8 Warning Signs That You Might Get Laid Off

Worried about your job security? Don't let a layoff catch you off-guard.

Many major U.S. employers and cautious smaller firms are still cutting payrolls to help improve earnings and free up cash for new investment opportunities. Don't get caught off-guard.

If you're unsure about your job security, persistent (and polite) inquiries to your manager about the company's status will often turn up intelligence that big changes are in the works.

If those changes include layoffs, don't hesitate to start negotiating a deal. Severance pay, the maintenance of health benefits and even a continuation of employment on a 1099 consulting basis are all good topics for employees who are forcibly on their way out.

Here are eight telltale signs that your job may be on the chopping block.

Big Projects Are Put on Hold

Corporate priority-shifting is nothing new, but when a high-priority project suddenly falls off your list of objectives, something is likely awry. If you can't get a clear understanding from your manager about why a critical initiative is now an unexplained nonevent, start updating your LinkedIn profile. Somewhere high in the company's organizational chart, someone may be planning to do away with your job function or division.

Your Boss Has Become Standoffish

Remember that managers are human beings, too. When faced with having to put a member of their staff out of work, they may find it hard to maintain a chipper attitude around that person. If your boss begins to pull away by shortening your interactions or disregards your usual friendly banter, you'd be smart to anticipate the worst.

There's a Sudden Focus on Short-Term Action Items

If a once gung-ho boss stops discussing with you how to improve your job performance and grow in your position, be concerned. When those one-on-one meetings that once included priority planning for the next year turn into brief check-ins about programs that won't continue past the summer, your manager may already know your longer-term initiatives won't materialize due to staff cuts.

In this instance, it's important to be proactive. Schedule some time to talk with your boss. During the conversation, if you still can't get a straight answer to questions relating to third- and fourth-quarter projects, simply say: "Is there talk of reorganizing our department? I'm asking because I seem to be having difficulty getting clarity on projects that extend beyond Labor Day."

You're Left Out of Meetings

When managers begin to leave key people out of meetings for no reason, it might be that those people have recently been identified as possible job-elimination targets. If your previously scheduled meetings stop occurring without explanation or if they begin happening without you, be on alert.

Work Travel Is on Standby

Nothing spells "downsizing" like last-minute changes to travel plans, specifically the cancellation of trips scheduled weeks or months in advance. Ask hard questions if you get word that your travel schedule (not the whole company's) is changing.

Your Boss Is Constantly Behind Closed Doors

Over an extended period of time on the job, you get a feel for your boss's communication style and meeting schedule. When he or she starts to make unusually frequent visits to HR or shoos people out of his office to take private phone calls from upper management, take notice. A manager who's preoccupied and suddenly behind closed doors most of the day is a surefire sign that big things (and likely not good ones) are in the works.

Annual Reviews Are Delayed, With No Explanation

If your boss has always been on top of performance reviews, budget approvals and goal-setting sessions and now falls behind, ask yourself why (ask him or her, too). When layoffs are planned, it's common to put a hold on performance reviews for several reasons:

1) The human resources and payroll departments don't like to process salary increases for people who are due to leave the firm.

2) Upper management does not want goal-setting projects to incorporate people who will no longer be with the company when it's time to put the plan into action.

3) Employers want to make sure that people who are getting a pink slip aren't the same ones about to get the company's most glowing performance reviews.

You're Abruptly Asked to Cross-Train a Colleague

A request out-of-the-blue to cross-train a co-worker on your main job functions is the closest thing most employers will give you to a huge screaming message on the wall saying, "You're outta here." Don't ignore it. If you're asked to train a colleague who has never shown an interest in your work, or if peer-to-peer cross-training has never been part of the drill, react.

Ask your manager, "Are you hoping that Rodney can pick up some of my duties? I'm very happy to partner with you on your plans, but I can only do that if I have a better sense of the direction you're headed." A lot of managers will break down at that point and share the unfortunate news with you. The earlier you know what's in the works, the more able you'll be to react and position yourself for a transition.

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