be a little less skilled overall. When this happens, you hear a lot of
snide remarks about favoritism and “brown-nosing.” To be sure, there are some
people who are better at office and jobsite politics than doing the job they’re
paid for, but another way to look at it is that alliance-building can be
considered a job skill worth developing. Relationships do count no matter what
you do for a living.
Here are some of the ways you can make yourself more valuable as an employee
beyond your job skills.
Whiners are not winners. Morale naturally is going to take a hit when business
is bad and friends lose their jobs; just don’t make it worse. Whiners sap
energy from everyone around them. Find positive things to talk about, even if
it’s only reminding everyone around you, “Hey, we still have a job!” When
others start whining, move away. Tell them you’re too busy to get bogged down
Accept more work graciously. When a company trims the payroll, it usually
increases the workload of those still employed. Accept this not only as the
price of keeping your job, but as an opportunity to learn new skills, become
more productive, and enhance your value to the company. Sometimes the added
workload is temporary. If it’s not and the burden is more than you can handle,
talk to your supervisor about it, but don’t just complain. Look at it from the
company’s perspective. Certain tasks need to be done and if you can’t do them,
they will have to be given to someone else who may or may not handle them any
better. Ask for detailed descriptions of the extra duties you are asked to
perform. See if you can obtain more training. Ask the boss to identify
priorities so you tackle the most important things first. Suggest ways to get
necessary tasks done by working smarter.
Take initiative. Do not only accept more work, volunteer yourself for new
projects and tasks that need to be done and perhaps are being neglected due to
a short staff. Everyone likes a go-getter, especially during tough times. In
particular, look to take charge of revenue-generating opportunities wherever
they might arise. Nothing will make you a hero more than finding profitable
Be a team player. After a layoff, you may find yourself working with new work
crews or departments. If you don’t know them very well, go out of your way to
be friendly and forge alliances. Ask them questions about what they do and how
you can make their jobs easier. Socialize during lunch breaks or after hours.
People naturally are leery of newcomers, so try to fit in as part of the team
sooner rather than later.
Be helpful. Part of being a team player not only is doing your job well and
without complaint, but also helping others to improve. Just as you may have to
take on additional duties after a layoff, others around you may end up doing
unfamiliar work. Be a mentor, and lend a helping hand if you know things they
Ask what you can do to increase company fortunes. Everyone knows when things
aren’t going well. Have a heart-to-heart with the company owner or your
supervisor and ask straight away what you can do to keep your job and become
more valuable to the company. They may suggest things you’ve never thought
Smart Business: How to Hang on to Your Job
May 1, 2009