Laid Off, Ticked Off, and Broke

The housing industry has been good to Jessie. The upturns in the market had provided several years of sizeable commission checks because of the mortgages needed to support all the real estate sales. Because of understanding the market, she knew that it was cyclical and that there could, and probably would be, a downturn. However, the money was great so Jessie decided to ride the wave as long as possible. She just couldn’t leave because the pay was too good!

Just a few weeks ago, the woes of the nation’s housing market slapped Jessie in the pocketbook. The sudden cutbacks were unexpected and she was laid off with no warning. The bills were stacking up and she had nowhere to turn. She had become a victim of circumstance, a toxic person, and a statistic.

How is your industry doing? Since the beginning of 2007, more than 40,000 workers have lost their jobs at mortgage lending institutions, according to recent company layoff announcements and data compiled by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Meanwhile, construction companies have announced nearly 20,000 job cuts this year, while the National Association of Realtors expects membership rolls to decline this year for the first time in a decade.

If the writing on the wall started in January of 2007, why weren’t more people prepared to face unemployment? It is your personal responsibility to prepare for the best and the worst-case scenarios.

Many, probably most, housing industry employees never planned for a downturn and thought they could ride the wave of the fat paychecks forever. How do you or would you process this industry downturn information?

The choice of accepting and keeping a position is yours. No one held a gun to your head, well, unless you are incarcerated perhaps. The decision to work in a particular industry or study in a particular field is your choice.

Like the housing market, many industries are cyclical and every seven to ten years there is a downturn. So why don’t most people plan for this day? Is it because of the money? Are you caught in this trap?

The favorite excuse for not looking around for different positions is, “I can’t leave what I’m doing because of the pay.” You are in total control of how much you make and where you work.

Three reasons for the “I can’t change because of the money” excuse:
1. You are being paid too much for what you really do.
2. You have not taken inventory of the talents (or lack of talents).
3. You have no idea how to market yourself.

Reason #1. You are being paid too much for what you really do.

If you are overpaid for your job because of company or industry wage standards, you will be out of that job soon. Most industries do have a cycle, so get yourself prepared. This may mean beginning a job search at the height of your earning power. Also, in today’s environment, every leader, manager, and supervisor is looking to cut costs, and the easiest way to do it is to dump the overpriced employees. Leaders can either hire less expensive labor or outsource the job. Fair? Maybe not, but it’s business. Unless you own the company, you are not in control. Period. What you do have is the personal accountability to change your outcomes.

Solution? Ask for assignments that are more difficult. Learn a high level skill. Work harder and smarter. Keep a list of the all the skills you have. Without being a Steamroller or a Know it All let it be known what you are capable of accomplishing. Volunteer to cross train others, lead an improvement team or start a Learn and Burn lunch meeting.

You do have some control over the perception others have of you. So, if you think you’re being paid too much, do something. If you don’t, they will solve the problem for you. When there is a downturn in the market, you will be the first to go.

Reason # 2. You have not taken inventory of the talents. (Or lack of talent)

Right now without too much mental processing, write down the five reasons you are good at your job and why you should not be replaced. You should be able to spout these off as quickly as you say your own name. If you can’t do it, keep a Talent Journal for a few weeks or months.

If you inventory your talents and discover that you aren’t as good as you think you are, here are a few suggestions. What you must do is continue to prove your worth. It really doesn’t matter the level of employment or unemployment, you are in control of continuing to prove the value you bring to the company. Have the people working around you complete a Leadership Scorecard anonymously on you. Find the gaps between your perception of how you work and theirs.

Toot your own horn, speak up, and do your best every day. If the company takes a new direction, implements new software, merges, faces a market turndown, or develops a new product, learn the nuisances and mechanics of making it work. People that wait to be trained or communicated to will be on the chopping block.

So how do you keep updated? Do you Google your company to find out what is being said in the press? Do you pay for training yourself? Are you constantly looking at ways to improve your behavior and self-awareness? If you answered any of these with a no or not a definitive yes, you are in trouble. Sorry for the bad news, but this is the real world.

Your talent may be that you are a pain in the rear. Do you bemoan policy changes? Are you part of the grapevine and catch yourself gossiping? Are you listening to others that are filled with negativity? Do you talk about anyone behind their back? If you said yes to any of these, you are on your way out the door. Companies will not embrace office politics that undermine their cause. They don’t have to. What companies will do is promote people that produce, use fewer resources, manage conflict, work successfully with colleagues, find solutions, and move the company to success. This applies for all kinds of business; so don’t argue that this is not your environment.

Reason # 3. You have no idea how to market yourself.

You are a commodity. Employers buy your talents because of how you have positioned or marketed yourself. What is your marketing plan? When was the last time you updated your resume? And if you did update your resume, do you understand the nuances of resumes in today’s businesses?

Stop and take a hard look at your position, industry, and success. Concentrate on the personal responsibility you can have when it comes to your career and potential. Keep yourself from becoming laid off, ticked off and broke!

Email Marsha for your copy of the The Leadership Scorecard. – Please visit or email at Marsha AT MarshaPetrieSue DOT com.

As a professional speaker and author, Marsha Petrie Sue is the Mohammed Ali of communicators. She can dance and look pretty, and she uses the entire ring, but she knows how and when to land a knockout punch. Get the smelling salts! Her presentations are charm school with live ammunition. She is the author of The CEO of YOU and the soon to be released Toxic People: dealing with difficult people in the workplace without using weapons or duct tape.

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