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Ask HR: How Can I Prepare for Looming Layoffs?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

One-third of the senior leadership at our tech company has changed over in the past seven months. The company has become hyperfocused on cost-cutting initiatives. I am starting to get a sense that my group may be laid off in the coming months. Is there anything I can do to avoid being a part of the layoffs if they are imminent? What can I do to prepare for a layoff? —Saben

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I know that facing uncertainty at work can be stressful, particularly in the current economic climate. While I don't know the particulars of your situation or the criteria your employer is using to make layoff decisions, I can provide some general advice to help reduce the chance of being laid off.

Start by demonstrating your skill set and value to your company. This may mean volunteering for assignments or completing tasks that others don't want to do. Showcase your talents on high-priority assignments with a measurable impact on your employer's bottom line. Provide regular progress updates on the financial impact directly related to your work, such as an increase in revenue or savings. And share your accomplishments with your supervisor, who may not be aware of all that you're doing.

Next, take steps to make sure you are seen as vital to both your internal and external clients. Often, employers consider the impact layoffs will have on customer relations as well as internal processes.

Let me be clear: Taking these steps may not always prevent a layoff, but at the very least it may leave a lasting impression on management and colleagues, some of whom you may be able to leverage for networking or job opportunities in the future.

While you plan for the best, prepare for the worst. To prepare for a layoff, take practical steps, such as updating your resume and LinkedIn profile to highlight any promotions, new skills, projects, and educational achievements like degrees or professional certifications. Leverage your network on LinkedIn and other virtual platforms to connect with people in your field. And if you are considering making a career change, seek out individuals who can provide guidance for breaking into your desired career path.

I would be negligent if I didn't mention financial preparations. Review your budget and trim it where you can, which will allow you to increase your savings. Make sure you know the eligibility requirements for unemployment in your state as well as the anticipated benefit amount, so that you can work that into any budget plans. And if possible, consider applying for new opportunities or freelancing before your hand is forced by any layoff decision.

I wish you the best of luck!

My business unit works remotely, but most of our overall operations are in person. Sometimes I feel disconnected because I don't have much face time with my co-workers and managers. I haven't received much feedback on my work. Can working from home hurt my career? —Marshall

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Certainly, remote work became essential as we've navigated a pandemic. While telecommuting has its advantages, you've seen firsthand some of the drawbacks to working from home. Without regular face time, teleworkers need to be intentional about remaining relevant and connected at work.

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Engage Remote Employees]

Working in a traditional office setting naturally provides opportunities for workers to interact. Whether passing a co-worker in the hall or bumping into a colleague in the break room, these little moments offer employees a chance to connect, which is something remote work does not readily replicate.

If you are feeling isolated from your team, it is likely others are, too. Make the virtual rounds. Don't hesitate to pick up the phone and ask a co-worker how they're doing. Check in with your team via online messaging systems. You could also take it upon yourself to coordinate a social event outside of work, such as a happy hour or a local volunteer opportunity.

If you're not getting feedback from your manager, ask for it. Request regular check-in meetings, or simply reach out and ask how you're performing. Share your career goals so your manager can help you reach them. Managers want and need to know where their workers stand.

Demonstrate your willingness to contribute to meetings, offer suggestions that align with your organization's strategy, and volunteer for projects. Being visible will help keep you at the forefront of your manager's mind should new opportunities arise.

If possible, you also might consider working in the office part of the time. Even if this does not provide an opportunity to interact with team members in your business unit, it could be a great way to network with other employees across your organization.

Working from home does not have to hurt your career, but if you want to advance, it may require a different approach to stay connected and showcase your value.