Many of us like to think that our jobs are secure, and as long as we keep plugging away and doing our best, we're virtually guaranteed to remain employed for as long as we choose. But unfortunately, the real world doesn't work that way. You might be a star employee with an impeccable record, but if circumstances change, or your company realizes it needs to downsize, you could find yourself out of a job overnight.
Consider this: In the five-year period between 2009 and 2014, an estimated 20% of the U.S. workforce fell victim to layoffs. And while we can blame the Great Recession for part of that, the lesson here is that no one is invulnerable.
Of course, one of the worst things about losing a job is getting caught off guard. With that in mind, here are a few warning signs to look out for.
1. You're being excluded from meetings
Many of us complain about the endless stream of meetings we're constantly subjected to. So if your calendar starts growing increasingly empty, it may be a sign that your presence is no longer needed because you'll soon no longer be employed by your company. Of course, getting left off a meeting invite here and there is no reason to stress, but if you find that you're increasingly being excluded from meetings, especially recurring ones, it could mean that a layoff is in your future.
2. You're not being put on new projects
Many of us work on various projects in addition to tackling our core daily tasks. If you find that you're no longer being asked to work on new initiatives, it could be a sign that your company is contemplating letting you go. This especially holds true if you're passed over for projects that are typically considered your forte.
3. Your colleagues are dropping like flies
Some signs of a layoff are more obvious than others. If you come to notice that a significant number of coworkers have recently packed up their desks, there's a chance you might be next. This especially applies if no one seems to know why those colleagues left the company. If your employer is uncharacteristically quiet about the departure of an employee, that person may well have been handed a pink slip.
4. You're asked to document your key processes and responsibilities
Another potential warning of a layoff is when your manager asks you point-blank to write up some official guidelines on how to do your own job. You may be fed a line about how HR is requiring all employees to document their job descriptions. But if you do a quick survey and find that you're the only person on your team who's been asked, then you may need to prepare yourself for a new job.
5. Your manager won't give you a straight answer
Whether you're asking about an upcoming project deadline or a new process your team desperately needs to implement, if your boss is overwhelmingly non-committal whenever you're involved, it could mean that something is brewing. Along these lines, if your manager seems to be avoiding you or canceling one-on-one sit-downs because "things keep coming up," take it as a sign that you may need to dust off that resume.
Of course, just because you encounter a scenario like the ones described above doesn't necessarily mean you're getting laid off. But still, it never hurts to be vigilant and know what to look out for. Additionally, since layoffs are sometimes unavoidable, you can take steps to protect yourself by having emergency savings on hand. Ideally, your emergency fund should contain enough money to cover three to six months' worth of living expenses. This way, if it does take you some time to find a new job, you won't have to worry as much about paying the bills.
Furthermore, no matter where you are in your career, you should always make sure your skills and credentials are up-to-date. The last thing you want is to lose out on career opportunities because you grew comfortable at your old job and decided to let a certification lapse.
Getting laid off is never fun, but knowing what warning signs to look out for can help you stay on your toes. Also don't be too quick to discount whatever negative instincts start playing on your mind. While most of us may be naturally paranoid to some extent, if your gut is telling you you're about to be let go, it pays to work with that assumption and come up with a backup plan. Doing so will soften the blow if the layoff train does indeed drag you aboard for a ride.