Riskon in the News

January 21, 2002
The Star-Ledger
On Thin Ice
By Beth Fitzgerald

As companies look to cut, here's how to avoid getting frozen out

Early last spring, a 30-something marketing manager (let's call her Sandy) for a big consumer products company was summoned to a surprise meeting with the boss.  The message?  Shape up or ship out. 

“It was really a shock, especially since I'd just gotten a raise,” Sandy recalled.  She resigned with a handshake and a severance package and now is looking for work. 

Could she have seen it coming?  With the benefit of hindsight, she thinks so.  For one thing, there was the phone call (an angry call at that) at home on a Sunday from her boss criticizing her work. 

“I think it's wrong to criticize someone when they are standing in their kitchen on a Sunday night, and I never forgot that,” she said. 

More companies than ever are looking for an excuse to squeeze out employees.  The key to survival in the workplace is staying tuned to the workplace vibes, then tailoring your performance to the job, experts say. 

  • Some of the subtle and not-so-subtle signs you are being squeezed out: 
  • You skipped a key staff meeting, and nobody missed you.
  • You have a nagging suspicion you're not getting all the usual office e-mails.
  • Co-workers have suddenly quit making small talk.
  • Those once-glowing annual performance reviews have become quarterly gripe sessions.

“The most familiar warning signs fall into the ‘lack of inclusion' category,” said Howard Guttman, a management consultant whose firm is Guttman Development Strategies in Ledgewood.

If you're being left out of meetings and bypassed on key decisions, you need to ask your boss what's up.

“Don't assume the worst.  Just ask your boss to help you understand what is happening,” Guttman said.  The organization may be subjecting you to “the slow process of ostracism; you are literally walking around with an X on your head.”

Well-run organizations don't engage in management by telepathy, Guttman said.

“It's a dangerous game, because everyone else in the company recognizes that this could happen to them.  It is very bad for morale,” he said.   But even if you get the cold shoulder, your job can still be saved.

“You have to get your boss to sit down and tell you the specific behaviors you need to exhibit to turn things around.”

And how do you avoid becoming the sort of worker your organization wants to weed out?

“By doing a very good job, obviously,” said Barry Honig, president of the Tenafly executive search firm, Riskon, Inc.  “You have to understand the needs of your manager, the pressures he or she is under.  Make it clear that you are there to help, that you will do whatever is needed, and that you are on your boss' side.”

If you find yourself unjustly targeted for dismissal, don't be shy about pointing out your virtues, said Frank Wyckoff, president of Snelling Personnel in Eatontown.

“Maybe you are being taken for granted,” he said.  “The guy before you did X amount of business, and you're doubling that, and suddenly the company has forgotten all this.

“It is your responsibility to kill them with information.  Treat this like a job interview.  This is no time for modesty.

Blairstown professional coach, Jean Charles of Just Right Consulting and Coaching, advises clients to keep learning new skills to boost their job performance.  “Don't be complacent; go behind what the job requires, and be a lifelong learner.

Coach Ron Paxton of Lateral Leadership in Montclair tells his clients to seek quarterly appraisals of their job performance.  “You can see how you are perceived, and make any adjustments you need to make.”

Your goal is to rank among the top 20 percent of the employees, in terms of performance, Paxton noted.

“If you are in the top 20 percent, your job is secure unless the company goes bankrupt.”