Pretty much every manager has in his head a list of people in his team that he or she would release if there was a need to lay people off. To find out if you are on this black-list and to potentially do something about it, you need to watch out for telltale signs that you may be about to lose your job:
No New or Important Projects - if your boss knows that he is about to let you go, he will not want you on any new projects. After all, why would you want someone to start a job that you know they will not be allowed to finish. Similarly, if you are still getting new projects, but they seem less important than the ones you are typically assigned, or even seem like busy work, you have cause for concern.
Low Work-Load - At a time when many businesses are seeing a decline in activity, it is not unusual for many workers to see their workload diminish and that in itself is not sufficient cause for concern. Of Course, in the long run management is more likely to reduce staffing levels if employees are not working at capacity. However, you should be more concerned if you notice that your work load is diminished to a greater extent than that of your colleagues. It can be a sign that you are being "phased out".
Unusual Interest in Your Work - In many cases, your boss will make arrangements for someone else to take over your projects and duties once you are no longer with the company, and such preparations may give you an early indication that something is afoot. Anything that can be taken as preparations for a smooth transition should set-off some alarms. For example, if your boss is asking you to put him in touch with customers or vendors that normally only interface with the company through you, you should be paying close attention to developments.
Verbal Clues - laying people off is an emotionally charged and difficult responsibility for managers, and many of them don't take it well. Such managers may try to soften the blow by giving small or large clues that should alert you that your job may be at risk. Statements like "we are going to have a tough week next week", or "be sure to be in the office early on Friday" which are not followed by more detail, may be indications that bad stuff is about to happen. If you think you spot a clue, try to follow up on it - tactfully - to get more information.
Non-Verbal Clues - some people feel so uncomfortable about laying people off that they do anything they can to avoid contact with the team members that are about to be released. I have known some managers who would leave a room when the team member in question joined a meeting. If your boss has been avoiding you, you definitely have cause for concern.
What to Do If You Think You Are on the Black List
First of all, don't panic. If a mass lay-off is under way, there may be little that you will be able to to do to change your fate, however, here are some of the actions that I would take:
Talk to the Boss - be direct, respectful and to the point. Don't whine. Don't beg. Get as much information as you can. For example: "I may be completely off base here, but I have an uneasy feeling about my position in the company. Is my job at risk?" Who knows, your boss may completely explain away your concerns, or she may confirm them. Either way, trying to find out more information is always a good idea.
Listen to the Grapevine - many people know many things. I don't suggest you become an office gossip, but listen to what people have to say. In my previous company, long before a business unit was cut, many people were discussing the possible timing and implications of such a move. If you spoke to the right people you knew that things were in motion.
Maneuver Internally - think about trying to find a safer position in the same company while there is still time. Maybe a different business unit? Maybe a different position? It's never too early to network or to search for options.
Get a Jump on the Job Search - if you think that there is a significant risk of job loss, start searching for a new job immediately. In this economy, chances are that finding a new position will take longer than it would take you otherwise. No sense in wasting time.
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