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Wary employee fears layoffs lurking at firm

DEAR J.T. & DALE: I think my company is in financial trouble. We are 40 people. Sales are down. The owner bizO-DautenOdonnel_DaleJanine_BizOhas mentioned losing money, and has become practically invisible around the office. I asked my manager if there would be layoffs and he said no, but I don’t believe him. – Jason

J.T.: In a private company, it’s hard to know what’s going on. The owner isn’t going to announce layoffs in advance. As for being invisible, I’m sure he’s off trying to fix the situation.

Dale: And it’s up to you, Jason, to protect your career. Even if there aren’t layoffs, you could be stuck in a zombie company: no growth, no promotions, no raises, no excitement about new products or new facilities. It’s time – hey, it’s always time – to assess your hireability. Figure out what skills you need to add and what you might accomplish in your current situation that might increase your value on the job market. At least once a month, ask yourself how you’ve progressed in your work and your career.

J.T.: To start on the career part, expand your circle of influence. Start networking with people at companies that could hire you. Many people in your situation just start frantically applying for jobs, but that won’t work unless you’re getting referred in. Meanwhile, as for your current job, you can keep asking (in a nonpestering way) about the financial situation. However, instead of just worrying aloud, ask from a perspective of “How can I help turn things around?”

Dale: Good idea. However, odds are your manager will respond to that question with something useless, like “Just keep doing your job.” He’ll say this because few managers think like innovators – that is, like someone determined to continually find new problems to solve. The first thing you should do is look for ways to cut costs. Instead of asking how you can help, find some cost savings and then volunteer to lead a departmentwide or companywide effort. (If you need ideas, start researching “lean” operations, and you’ll come up with plenty.)

J.T.: That’s how you show your manager and the company’s owner that you want to be part of the solution. This may cause them to open up to you about what’s going on. Imagine what could happen if you can assist in a turnaround.

Dale: If there is no turnaround, your efforts still can yield impressive stories to tell in job interviews about your jumping to help. That’s the spirit that will get you hired.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I’ve been at my job for two years. When I joined the company, my boss told me I could be groomed for a promotion to manager. Today they announced the hiring of a new manager from outside. I was blindsided. I want to quit. How can I stay here and help a new manager in a job that should have been mine? – Kim

J.T.: Before you quit, set up a meeting with your boss and find out what happened. Something doesn’t seem right. Until you know for sure, don’t do anything.

Dale: There are plenty of good reasons to bring in someone from the outside: The new person may have a special skill, or maybe can bring the company a major new account. On the other hand, if the new manager isn’t something special, then you blew it. Yes, you. Maybe you blew it by not developing your skills to reach the manager level, or maybe you just failed to meet with your boss and discuss your progress, and he forgot about his old offer.

J.T.: Based on what you learn from talking with your boss, you can plan your departure. Do not quit until you have a new job. For one thing, it’s hard to explain to new employers why you quit.

Dale: Agreed. Imagine telling hiring managers, “I was passed over for a promotion, so I got mad and left.” Meanwhile, you’ll be without income and overeager. How much better to get out and find a manager’s position and then announce triumphantly that you’re leaving for a new and better job?

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.