Sharpen up at work to avoid losing your job

Denise Dubie gives some guidance on avoiding redundancy

“No one can get too comfortable in their position right now. If you get complacent and have no intentions of improving upon yourself, you will lose your job to that person – and there is always at least one – who is constantly looking for ways to better himself and add more value to the business,” says Colt Mercer, a network engineer and a Network World Google Subnet blogger.

Here IT professionals and career experts point out five ways high-tech workers could earn themselves a spot in the unemployment ranks.

* Be invisible

Now is not the time to go unnoticed.

“It is not the time to shrivel and try to be invisible to management. Many people tend to default to hide-and-retreat mode when layoffs come up, but that could call more attention to you and make it appear you aren’t contributing enough to be kept around,” says Adam Lawrence, vice president of service delivery at talent and outsourcing service provider Yoh.

Even those working hard could unknowingly be at risk due to their in-office time. Some IT workers who operate from a home office might need to make a few extra trips into work to remind managers, in person, of all that they do.

“Being visible during downtime is a big deal. If you are always remote and people at the office don’t see you as part of the team, that could cause problems,” says Bryan Sullins, principal tech trainer at New Horizons in Hartford, Connecticut., and a Network World blogger covering Microsoft certifications and training. “Often it can be a case of out of sight, out of mind, and remote workers could unwittingly become a target to be cut.”

* Let skills stagnate

There may be no training dollars, but that doesn’t mean managers won’t be considering IT pros’ lack of updated skills when making layoff decisions. Regardless of the current economic trouble, workers should always be looking for ways to advance their knowledge.

“IT staffers that don’t maintain their certifications to stay trained show poor strategic thinking and will very quickly find themselves behind the curve,” says Chris Silva, senior analyst at Forrester Research. ‘Turning a blind eye to new technology and thinking it can wait will wear thin in a down economy. Managers don’t want staff that add to the ‘can’t do’ list in times like these.”

And the employee who uses the excuse about lack of dollars won’t make points when it comes to cutting staff.

“A pet peeve of mine is people asking companies for more than they are willing to give,” says Rich Milgram, CEO of Beyond.com, an online job board. “There has to be some level of mutual understanding about what contributions can feasibly be made on both the employer and employee’s side. There are low and no-cost training options if the employee is willing to make the effort.”

* Snoop in systems

It goes without saying that IT workers shouldn’t abuse their access to confidential company systems, but industry watchers warn that if layoffs are going to happen, those high-tech pros with questionable practices will be the first to go.

“It is really easy for an IT person to see what others are doing and to look at confidential data, without being caught,” says Beth Carvin, CEO of Nobscot, a maker of employee retention and other HR-related software based on Kailua, Hawaii. “But if you are suspected of some shady stuff, that would be reason enough to bring your name to the top of the layoff list.”

And even if the practices aren’t breaking corporate policies, IT professionals need to be on their best behaviour. Try to avoid abusing a flexible schedule with long lunches and don’t use your high-tech position as a reason to spend too much time on the internet for non-work-related activities.

* Make demands

Pay cuts, hiring freezes, layoffs – none of these factors suggest it is an appropriate time to ask for a raise. Yet experts say some will use their ongoing service to a company during a recession as a reason to demand more money and other benefits.

“Now is not the time to ask for a raise; now is not the time to complain about needing more time off,” Sullins says. “In these cases, the squeaky wheel will get the shaft.”

While it may seem to IT pros they are going above and beyond and deserve compensation for their efforts, those in the position to fire staff might not want to hear it.

“Right now, employees should be nodding their heads a lot, not being surly or pushing back on responsibility,” says Sean Ebner, regional managing director for IT staffing and recruiting firm Technisource

* Spew negativity

Employers now more than ever want positive attitudes from staff and those spewing negativity will be weeded out.

“The truth is that everybody from a technical standpoint is replaceable. I notice more than anything the negativity an employee displays. Negativity is contagious, and once an employee goes that route, it is nearly impossible to turn them back,” says Michael Kirven, principal and co-founder of IT resourcing firm Bluewolf.

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