Losing a job is always challenging, but it can be even more difficult when you don't see it coming.
While employees can usually do little to change the conditions that might lead to layoffs, especially in the case of a buyout or a bankruptcy, they can learn to identify signs of a huge shift on the horizon and prepare accordingly.
According to bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch, there are seven major warning signs that your company may be about to go under and take your job with it:
1. Strange executive-level meetings
"Look around," says Welch. "Are there more executive-level meetings than ever before? It's time to get worried if there's no explanation of what they're talking about."
If someone from HR is attending these meetings, she warns, there's even more cause for alarm.
2. Hiring or pay freezes
"Look out for hiring and pay freezes," Welch says, "especially if top executives take pay cuts themselves."
3. Clients start to leave
"If major customers start to leave, maybe you should start thinking about an exit," she says. "The company can't survive without revenue, and neither can you."
4. Changes in the company's vision
"The playbook will start changing rapidly," Welch says. "A new vision, mission, strategy, tactics — these are all signs of frantic, high-level disagreement over the company's direction."
It signals a desperate attempt to change course, "sort of how you start driving faster when you're lost."
If some of your star colleagues start to leave and there's no talk about filling their spots, beware. This could be a sign that there's no money to replace them or that the rest of the team may soon be phased out.
6. Projects are postponed without explanation
You need to have work in order to work, right? If assignments are postponed or dropped, take note.
"This is typically a sign executives know there's no future," Welch says.
7. An all-company meeting is called
This is the ultimate, and most obvious, sign.
"If a consulting firm shows up," she says, "or an all-company meeting is called, I'm sorry — it's usually too late. It's over."
Feeling like your job is on the line? Don't panic. According to Welch, you have two options.
"One, get out as fast as you can and look for another job," she says. "Or two, you can wait it out as the ship goes down."
Staying with your company as it crumbles, while difficult, does have its upside. For one, you can attribute your job loss to a corporate layoff, which makes writing your next cover letter easier.
In the meantime, start updating your LinkedIn profile and your resume, so you're better informed of options if it turns out you do lose your job. In addition, organize a few coffee meetings and check in with people in your network to build relationships. You never know how a friend or former colleague might help with your next move.
"If you know the signs," says Welch, "you can be the one who made the smart decisions first."
More from Suzy Welch:
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