THE BLOG
01/21/2009 11:14 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to be a Survivor of Today's Workplace Devastation

As soon as you finish reading this blog, I want you to take a deep breath and send an immediate but short e-mail like this:

From: Steve
To: Boss
Subject: Face time - 5 min.

Dear Boss,
When you have 5 minutes, I need to run something by you.
Best,
Steve

What's this about? It's your preemptive measure in approaching your boss NOW - while 93% of Americans still have jobs. And quite honestly, we only hear the dreaded numbers worsening every day.

Take the strike now by letting your boss identify your face with the person they don't want to fire.

As you've heard me say a hundred times, when the word "recession" is used in conjunction with layoffs for any company - large or small - it's virtually a blank check for your boss to fire almost anybody.

In my book Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out On Top at Work (HarperCollins), I emphasize that BEING VISIBLE is the number one thing you can do to keep your job. (There are 49 other secrets in the book, too...you'll only learn them if you pick up a copy!)

When the book first came out, many journalists and readers came back to me and said, "There's no way to stop the boss from firing people once the edict has come down from above to 'a numbers thing' --somebody's gotta go no matter what!"

This seems to be in everyone's mindset until they test out my proven strategy. Readers of my book have been writing me by the hundreds and telling me, "Stephen, it really works. My boss did announce a bunch of layoffs but seemed hesitant to fire me because I actually said I wanted to keep my job." Then their next line is always, "I feel really bad for Julie/Harry/Karen in the cubicle next to me, who was too smug to say they wanted or needed their job. Our boss seemed to feel less guilty about firing them, and then they got fired! Karen was my best friend at the office and I really miss having lunch with her."

It's really important RIGHT NOW, THIS VERY MINUTE (once you stop reading this, of course) to actually ask your boss for some face time. That's right. BE VISIBLE. And do it in person - asking to save your job by email doesn't count.

If you work from home or away from headquarters and you make a special trip to the office to ask about your position on the firing totem pole, you're making it even more difficult for your boss to fire you, when and if the time should come.

Most of the time, this really works. Even the meanest boss hates to fire anybody, but it's more difficult for a boss to fire an employee who just came to them face-to-face and asked to keep their job. Still don't believe me? Let's role play. Follow steps 1-3 below and then use my Viscusi-proven script which follows. I've written it for you right here and you can copy it - no copyright laws apply.

Step 1: Send the email now!
Write to your boss saying you want 5 minutes of face time. Don't give a reason; just say you need 5 minutes to ask a quick question.

Step 2: Take whatever time the boss gives you.
Don't make it around your schedule; make it around theirs. Make it clear you're available at their convenience. Don't even think of changing the time even if it conflicts your daughter's wedding.

Step 3: Remember the Spielberg role.
You have less than 5 minutes in the elevator to pitch and sell Stephen Spielberg your new TV treatment for a reality show called "The Headhunter from Hell." The gist: make it short, quick and to the point. Drama is okay.

Now, here's your free script. This one is from a male point of view (feel free to change it as appropriate). And it's always important to mix in your wife/husband/partner if you have one, because now the boss has TWO people (or more if you've got kids) to feel guilty about.

You: "Michael [insert boss's name here], I know business has been slow in the widget industry. I know that sales are down. It's no secret that layoffs may be coming. Maggie and I are worried, and Seth's tuition is coming up. Like everyone else, we're a little overextended. Where do I stand on the firing totem pole?"

You should be looking your boss in the eye the entire time. They'll be SO surprised that you're being so direct, and then before they have a chance to answer, my magical follow up answer is...

You: "I guess I'm asking what your supervisor thinks of me and how respected I am in Human Resources. Michael, I really want to keep my job. Where do I stand?"

During the silence when your boss is starting to feel awkward and uncomfortable (and by the way, your cell phone should have already been turned off as well as the volume on your Blackberry), take your strike!

You: "Listen, no one likes to fire people. I know you can almost pull someone's name out of a hat, but I need to get a sense from you how it's going to work in our department/company and where the decision may come from."

Basically, you're asking your boss if there is anything you could be doing now - ANYTHING - that would make you less vulnerable to the axe.

Before Obama was elected President, we called this "shock and awe." You've just shocked-and-awed your boss! A little self-deprecation should be thrown in too. So you should continue on:

You: "I love working here. I feel very nervous about my job in this economic climate but confident in my ability to do it. Can you mentor me on how to keep it?"

Shock and awe! Honestly, it really doesn't matter what your boss says next. But some politically-savvy managers may be prepared and will tell you one of the following three scenarios:

Scenario 1
Boss: "I'm just as worried as you are, Steve. I don't know what's going to happen next."

That's the typical company line. Or...

Scenario 2

Your boss might present you with a strategy to hold onto your job. Or...

Scenario 3

Boss: "Well, Steve, to be honest, your performance hasn't been up to par recently, and you should be concerned."

Obviously, no one wants to hear that third one. But it really doesn't matter what they say because you've completed your assignment. You've put them in the shock and awe mindset, simple as that.

Don't blow it: just stick to the script. Remember my philosophy: career coaches are for sissies. I'm not coaching you on how to keep your job; I'm flat-out telling you how. Stick to the script.

The secret is to not let it go past the script. Don't read anything into your supervisor's body language, and don't let him or her have an elaborate follow-up. And finally, don't expect a guarantee from the boss. The intention is simply to emote subliminal begging. Yeah, it's okay, you can call it that. But you're not really begging directly. You're passively-aggressively subjecting your boss to your shock and awe candor as well as eating your little humble pie and saying that you really want to keep your job.

What boss doesn't like to feel like a "boss"? And what better way to feel like an appreciated boss than to have your humble employee ask how secure his/her job is? Let's face it: "BOSS" is a four-letter word!

Readers of Bulletproof Your Job write to me every single day and tell me how they never thought they'd come to appreciate the words "shock and awe" after Dubya axed Rummy.

Now it takes on a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

There are no guarantees in life, and work is not a democracy. So have your resume up-to-date anyway (a good idea no matter how secure your job is), but don't assume that you're going to become a statistic. Think of it this way: like many of you, I watched Barack Obama's inauguration on TV yesterday with a sense of hope and pride in our country. But think about all the people who believed he'd never make it this far. Had Obama believed he'd just become another name on the unsuccessful presidential-hopeful list, Americans wouldn't be feeling the enormous hope and promise that this new chapter in our country's history has ushered in. Obama didn't just assume that he wouldn't make it just because it seemed unlikely - and neither should you!

It seems like American corporations today - and by extension, their employees - are wholly burnt out by corporate greed, mismanagement, and destruction. I know times aren't easy. But especially in such a volatile time, why should you be afraid to try a strategy that will bulletproof you from the workplace devastation that is happening today?

Stephen Viscusi is the author of Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out On Top at Work (HarperCollins) and the founder of bulletproofyourresume.com, a resume writing service. You can e-mail him at Stephen@viscusi.com or call him at 212-979-5700. Please visit his websites, www.bulletproofyourjob.com and www.bulletproofyourresume.com.

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