Keep Your Job

There are risks to checking out of your job prematurely. There are even rewards for overperforming during uncertain times.

Have you ever noticed how many people, when faced with the possibility of a layoff or reduction in force (RIF), start acting as if it’s a foregone conclusion?

Every chance they get, they search through online postings, network with people they haven’t talked to in years and actively look for a new position. In other words, they behave as if they are going to lose their jobs.

Why preparing for the worst is not the best strategy

To many people, the prepare-for-the-worst approach is a valid way to deal with the uncertainty of a layoff. Even Dale Carnegie, in his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” talks about a strategy in which people accept the worst that can possibly happen as a way to eliminate worry. In certain circumstances, this approach makes sense. A potential layoff is not one of those times.

That may seem like an extreme stance, so let me explain. I am not saying you should shut your eyes, ignore the facts and hope the nightmare stops before your paycheck does. Instead, I firmly support having a contingency plan for any given circumstance. But the issue in this case is not about planning; it’s about focus.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”Had he been talking about the likelihood of having your job eliminated in a RIF, Ford might have said, “Whether you think you will or you think you won’t, you’re right.”

One could argue that Ford’s thinking wouldn’t apply to a potential layoff because you wouldn’t seem to be the one in control. I disagree. You have a lot more power than you realize. That doesn’t mean you can always think your way into saving your job. But it does mean you have to be careful how you think. You also have to be conscious of the behaviors you adopt as a result.

In essence, what Ford was talking about is The Law of Attraction. The Law of Attraction states that whatever you give attention, energy, and focus to will become part of your reality. Ford talked about thoughts, but he was really talking about beliefs. Your mind is a lot more powerful than you might imagine. If you truly believe something is possible, your mind will find a way to make it happen. Conversely, if you don’t believe in your heart in a particular possibility, you aren’t likely to play any role in making that a reality.

Taking this one step further, it isn’t hard to imagine how giving attention, energy and focus to the possibility of losing your job might eventually detract from your performance. At the very least, you can’t think about two things at once. You can’t think about losing your job and focus on doing the best job possible. You have to pick one.

Applying this to a potential layoff, ask yourself this question:

How might your behavior be different if you knew with 100% certainty your job would not be eliminated?

  • How would you focus the time and energy you are now spending in your job search to improve your performance in your current position?
  • If you find yourself worrying about the future and complaining about the way the company is handling the situation, what would be a more constructive way to channel that attention and energy?
  • How might your relationships with your co-workers be different if you didn’t feel you were somehow competing with them in a game of corporate musical chairs?

Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions. With minimal effort, you will quickly realize how many opportunities you may be missing. This is the time to take action.

And remember to weigh the risks of checking out of your job prematurely: With the number of companies affected by recession, any opportunity in your same industry may simply be trading one set of issues for another. Whatever the case, be sure you are running toward a legitimate opportunity.

If you do decide to take another position, be aware that you may find yourself in the unenviable position of being the last person hired before your new company has to make its own difficult decisions. So, when you evaluate other opportunities, remember: There is probably no different from here.

In short, start acting like and believing your job is safe. Even if you don’t see the possibility in this right now, suspend disbelief and give it a shot. You have absolutely nothing to lose. Don’t dedicate your attention, energy and focus to worry, uncertainty and frustration. Instead, find ways to demonstrate those valuable qualities for which the company probably hired you in the first place.