Make yourself an indispensable employee

If your company is looking to make redundancies, how can you improve your work, your attitude, your skills and your training to...

If your company is looking to make redundancies, how can you improve your work, your attitude, your skills and your training to avoid becoming a target?

Financial directors are looking for a return on investment from every aspect of the business, and IT is no exception. "It is becoming more and more critical to understand the business you work for and the factors affecting it," said Peter Linas, European development director at IT services company Parity. "Without that knowledge, it is hard to have a positive input."

Understanding the business means having a businesslike attitude to what you do. "Whatever you do, deliver it on time and to budget," Linas said.

Customer-facing staff, including IT employees, need to understand and acknowledge the values and priorities of their customers.

Try to suggest solutions for the business. "Never say 'we have always done it that way'," Linas said. "Think in terms of how you can make what you do better and deliver more back to the business."

Hone your skills

Technology constantly changes, so keep up to speed with the current hot skills. If you get a chance to learn something new, grab it. Remember, it is much easier to get experience of new technologies while you are still employed.

"Keep your skill set up-to-date," said Matthew Rodger, business development director at HR consultancy Alexander Mann. "You do not have to completely re-invent yourself but be aware of any new technologies that complement what you already do. Is there a new methodology you should be exploring or an improved toolset you could learn?"

Performance appraisals are the ideal opportunity to let your employer know what you can do and what you would like to do. But think hard about how you are going to sell it.

"Smart employees use regular appraisals to suggest, in a non-threatening way, what they would like to do as part of their personal development plan and why it would be good for the business," Rodger said.

He suggested putting yourself in your employer's shoes and asking yourself some questions:

  • What is the business benefit of my work?

  • What competitive advantage does the company gain from it?

  • What is the return on investment?

  • How will this prepare the company for future challenges?

  • Will it solve any immediate issues?

Get networking

"We encourage people to network while they are still employed to keep a high profile and put themselves in a position to hear about new opportunities," said Diana Westlake, managing consultant in the Reading office of outplacement specialist DBM.

Networking may sound appalling to those who like nothing better than sitting in their cubicle crafting code all day, but it does not have to be like that.

Westlake said, "We are not trying to make everybody constantly e-mail each other and go to cocktail parties. It is a more subtle mind-shift towards making connections with other people in other parts of the company; such as having innocuous conversations at the coffee machine."

Linas said, "Relationships are critical. The days of the technical people sitting in a corner not communicating have long gone. IT staff have to deliver real benefits. Getting to know people in sales and marketing, order processing and administration helps you do a better job."

As well as making the effort to chat while your cappuccino is perking, there are other easy steps to take. Westlake said, "See if there are any local networking or special interest groups you could get involved in. Keep a record of business cards and review them on a regular basis.

"Take the opportunity to send your contacts an item of interest from the newspaper, or tell them a bit of gossip you feel they might be interested in,"

Polish your attitude

An enthusiastic, can-do attitude can make you stand out as an employee worth hanging on to. "Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm," said Linas. "No one wants to hear 'sorry, that can't be done'. If you say 'let me think about that and come back to you in a week' that would be far more positive."

Iain Simmons, regional director at recruitment consultancy Elan, said, "You need to be seen to add value to the team. Take two people of equal ability and output, one sits quietly in the corner getting on with their work and the other is a dynamic and valued member of the team. When it comes to redundancy, who do you think will go first?"

Share your employer's pain

With many firms facing falling profits, now is not the time to demand a pay rise. As part of a business-focused attitude, consultants advise workers to be realistic about the problems their employer is facing and be prepared to share some of their pain.

"Permanent staff should show they understand the business issues," said Linas. "If your employer is going through a tough time, consider volunteering for a pay freeze or offering to do free overtime."

Kevin Barrow, joint managing partner and employment law expert at Tarlo Lyons, has a more radical proposal. "Become less expensive to engage. Cease to be an employee and offer your services on a self-employed contractor basis, thereby reducing your own tax and avoiding your employers' national insurance contributions," he said.

"This exposes you to a little more risk but, for more take-home pay and a lower cost to the employer, the risk may be worthwhile."

Should you actually offer to take a pay cut? Consultants reckon that is a definite no-no. "It smacks of being too desperate, too over-willing. You are diminishing your self-worth," said Westlake. "It may look like a good idea on paper but in my experience employers feel the price tag says a lot about what they are getting."

Simmons said, "If you are streets ahead of your colleagues in terms of skills and ability, your pay should reflect that. And taking a salary cut will not necessarily protect your position in the next round of redundancies."

In other words, we all love a bargain, but presenting yourself as an end-of-line sale item is the wrong message - even in a recession.
This was last published in July 2003

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