Risk & You 2011

How to Know if Your Job Is at Risk

Heesun Wee,|Special to CNBC.com

With national unemployment stagnant at 9.1 percent, Americans are either looking for work or worried about losing their existing jobs. While there's no guarantee against a layoff, there are ways to assess your job security, labor experts say.

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"You really need to understand your company's current and evolving strategy. Get as much information as you can," says Ron Brown, a San Francisco-based management consultant who has worked with Fortune 100 companies.

In fact, with so much anxiety surrounding jobs and the economy, more Americans are taking severe steps to prevent a layoff. They're working 70-hour work weeks and risking their health and quality of life to keep so-called extreme jobs, according to the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York City.

Understanding Your Risks

One of the key steps to protecting yourself from a potential layoff is awareness — more specifically, avoiding denial. Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has studied how workers behave in factories that experienced downturns. Despite signs of slowing business, workers still were surprised when plants finally shuttered and pink slips were issued. "Workers are not good in predicting this," says Hamermesh.

That's because workers generally lay low as a job-security defense mechanism, explains management consultant Brown. "People put their heads down and hope for the best, and that's not the best strategy to take," he says.

Instead, Brown advises a proactive game plan that includes assessing the vulnerability of your company and position. That means understanding the evolving business strategy, and how your unit and specific function fit into the company's overall scheme.

Brown says questions to ask yourself include: Where does your business unit fit into that strategy? Could your unit get spun off or reduced?

Another tip — look at your job function and team from a budgetary point of view. Is the money for your department trending up or down?

While Brown cautions against asking your boss directly about your job's future, there's nothing threatening about talking generally about how business is faring. Sources of information can include supervisors, colleagues, and outside vendors and suppliers.

"You're looking for all indicators that would tell you the strength of your position, or the weakness of your position," says Brown. Based on the information you gather, your options may include pitching yourself to another business unit with a position that matches your skill set.

Ultimately, all signs may point to sending out your resume. It's all about hedging your options in this economy, he says.

More Unemployed 'Long-Termers'

Unemployment is likely to notch higher to 9.5 percent in the near term, according to the UCLA Anderson Forecast's September report.

"Even by the end of 2013 we will not be back to the unemployment levels of late 2007," according to the forecast's senior economist David Shulman.

Many workers have returned to school, , or stayed home to raise children. Others have left the workforce and simply given up looking for work.

Indeed long-term unemployment, defined by those out of work for at least 27 weeks or more than two years, has risen higher following the 2007-09 recession than after any other recent recession. That data is according to research led by economist Sylvia Allegretto of the
Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley. Roughly 42 percentof unemployed Americans are "long-termers."

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That's why Brown argues even if you do get laid off, time and energy spent collecting data about your company and industry will be valuable in a job search.

"The relationships you developed while you gathered this information, these will be critical relationships to move on to your next opportunity," says Brown.