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How to Avoid Dismissal



There is one constant in the world. “In good times or bad, downsizing is here to stay,” says Mitchell Lee Marks, an organizational psychologist who has advised MCA, the parent company of Universal Studios, and Chase Bank. “The difference is that in good times, management uses a scalpel, not an axe.”

Those who have prepared properly, however, can avoid being “downsized.” Among the steps:

(1) Volunteer. “Step up to the plate and take on extra work,” advises Don Blohowiak, a management specialist who has advised United Airlines. “When budgets get tight, management will ask, ‘Who’s essential here?’ And they’ll remember the person who was willing to do a bit more over those who only do what was required. Sticks in the mud get fired first.”

(2) Be upbeat. Those with a positive attitude have an in. “If you’re a cantankerous complainer, you may become a target,” warns Blohowiak.

(3) Don’t be a Yes-Man. Optimism is one thing; being a yes-man is another. Companies look for employees who can offer constructive criticism. “Candor is the highest compliment,” Blohowiak says. “It means, ‘I value you enough to tell you the truth.’ When the boss can count on you for an honest take, that adds value.”

(4) Make sure your superiors know what you’ve accomplished. “If you’ve done a job well, make sure people know,” advises Marks. Have your supervisor periodically blow your horn to the higher-ups, or at the end of the year write a letter sharing your accomplishments. But don’t overdo it. No one likes a braggart.

(5) Earn your paycheck. With benefits packages and salary increases, you may be costing more than you’re worth. Blohowiak advises candor: “Ask the boss, ‘Are you getting your money’s worth from me?’” One way to increase your value is to adapt to new work techniques quickly and without complaint, even training yourself on your own time if necessary.

(6) Go where the action is. If another division is growing and yours is flat, Marks says, “you might want to transfer into that division.”

(7) Prioritize. Determine what needs to be done first and do whatever it takes to complete it on time “Don’t be a 9 to 5er,” says Stephen Viscusi, host of the radio show Career Talk. “Get a sense of what’s urgent for your company. If your boss has a pet project, work on that. If it’s a busy time of year, don’t take a vacation even if your heart is set on it.”

(8) Control personal problems. In general, you should keep personal difficulties out of the workplace. But if you are facing something like a major illness in the family, be sure to tell your superior. Says Marks: “If you communicate in a crisis, they’ll be more understanding.”

(9) Listen to the office grapevine. Find out if the company is going to undergo downsizing. “You should be in tune with what’s going on,” Viscusi notes.

(10) Beware of paranoia. “Don’t go overboard and become paranoid,” says Marks. “Anxiety can work against productivity. The odds are if you’re doing the job well and meeting expectations, they’ll keep you.”