Here's an unsettling thought to ponder this Labor Day: More layoffs occur between the first of September and New Year's Eve than during any other time of the year.
That's been the case for five of the last seven years, according to a survey by Challenger, Gray and Christmas, an outplacement firm that has tracked layoffs since 1993.
In fact, holiday spirit aside, December was typically the worst month for layoffs from 1995 through 2001, recording almost 600,000 job cuts. October was next at 537,000 during the same time period.
The primary reason for this end-of-the-year slashing is rudimentary economics.
Businesses are planning for the coming year, Challenger explains, and cutting payroll is often a top priority.
To make matters worse, more companies are considering outsourcing - hiring temporary or contract workers - to handle various functions usually not central to the company's product or service.
Outsourcing is particularly popular among smaller firms, which may not have the capital or expertise to tackle certain business functions or projects.
A national survey of small to medium-sized enterprises by eLance, Inc. found that half of the companies surveyed outsource, while 94 percent expect to increase outsourcing or maintain current levels.
Despite the grim news, Challenger contends workers have more control of their fate than they realize. Often, whether someone stays or goes is up to a manager.
"What they know or do not know about an employee's work output could be the difference . . . This is not the time to take a lot of sick days, leave the office early or miss deadlines.
"Another major mistake," Challenger warns, "is using up accumulated vacation days in these last three or four months of the year. Even if you did not use one day of vacation before September, a series of vacations at the end of year will be what stands out in a manager's mind when he or she is told to cut staff by 10 percent."
Challenger urges that workers, whether on the assembly line or in the front office, consider Labor Day as a starting point in the campaign to pre-serve their jobs.
"Employees should come to work on the Tuesday after Labor Day ready to prove they are indispensable. Many employees are proving to be exceptional, giving 110 percent all the time. They should resolve to give 115 percent between September and December."
Challenger offers the following Labor Day resolutions to help employees solidify their workplace status.
Express a willingness to travel/relocate. Since September 11, more employees are reluctant to accept transfers or assignments requiring heavy travel. Take advantage of this by letting your supervisors know that you are willing to travel, transfer, or do whatever it takes to help the company.
Do not let work expand to fill the time. If given a project deadline two weeks away, many people will just do the minimum amount of work on the project each day to ensure they meet the deadline. Instead, resolve to get projects done ahead of schedule, and then request new assignments or projects. Or better yet, suggest new assignments/projects.
Become an information vacuum. Think like a Wall Street analyst. Absorb everything there is about the industry you work in as well as the economic factors that affect it directly and indirectly. Regularly read all of the trade publications related to your industry. Visit the websites of your competitors and read their annual reports. Read books about your industry and your position. All of these will help you do your job better.
Do not hide. It is against many people's nature to toot their own horn. In today's business environment, however, such boasting is a necessity. Everyone, from CEOs on down, is busier with his or her own agenda, so to assume that someone is keeping track of your accomplishments would be a grave miscalculation.
If you cannot schedule a periodic face-to-face meeting with your supervisor, prepare a monthly memo, updating her on the status of your projects and the major victories you have achieved.
Find ways to save money, particularly that require your involvement. For example, if you can figure out ways of accomplishing more work in less time while maintaining output of then same or better quality, you will be making a significant contribution to profitability. Time is an important factor to consider because time means money at any company. When the savings occur in your own department, or in work you do or personally supervise, you are elevating your stature and strengthening your own case.
Make sure you are well liked. People who are not liked by someone in authority are always the first to go when business conditions become unfavorable. It is not enough just to do a good job. Find ways to increase your likability factor in the eyes of the employer. You were liked when you were hired, and you want to maintain that same acceptance now. Continuing effort on your part is required to meet your employer's expectations and establish good interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Avoid any tendency to become nonchalant and take things for granted.
Give up telecommuting. While companies have in fact found that telecommuters may be more productive than on-site employees, there remains an ever-present problem: out of sight, out of mind. You may be delivering high-quality work from a home office, but being away from the corporate office, where all the decisions are made, can put you at a major disadvantage. Even those who are in the office two or three days a week, including every scheduled team meeting, can still miss out on unscheduled and informal - but important - brainstorming sessions and decision making.
Bring the wardrobe up a notch. If everyone else is wearing blue jeans and golf shirts, come to work in pressed khakis and a casual dress shirt.
If everyone wears khakis, step up to dress slacks. Dot.coms helped bring about the trend of workplaces going increasingly casual. It has gotten to the point that some consider torn jeans and T-shirts to be acceptable office attire. However, with the downfall of dot.coms, many companies are rethinking many of the policies spawned in those firms. As a rank-and-file employee, particularly one who rarely sees customers or business partners, it can be easy to underestimate the value of improving dress, or resolve that appearance does not reflect your skill and/or work ethic. In a situation where downsizing is highly probable, you do not want to be just another face in the crowd - this only makes it easier for supervisors to group you with everyone else as they plan discharges.
Become a generalist. Learn other people's jobs and responsibilities so that you can move easily from area to area - wherever the company happens to need people.By specializing in only one area, you are more vulnerable to downsizing when companies decide to cut back in your department.
Do not criticize the company or anyone in it. Even in the best of times, employers do not like complainers or those who appear to have dissident views or difficulties getting along on the job, especially among the newly hired. There may be a natural tendency to display certain behaviors because of the stresses and tensions of the work atmosphere to "let off steam" or indulge yourself in expressing your frustrations, or to attempt to prove your own intelligence by finding fault somewhere. Bite your tongue.
Be there when you are needed. You may not consider attendance as an important factor, but it is to most employers. Frequent absences for personal reasons or minor illnesses are not going to sit well with senior managers, who are accustomed to putting in long hours in today's super-heated business environment. If your attendance record is poor, you are sending a message that you are not concerned about the company. Many firms are requiring their managers to work one-and-a-half or even two jobs, and you will not enhance your reputation by being a clock watcher. Be available early and late.
Become a problem solver. There are problem seekers - those who are adept at identifying all of the different problems that could arise in certain situations. Then there are problem solvers - those who identify the problems and then provide a workable solution. Employers want problem solvers. Increase your recognition as a problem solver by requesting difficult assignments. Individuals who gear their work lives in this direction can help make themselves "untouchable" during a downsizing or reorganization.