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Career Connection: Signs That Layoffs Are Coming
And How to Be In Charge of the Situation

by Linda Matias of

The day that every employee dreads has finally arrived:  you suspect your organization is preparing for layoffs. But is it really a potential layoff, or are you just being overly suspicious? In this age of information overload, it is hard to understand why many employees are still surprised by cutbacks and layoffs.

Most employers don’t have to alert their staff. But the employees can still pay attention to the signs that things are not going well and that it may be time to start reworking their resumes. 

The Signs

 If your organization is taking more than one of the following actions, you have a serious indicator that trouble is brewing and layoffs are potentially on the horizon. Be aware of the signs, so you can minimize your risk.

  1.  Hiring freeze. The company announces it will not seek to fill vacated positions, and instead, will delegate those responsibilities to several current employees. The freeze is for an “indefinite time."
  2. Salary freeze. The company has decided to put a freeze on all position salaries for this year and will not confirm if it will do the same next year. The reasons include “budget cuts across the board,” and a need to maintain current benefits.
  3. Budget cuts. Management begins to reject budget proposals that were always approved, citing reasons such as “not a good time,’ and “table it for further discussion.”
  4. Expense reductions. The inventory closet is getting increasingly bare and supplies are arriving in much lower numbers. No one has a good answer as to why.
  5. Travel cuts. The number of annual conferences has decreased and it is taking a longer time for staff to be reimbursed for travel expenses.
  6. Streamlining. Management is combining lines of authority to report to fewer managers. So instead of four areas reporting to four managers, you now see four areas reporting to two managers.
  7. Projects postponed or cancelled. The spring project has been postponed to summer, and the summer project has been cancelled. Management says it’s because there aren’t enough resources to devote to them (or there's been a strategic shift, or some other jargon-loaded excuse), but won’t be more specific.
  8. Management leaving. Management usually knows of impending layoffs before the rest of the organization. Several management staff leaving one right after the other is a major indicator that layoffs are just around the corner. When you see an old-timer leaving "to pursue other interests," this is what is happening.
  9. Cutbacks in support staff. Unfortunately, the support staff are usually the first to go in a declining organization. Watch for hiring freezes and layoffs in support departments. Those are signs of things to come in other departments.
  10. Consultants. When layoffs are imminent, many companies will bring in outside consultants to review positions and the organizational layout. Allegedly, they are trying to make the best layoff decisions. But normally, the layoff decisions have little to do with logic or performance.
  11. Rumor mill. The rumor mill is full of inaccuracies, but keep an open mind when you begin hearing grumblings of a future layoff. It may be a false alarm, but it is better to be warned and ready than unprepared for the worst.
  12. Unmet business goals and expansion. Business goals are not being achieved year after year, and the organization is no longer expanding. In fact, some offices or departments may have started shutting down due to “productivity concerns.”

The job market is a volatile place. The better you are prepared for a layoff, the better off your career future will be. Many people are blindsided by a layoff and say they never saw it coming. In reality, the signs were always there. They just didn't see them. The reason most people don't see the signs is denial. We don't want to lose our jobs, so we blind ourselves (intentionally or otherwise) to the many signs that's going to happen anyhow. You have to make a conscious effort to confront reality. 


If you find yourself facing a potential layoff, don’t lose hope. Take charge of your future by updating your resume and references and nurturing your network. Make sure you have copies of your current evaluations and/or reviews; you probably won't access to them later. If possible, maintain a positive relationship with your supervisor so he or she can become a valuable reference. Your supervisor can be a tremendous asset to you, later. Your supervisor isn't responsible for your layoff, but can be enormously helpful in your recovery from it.

Try to keep an optimistic outlook of the situation; it may not be immediately apparent, but everything happens for a reason. Consider yourself one of the lucky ones  You’ve taken the first step in minimizing your risk while increasing your success in the event of a layoff. It's the rare individual who never faces a layoff. In the event you must do so, you are now more prepared to face it head on.


Certified in all three areas of the job search—Certified Interview Coach ™ (CIC), Job & Career Transition Coach (JCTC), and Nationally Certified Resume Writer (NCRW)—Linda Matias is qualified to assist you in your career transition, whether it be a complete career makeover, interview preparation, or resume assistance. She is also the author of "How to Say It: Job Interviews" (Prentice Hall, August 2007). You can contact Linda Matias at linda @ or visit her Website for additional career advice and to view resume samples.

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