Layoffs: How to Predict the Unexpected

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Is the unemployment rate really the best metric to use to gauge the state of the economy?

If so, things would appear to be pretty good: The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that the unemployment rate fell to 5.9 percent, the lowest it’s been in the last six years.

But those numbers don’t really tell the whole story. A quick search of the Web reveals scores of articles like this one that speak to the “real unemployment rate”—which includes the modern phenomenon of “underemployment”: people looking for full-time work but settling for part-time jobs.

When factoring in underemployment, Forbes pegs the real unemployment rate to be closer to 12.6 percent. And that number doesn’t include the countless workers who’ve given up looking for a job altogether and have subsequently been removed from the workforce, according to the official definition.

Whatever the case may be, according to the BLS, the labor participation rate is the lowest it’s been since 1978.

So in other words, despite what our elected officials would like us to believe, the economy isn’t amazing. Lots of people are still looking for work, and many companies are forced to reduce headcount in order to remain financially viable over the near term.

And the big guys aren’t exempt, either: Earlier this year, Microsoft announced it was going to eliminate 18,000 jobs, a little less than a one-tenth reduction in the size of its workforce.

bossDo things seem shaky in your office? If so, you might want to consider these five warning signs that might indicate your employer is considering layoffs:

Your company isn’t reporting a profit.  In America, there’s only one entity that can operate with perpetual deficits: the federal government.

No matter the vertical, every business has the same ultimate objective: to make money.

Companies won’t necessarily implode if they don’t turn a profit every year, but at the end of the day, if your company’s financial outlook is bleak, chances are it’ll have to reduce expenses, which might mean reducing headcount.

There are rumors of mergers or acquisitions. Whenever one company buys another, there’s a good chance there will be some redundancies. Case in point? Microsoft and Nokia. Same goes for when companies merge with one another.

So if you’re hearing rumblings that your company might be sold or might buy or join another one, there might be some downsizing in the future.

Your company is very vocal about reducing its costs. Businesses need to get creative as they weather the storms of today’s difficult economic climate. But it’s one thing to axe spending accounts. It’s another to fire the art department.

If your employer makes aggressive cuts, chances are your company’s outlook isn’t too positive.

You’re getting assigned less work. On a personal note, if you find yourself getting fewer assignments, you should probably start thinking about your future with the company.

If money’s not rolling in fast enough, management might decide to slowly phase out certain people. In doing so, they make sure operations remain smooth during any transitional period.

2192192956_c9023211ca_zYour boss and coworkers don’t have the time of day for you. Personalities don’t have to match for working relationships to be productive. But if you’re getting the cold shoulder from both your boss and coworkers, word might be out that your days are numbered.

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to tell if layoffs are looming with any absolute certainty. But it’s wise to be prepared. If you experience any of these warning signs—or any of these ones, either—it might be time to start tweaking your résumé and updating your portfolio to make sure you’re ready for whatever comes your way.

That way, you’ll be able to land on your feet nicely. You’ll be prepared even if the unexpected happens.

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