How long are you willing to wait for your company to get its collective “act” together? How long will you suffer through hiring freezes and a moratorium on raises? How long will you suffer a company whose planning, and treatment of their workers, is abysmal at best? How long will you wait before you look for a better job and a better company? You might be surprised at the answer.
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Your problem is, when most companies propose a hiring or salary freeze they have no idea how long it will last. You never know if or when the next layoff is coming and the company will do everything in its power to keep that information from you. You never know when you might see a raise again. When faced with situations like this, where no deadline is given, you need to insure that you establish your own deadlines. How long are you willing to wait? When does a temporary setback turn into a long, slow slide to the bottom?
It has been said that those who are caught up in a layoff are actually the lucky ones. They are given a clear cut reason to go off in search of new work and, hopefully, new opportunities. It is the one’s left behind that really suffer. Workload increases as fewer people are expected to do more work. They worry about when the next layoff is coming and whether they, or their friends, will be on the list. The can foresee that raises and promotions will be a long time coming. Still, they hold on. They listen to every word hat comes out of the executive suite, trying to find meaning where there is often little to be found. They want to believe so badly that this is the last layoff and they convince themselves it is true, even when there are clear warning signs. Don’t fall into this trap and let your career stagnate or collapse along with your company.
The next time you are faced with a layoff or other setback, start the clock running. Set your own internal deadlines. Will you look for a new job if there is another layoff in 3 months? 6? 12? How long will you go without a raise or promotion. A year? More? It might be a firm deadline to leave the company or a softer deadline to re-evaluate in x number of weeks or months. The truth is, there are no hard and fast rules about how long you should wait. You have to decide for yourself, based on your knowledge of the company and its current situation. This means that you have to revisit your deadlines again and again. New information will allow you to re-evaluate your position and adjust your deadlines accordingly. Anything is better than ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away.
What you want to avoid, at all costs, is simply moving from day to day and week to week with no idea when or if you need to find another job. I have known people who have survived 4 and 5 layoffs who still express surprise when their turn comes. How could they not see the writing on their friends’ pink slips? They, and many like them, simply chose to ignore the oncoming storm. They found it more frightening to contemplate a job or career change than face the reality of a faltering, and perhaps even failing, company. They simply waited until they were engulfed and only then started thinking of a way out.
Take note of what is happening around you. Are your expense reports taking longer and longer to process? Are small perks like coffee and tea going away? Are there news stories of lost contracts, failed initiatives and executive turmoil in the newspapers? Are new projects being delayed or cancelled? There are more warning signs than I can possibly list here, but you already know what they are. If something feels bad, then it probably is, regardless of what spin the company might put on it. You must always remember that your company’s first purpose is to perpetuate itself. You need to behave in the same way. You must do what is best for yourself, based on the best information you have. Will you make mistakes? Will you abandon a company too soon? Possibly, but it has been my experience that companies that falter so badly that they need to layoff large parts of their workforce take years to recover, if they recover at all. Action is always preferred over inaction. Often you will find a better job than your current one, even if your old company does recover.
Don’t allow your career to drift along, hoping beyond hope that your company will somehow turn itself around. Too often, companies struggle along for years, promising their employees that things will get better, only to struggle for even longer. You need to direct your career and one way to do this is to be aware and thoughtful about your company’s promises. If you company isn’t offering you the career you deserve, find one that will.