If there is one moment that is more stressful than others in one’s career, it is living and working through an organization review at your employer – especially a review that is initiated as a result of a deficit of several millions of dollars. There is nothing more difficult than understanding that your employer is trying to reduce expenses and may deem you unnecessary. When your employer is trying to cut 10% of its annual budget, a budget that had already been reduce in the previous years, you know big changes are coming.

In case you cannot read between the lines, I recently went through this at my employer. It was initiated last fall and was supposed to end in early March. I avoided writing about it on my blog (and will continue to do so) for fear of breaking some unwritten code of conduct. I know that several of my co-workers read my blog and releasing too many details may have made things worse for me. However, things seem to have come to some sort of a conclusion and I feel comfortable reflecting on the situation here.

How People Typically Respond to Potential Lay-Offs

I am convinced that job security is something we often take for granted. We often assume that our position will be there forever, but if the recession has taught us anything, it should be that nothing is written in stone. No one likes to hear that they may be let go. When the organization review was announced (aka the committees assigned with the task of reducing expenses), there were a variety of natural responses that seem to apply to any similar situation.

  • Begin Looking for New Employment – It has been said numerous times that a strong offense is the best defense. When there is potential for you to be let go from your current position, you have the option to look for new employment. Being pro-active in search for a new job may provide the best sense of security that you can obtain in this situation because no matter what happens, you can tell yourself you did the best that you could. It can also significantly shorten or eliminate all-together the period of unemployment. The only downside to this approach is that if it becomes known that you are looking to abandon ship, your name may move to the top of the list of people to be let go.
  • Make yourself irreplaceable – Another viable option in this situation is to make yourself difficult to replace. A simple and effective way to make this happen is to volunteer for a significant project that is unique to your abilities. If you embark on a several-month project that will require your skills to be completed (and is a valuable project for the organization), you may survive the cut. Showing this kind of willingness and dedication to the organization may also be enough for them to keep you around. Committing yourself to too much work, however, inevitably means more work without any sort of compensation.
  • Protect ‘Numero Uno’ – I am convinced that one of the most natural positions to take in this situation is to look out for yourself. This can be achieved through admiral methods by making yourself irreplaceable, but often resorts to pointing fingers and naming names. Instead of the chance of being let go, you make it a purpose to highlight everyone else who is expendable. While this may prevent you from being let go, it alienates you from your co-workers. If performed too publicly, it may unnecessarily create too many enemies for yourself and be counter-productive.

How I Responded

While I will admit that I looked for any other available jobs in the area, I was fairly committed to staying at my current employer (if at all possible). The primary reason is that I am receiving certain benefits that could not be matched anywhere else, including free graduate school. (This is partly how my wife and I pay for graduate school without going into debt). I decided to take on large projects that will take me the course of the year to complete. These projects did not make me irreplaceable, but would make it more difficult for them to let me go.

That wasn’t all that I did. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the friendship of my colleagues (even though some of them were easier to justify being let go) because I knew the danger associated with that route. Instead, I poured my heart and soul into 20’s Finances and my other online ventures. In my opinion, generating a side income is one of the best options for anyone who might be laid off because of the income diversification. If I did lose my job, I would have some money still coming in. Between my wife’s income and my side income, we would survive a long time without touching our emergency fund. If I didn’t lose my job, I can always use more money for my future.

How it Turned Out

As it turns out, after a couple extra months of deliberation by high administrators, there has been a promise of no layoffs. They even committed to not reducing our retirement contributions. PHEW! You may be wondering the bad news, though. In case you haven’t already guessed it, I got hit with a decent pay cut. The only way to balance the budget without layoffs was for everyone to bear the burden together. While I don’t feel comfortable sharing the details of the pay cut, suffice it to say that I will notice it.

I can’t help but feel mixed emotions.

On one hand, I am relieved to be able to keep my job. I would hate to have to search for a new job at this point in my career, especially without a job at the time. We all know that it’s harder to find a job without a current job and I don’t need that stress in my life right now.

On the other hand, I hate that I just got hit with a pay cut. When I consider my position, I am also disappointed that I am not being paid a competitive wage. My mediocre salary is already below the average for my position. Reducing my income even more is as they say, adding insult to injury.  It is enough to get by on (with my wife’s income as well), but it’s nothing to brag about. It not only affects my current choices, but puts me at a disadvantage for future positions.

Readers, how would you feel in my situation? Would you be more relieved to keep your job or resent that you took a pay cut?

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