As layoffs sweep American businesses, here's how to read the signs that your job is in jeopardy — and what to do about it

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As layoffs sweep American businesses, here's how to read the signs that your job is in jeopardy — and what to do about it
Knowing the warning signs that your job is in jeopardy can help you prepare.PixelsEffect/Getty Images
  • Industries including tech and finance are starting to see mass layoffs, and workers are nervous.
  • Experts say there are warning signs that your job may be on the line — and some are harder to spot.
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Layoffs are sweeping American businesses as recession fears mount. Peloton, JPMorgan Chase, Netflix, and the real-estate brokerage Redfin are among the companies that have cut jobs so far this year.

If you're jittery, you're not alone. According to a recent survey from Insight Global, 78% of employees surveyed said they are worried about their job security if the US enters another recession.

Layoffs don't happen out of the blue. Experts say there are warning signs that your job is in jeopardy. Some, like a lousy performance review, are obvious. Others might be harder to pick up on at first. Your manager might start putting long-term projects on hold or canceling meetings altogether.

"It's important to know the factors that make you potentially more vulnerable — especially in an economy like this one," Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of the "Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide," said. "You need to be able to deconstruct what's happening and examine your situation so you can get a sense of whether your role is secure."

Insider spoke with four career experts about how to read the signals that your job may be on the line — and what you can do to prepare so you're ready if the worst happens.

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Keep tabs on the news

Signs of trouble in the economy are hard to miss these days. News feeds are full of bleak headlines — slowing growth, rising inflation, and companies cutting costs.

Even though it can be stressful, experts say it's important to pay close attention to the news. Stay in the loop about broad macroeconomic trends and what they might mean for your industry. If your company's closest competitor announces that it's restructuring, for example, that could spell trouble for your firm, too.

According to Cohen, it doesn't mean that layoffs at your company are inevitable, but job cuts at a competitor could be an indication that business is slowing. "You need to connect the dots," he said.

Pay attention to your company's business results

It's tempting to keep your head down and grind in a tough economy, but that won't protect you. You need to stay attuned to your organization's business results and keep your eyes and ears open for clues. Consecutive quarters of lower profits do not bode well for employees. Similarly, mergers and acquisitions almost always result in companies cutting jobs.

If your company starts to slow hiring or announces a hiring freeze, that can be a sign of layoffs on the horizon, Eli Joseph, a professor at the Columbia University School of Professional Studies and author of "The Perfect Rejection Résumé" said. He also advised paying attention to team shakeups and employees moving around; it could mean that the company is unsettled about its direction.

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Joseph said that if you're not sure what to make of the things you're seeing, ask. "Always ask for feedback and ask to see if everything's OK with your work."

Pick up on subtle clues

Other signs that you may be on the chopping block are more subtle.

For better or worse, your performance is tied to your boss's performance so you could be vulnerable if your boss is transferred, fired, demoted, or forced to retire. Getting "layered" — when the company moves someone new between you and your boss — is also cause for concern. The same goes for when you're assigned a new boss who's been hired from outside the company: New managers often want to recruit a new team.

Cohen said to also watch for signs about how your superiors are perceiving your individual performance. If you're getting feedback that's more critical than usual, it could be because your boss is under pressure to force rank employees. If you're getting moved off key assignments or given legacy work — being assigned to older products or doing maintenance on systems — it could mean that you're not seen as driving the future growth of the company.

"Feeling isolated, out of the loop, and being left off emails are bad signs," Cohen said. "You would have been included if you were important enough. Or it could mean that they want you to fail, and they want to justify that you aren't valuable."

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Prepare for the worst

There are ways to prepare for a layoff — or even turn things around at your job.

When you start to feel anxious, Lindsey Pollak, the author of "Recalculating: Navigate Your Career Through the Changing World of Work," said it's a good time to check in on people at your company to stay connected in your organization. Focus on what you can control: doing your best at your current job, staying active on LinkedIn, and taking care of your mindset.

Having a backup plan is critical if the worst happens, Miriam Spinner, a career coach in Phoenix, Arizona, said. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and be sure to continue to network on and offline. Cultivate relationships in your industry by becoming more active in professional organizations or volunteering in relevant associations. If it's clear you're in danger of losing your job, research your severance benefits and reduce your spending.

"There's a saying that you need to put on a new roof when the sun is shining," she said. "In other words, don't wait 'til it rains to start thinking about this stuff. Be proactive."

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