Anthony Wachira, just like millions of Kenyans who have ever been sacked, says he wishes he knew how to read the room before his job was terminated.
One morning, he walked to a construction site where he had been working as a technician and found a long list of sacked employees stuck on the gate.
“I could see the project was coming to an end but I hoped that I would be retained for more projects. Hope is not a strategy. I should have sharpened my curriculum vitae (CV), saved more, and looked outwards,” he says.
Most of the time, layoffs are out of the control of employees. Often, it makes them feel powerless and may push them into emotional and financial ruin.
In an era where job security is somewhat a fantasy with companies opting to trim employee numbers as their default response to the challenges created by competition, harsh economic times, and changes in technology, the wise prepare psychologically and plan what to do when, like Mr Wachira, they find their name on the sacking list.
Though announcements of layoffs come when least expected, some glaring signs can signal the end of the road is nigh.
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Disruption by technology
Mr Wachira, now a transition coach, says one of the ways an employee can tell that a layoff is around the corner is if their industry has been disrupted by technology. Automation and change in job skills most times mean layoff.
For instance, if a new application can do work that is currently been done by 10 employees, then the company will adopt it and send home its staff.
As humans, change is not pleasant and the first action people take is to fight it. Nonetheless, Mr Wachira advises that being adaptable to change helps an employee modify and survive.
“If outsourcing resources are cheaper, then an organisation will do so for efficiency,” he says.
Mergers and financial struggles
Further, when companies merge, there will be a duplication of roles, which means someone will lose their job.
Similarly, if a company is not doing well financially, it will choose to cut its cost by laying off some of its staff members.
“If there is a restructuring in the senior management of the company and some are leaving as others change jobs, then the writing is on the wall, a layoff is on its way,” he adds.
However, even with all the above signs, smart employees can still do something to increase their chances of dodging an oncoming layoff.
Syria Rama, a learning and development professional says the best way to make oneself indispensable is by upskilling.
She notes that going back to school for professional courses, networking, and attending webinars, workshops, and seminars betters one’s skills and also provides an opportunity to learn the hoops in the current job market.
Ears on the ground
“Keep your ears on the ground to know what is happening. You cannot afford to bury your head in your work. Even if you will not take part in the conversation, be in the know-how,” she says.
Further, researching the industry to understand whether it is shrinking or not will help recognise the shifts and offer you an opportunity to prepare in advance.
That way, as an employee updates their CV and LinkedIn profiles, they are also able to include the keywords of their industry so that in the event they are axed, it is easier for their next employer to find them.
Additionally, employees need to ensure that they are visible and recognisable.
“If you are shining in the organisation blow your own trumpet,” adds Ms Rama.
Resiliency in these uncertain times is key.
Nahia Orduña, an author of Your Digital Reinvention notes that “Resiliency is like a chair. If the chair only has one leg (your current job) and breaks, you fall to the floor. But if you build more legs, and one leg is weak or disappears, you can still sit comfortably. If you lose a job without a plan, how do you keep yourself from falling? First, look to build new and relevant skills. Don’t just spend your days job-hunting, spend them learning.”
Despite the preparations, it is crucial to note that job security is not guaranteed.
Mr Wachira shares that before branching out into self-employment, he felt safe that the axe would not fall on him. He would meet and supersede his targets but when the layoffs announcement was made, he was the first to be shown the door.
However, this second time around, he says he was much wiser.
“I was more prepared than before. I upskilled to make sure I could survive on my own and even though I would have looked for a job, I would do something on the side,” he says.
His networking skills while employed helped him get his first client when he became his boss.
“Cultivate your network while you still have a job. Reach out to these connections and tell them you are hunting for a job. Remember these networks do not need to be your friends, they could be professional acquaintances,” he says.
However, despite being prepared for the stress and hurdles that come with the thought of losing a job, anxiety is inevitable.
Seeing a counsellor, coach or mentor helps lighten the burden, but the decision to move forward solely depends on the laid-off employee.
Ms Rama notes that the reality of going hungry snaps people out of their pity parties. Having skills that can be monetised can come in handy when out of a job.
However, sometimes job loss can be a blessing in disguise, an entrant in the self-employment world.
“All the same, for someone to sit pretty in a job and think they are safe, they are lying to themselves,” she says.