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Don’t wait to be downsized!
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wait to be downsized!
Don’t wait to be downsized!
by Geoff Hart
Previously published, in a different
form, as: Hart, G.J. 1999. Don't wait to be downsized!
Sure, the economy’s booming now,
but as the Asian crisis becomes the North American
crisis, it pays to remember Newton’s famous
law of gravity: what goes up must come down again.
And, of course, when the economy comes down and
pension fund managers start asking those awkward questions
about why they should remain invested in your
stock, managers have a lemming-like tendency to
trim staff to make room for short-term profits and
long-term plausible deniability. As a technical communicator,
you’re obviously well up on the hit list, which
some might see as a bad thing—but there’s
a silver lining to every cloud (or, in our case,
a copper lining; they don’t pay us well enough
for silver). In fact, the good news is that it’s
easy to ensure you’re the first one fired, so
you can leave before the job becomes mundane without
looking like a quitter. Then there are all those
perquisites (severance pay, a little downtime)...
my top-10 list of ways to ensure you’re not
the one they retain when the budget axe falls:
- Don’t get too friendly with your managers
and coworkers, lest they form undesirable
attachments to you that limit your expendability.
Hollywood managers notwithstanding, there are still
a lot of caring humans in management, and caring
humans just hate to lay off people they know and
- Avoid opportunities to learn new skills. If you
start doing more than the work they hired
you for, there’s a serious risk of becoming indispensible.
The problem with being indispensible is that there
will be many others who want to keep you around, and
that’s a problem if you’ve got the wanderlust.
- Keep yourself out of the loop. If you keep your
finger on the pulse of the company,
you may learn of impending downsizing long before
it happens, and given the instinctual tendency to
fear change, that leaves far too much time for you
to get cold feet and do something about it.
- Pretend ignorance of your true value to the company.
What you don’t know, you can’t explain
to others. However, don’t be truly ignorant;
you do want to be rehired by someone else
eventually, and you’ll have to convince them
of your worth.
- Ignore opportunities to save money or work more
efficiently. If you’re not a big target on the
balance sheet, you’re easy to overlook when
it comes time to trim. Fortunately, managers examine
the balance sheet and not the details that underlie
it, so even if you’re doing a good job, it’s
the expenditures they’ll notice.
- Learn one tool and learn it really well, to the
point that you really don’t need to upgrade—ever.
People who practice this “lifetime learning” thing
generally violate recommendations 1, 2, and
5, making it that much harder to become expendable.
- Stand out in a crowd, but for all the wrong reasons.
North American culture leans towards the
notion that “the
squeaky wheel gets the grease”, but one of many
things we’ve learned from the Japanese, who
are much wiser in these things, is that “the
nail that stands up gets hammered down”.
- Embrace the “Peter principle” fully
and strive to rise above the level of your competence.
Anyone who learns from their mistakes and grows content
with what they’ve already got has a seriously
limited career path, and a greatly reduced chance
of unanticipated, externally imposed career change.
Besides, the severance packages are so much better
when you’re higher up the food chain.
- Use deadlines as a guideline, not a religion,
by becoming an advocate of the “just-in-time
school of workflow management”. After all, if
you’re not planning to be with the company
for any great length of time, why subject yourself
to the stress of regularly meeting deadlines and
unnecessarily raising management expectations?
- Adopt the humble doctrine that perfection is
not for mere mortals to attain, and
that striving for perfection represents dangerous
hubris. Try to make enough visible mistakes that
as eminently mortal, tenure-wise.
With the rate of change in modern society, we’re
constantly being advised to embrace change rather
than fight it, and what better way than through downsizing?
Job security has traditionally been a source of fear
and stress, but with practice, you should be able
to embrace this particular type of change too. Don’t
think of it as a layoff: think of it as a much-sought-after
career change opportunity!
(For an alternative viewpoint, see “Jobs of
a lifetime” by Barbara Moses, Report on
Business Magazine, Dec. 1998, p. 107–112.)
©2004–2017 Geoffrey Hart. All rights reserved