How to Tell if You’re About to Get Laid Off


Hindsight is 20-20. My nearsighted eyes are not, but there isn’t much I can do about that right now. I can’t afford to visit an optometrist for a new pair of glasses. My vision insurance, along with my sense of self-worth and steady biweekly paychecks, were ripped away from me last month when I was laid off. I hadn’t seen the axe coming and was devastated by the news. I might also have been financially ruined were it not for the existence of unemployment insurance and a committed partner I can rely on to pick up any financial slack.

It’s been about eight weeks now. The shock has passed and I’ve realized that my job doesn’t define who I am. Looking back with a clearer head, I don’t think anything could have fully prepared me for losing my job. However, I do think the blow would have been softened had I recognized the red flags. They were there; they usually are.

In the past few weeks, I have swapped pink-slip stories with my friends, former colleagues and strangers on the Internet. I’ve also cornered the people I know who work in management and picked their brains. What I’ve collected from these conversations is a depressing, paranoia-filled list of situations that you can interpret as hints to update your resume, backup your work contact list and start looking for a new employer.

You work in one of “those industries”

If you work in a dying industry, you probably already know you are always at risk. All I can add is to never believe you are indispensible. I once spoke to a guy who was hired as extra security during a newspaper layoff. He told me all the things he overheard:

“You were on the Pulitzer team, you’ll be fine.”

“The office couldn’t survive without you, you’ll be fine.”

“Our department is so bare bones already, we’ll be fine.”

None of those people were fine.


Management changes

If the company you work for undergoes a major change—being sold, splitting in two, absorbing a new company, etc.—expect change to trickle down. New management often brings with it reorganization and cost cutting. If it is announced by current management that the company will soon be sold to a new guy, and said new guy adds you on Facebook, do not consider yourself safe. He is not your friend. He might still lay you off on day one of his new regime. (True story.)


Higher-ups are having more closed-door meetings than usual

Closed-door meetings are where tough decisions are made. Similarly, if local management is suddenly spending a lot of time at corporate headquarters. They are probably not planning a company appreciation day.


Outside consultants are brought in

When it comes to your job, never trust somebody whose job can be described as “efficiency expert.” One of my friends worked for a company that brought in an outside consultant who made each employee itemize every task she did on a particular workday, including the amount of time spent on each item. When layoffs came a few months later, nobody was surprised.


Your boss asks you to create an instruction manual for your job

If your supervisor suddenly becomes interested in codifying your job, you should ask yourself why. Is your boss truly concerned that the office might fall apart if you suddenly fall seriously ill and miss a week of work? Or are they asking you to create a training manual for your replacement?


You are asked to cross-train a coworker

I have a friend who introduced this guy she was seeing to a friend of hers. Now said dude is dating her friend, and she’s single. That’s the relationship version of this workplace switcheroo—except in the workplace version, the person being cross-trained is also miserable because she knows she might have to do two people’s jobs soon.


You see a job posting for your job

Awkward, but it’s happened.


Somebody asks you to list all of the company accounts/programs you have logins and passwords for

Do not believe whatever excuse they give you for doing this. IT is not demanding this as part of increased security measures. They are asking because they need to know what accounts to disable and passwords to change once you are canned. If this happens, consider getting laid off an imminent threat.


You have fewer responsibilities than you used to

Admit it to yourself. You were already demoted. You are obviously not valued.


April Corbin is a Louisville, Kentucky-based freelance writer. She is not nearly as paranoid and cynical as this article suggests.



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