How to survive a layoff

IT industry layoffs: the sheer magnitude of them, often numbering in the thousands, can make even the most stoic IT managers quake in their boots. But layoffs aren’t all bad.

According to Info-Tech Research Group and several Canadian IT staffing firms, as long as layoffs and job restructuring are done well, they can actually offer opportunities for career growth and see you come out on top.

First, both employers and employees have to learn how to pick up the slack properly.

“With these economic conditions, layoffs are often an uncertainty, and skills gaps can often open up and staff members have to take on new tasks,” senior research analyst Jennifer Perrier-Knox of Info-Tech said.

Think ahead

Something that comes in handy when it comes time to dole out new tasks is to have a set of best practices and procedures in place to refer to, as it quickens the transition and thus doesn’t impact productivity too much.

This includes written job descriptions, reporting structure and change management procedures, according to Perrier-Knox. “That way, those with new roles know how to succeed in them,” she said.

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It is unlikely, though, she said, that management would take two full positions and combine them into a brand-new role. “This would create burn-out issues,” said Perrier-Knox, “And management needs to give people in restructured jobs time to succeed.”

Skill set and the volume of work required will be some of the main considerations for management looking to restructure jobs in the wake of layoffs. And employers? “It’s important to consider workload and its effect on emotion and stress. Stressed out workers leads to productivity loss.”

It’s all about support

From there, it’s important for teams to meet regularly to ensure that anyone who has taken on new responsibilities after a restructuring is thriving under the new workload. “Employers need to assess and monitor their staff. It’s about offering support and help during these times, not making your employees feel like you’re spying on them,” said Perrier-Knox.

This is also a good time to institute a more regular performance review process to ensure that everyone is thriving within the new department or company structure. “When it comes to redefining job roles, it helps to keep an eye on things to make sure no one’s floundering, and revisit performance more frequently through periodic reviews,” said Perrier-Knox, who pointed out that it’s also a good idea to emphasize the positive during these sour times and keep up employee morale.

The silver lining

And, surprisingly, there is a definite upside to such a dour economy. If no layoffs have happened yet, it’s a good time to re-evaluate your performance and make sure you’re an irreplaceable asset for the company, even in bad times.

One way to ensure this is to be one step ahead and get some extra training, said Terry Power, president of the Toronto-based IT staffing firm Sapphire Technologies Canada Ltd. “Those in high demand are those with the skills that are very relevant to the business. Those with the more generalist skill sets get hit earlier. Try augmenting your skillset with business skills, business analytics skills and communications skills,” he said.

During trying times, companies require that ROI more than ever. “What organizations need is people that can have a more immediate impact, and the way to get that is through more specific skills,” Power said. In this type of hiring environment, he said, employers also tend to make fewer offers and take longer to make decisions, and, for those looking for work, more specific training could be the dealbreaker.

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Value in the market

Losing coworkers. Salary freezes. Forced unpaid vacation. The aftermath of a round of layoffs can be brutal, but there is an upside: Those who have made it to the other side can take pride in knowing that they’re doing something right.

And, said Frances McCart, vice-president of national accounts and business development with the Toronto-based IT staffing firm Eagle Professional Resources Inc., it should be seen as an opportunity. “The people left behind have shown that they have the ability to be successful, whether it’s being a quick learner or having soft skills,” she said.

With a few key people gone, the company will be looking for go-getters to, hopefully, take charge. If you are missing experience in an area, step in and get some via a vacated position or abandoned task. This is one way to obtain more project management or employee management skills, said McCart. “You could pick up a whole new skill set,” she said.

And if you do get laid off after all? This way, McCart said, you’ll be better equipped to face finding a new job. “In the end,” she said, “you’ll even be more valuable in the marketplace.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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