Avoiding the chop

It will always be a fraught time for staff when a firm announces it will be making redundancies. Roisin Woolnough considers the...

It will always be a fraught time for staff when a firm announces it will be making redundancies. Roisin Woolnough considers the best ways to survive the cutbacks

When people around you are losing their jobs, it is hard not to worry that you might be the next one to go.

Job security is a luxury when there is an economic downturn, and redundancies have been occurring in almost all professions.

Several readers have contacted Xtra! to say they know their company has plans to shed some of its workforce and fear their jobs are under threat. One reader works for a company that had already laid off 5% of its workforce and intends to let another 10% go, some of which will be from the IT department. As he has several colleagues doing similar work to him, his concern is that at least one member of the team may be for the chop and his question was, "How do I make sure it's not me?"

Marianne Craig, a professional career coach, says it is essential that people do not let such fears affect their performance at work. "When an organisation is downsizing, it can make people jittery and the atmosphere can be very tense. Managers often select for redundancy those they perceive as being overtly anxious, so being calm and positive with a 'can-do' attitude is a strong asset," she says.

When morale drops like this, it is all too easy to become demotivated and let standards slip, but the answer is actually to get really stuck into your work and prove how valuable you are to the business. Deliver projects on time, making sure the work is accurate and thorough.

Remember how you behaved when you first started working for the company, eager to impress peers and colleagues? This is how to behave now - like the consummate professional. "Project the image of being committed, fit and healthy," says Judith Cowan, advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. "Organisations have criteria when selecting people for redundancies, such as time keeping and sickness records, so avoid being late for work or taking time off, if you can help it."
If an employer has to select one person to be made redundant from a team of people with equally important skills and abilities, then something like a high absenteeism record could be the deciding factor.

Peter Barnes, chairman of the professional advice register committee at the British Computer Society, agrees that staff need to project a certain kind of image in order to safeguard their positions. "Be a professional, be on call and be right up there with the top of the game," he says. "Companies need people they can rely on and who will go the extra mile."

Manoeuvre yourself onto those business-critical projects that cannot be delayed, because these are the safest jobs.

If you think certain systems or processes could be improved, go to your line manager with suggestions about how it could be done. If the changes will make processes more efficient and save money, even better - unless, of course, the implementation costs outweigh the savings.

Be the person who comes up with solutions to problems. To do this, you need to have a good grasp of what drives the company and how your work fits in with the overall business.

"Everyone, including support staff, should think about the business, have a good understanding of what it does and what it wishes to achieve," says Steve Waters, technical assurance manager at finance software house and business consultancy Coda. "If IT staff learn about the company they may recognise areas that can be improved, so helping the business's strategic positioning. And cost savings are always welcome, as are quality and making processes more efficient. In this way you give yourself a value which is difficult to ignore if the axeman cometh."

It sounds ruthless, but you need to make yourself stand out from the crowd so that someone other than you is made redundant when the time comes. The more benefits you have brought to the company, the stronger your position. "It is a bit of a dog-eat-dog world and those who are most likely to survive are those who are outperforming their colleagues," says Cowan. "It is hard when you find yourself having to compete with friends, but it is the reality when there is an economic downturn."

This does not mean stabbing colleagues in the back, but doing your job to the best of your ability, while still being a team player who will help others.

Sometimes it is inevitable that yours is the next job to go - but that does not necessarily mean you have to go with it. Before your position is made redundant, talk to your line manager about how it could be expanded or what other skills are needed in the organisation as there may be an opening somewhere else in the IT department. Talk to managers and colleagues in other areas to find out what skills are needed.

"If you can see the writing on the wall, start networking," says Cowan. "Networking cannot be underestimated and it is important you mix with other departments."

When companies are downsizing, they usually also have a recruitment freeze on, so if someone from another department has a vacancy, they will most likely be very eager to get their hands on you, even if it means a bit of training to get you going.

How to hold onto your job
  • Be a professional - be punctual, attentive to detail and maintain a positive attitude
  • Take a close look at your job. Is there more you could be doing to make your employers value your work?
  • Be proactive and take on more responsibilities and get involved in anything that is business-critical
  • Don't badmouth the organisation
  • Network. Talk to colleagues, other departments, industry contacts. If your position does become redundant, you will then be better placed to find another role.

Next week Xtra! looks at the best ways to get a new job

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment