You've probably heard the advice that you should "make yourself indispensable" in order to avoid layoffs, get the biggest raises, and earn praise and promotion opportunities from your managers. It's great advice, but how do you go about it? It's easier said than done, but it's not impossible. Here's how.
Let's be clear, there's no way to make 100 per cent sure that you won't be let go in the next round of layoffs. However, there are some simple ways to make yourself so valuable to your department or company that you'll be as far down the list as possible, and none of those methods include sucking up to the boss.
Work on Key Projects with High Visibility
We've mentioned that working on high-profile, high-visibility projects is a great way to get the raise that you deserve, but it's also a great way to make sure you're highly valued. As long as your contributions on those projects are useful and you do good work, you'll quickly be essential to the success of the project. By extension, the more important that project is, the more essential you are.
Ask your boss if there are any big projects you can work on. It may come off like you're sucking up, but the key is to keep the conversation focused on your desire to work on something with impact and something that your skills would be a good match for. The key is to maintain "continuous visible productivity", as former recruiter Dominic Connor explains to The Register. The people who survive a round of layoffs are the ones that managers can't see themselves progressing on important projects without.
Make Sure Your Priorities are Your Boss's Priorities
If you don't really get to pick the projects you work on or what your workload looks like, what you can do is make sure to prioritise your work so the things that get done in the fastest, most efficient manner are the ones that make the biggest difference to your team and to your manager. It's a great way to keep a micro-managing boss off your back, but it's also a great way to make sure you're always seen as jumping right on the important things, getting those things done, and smart about how you prioritise your work. All three of those things are good qualities to have, and even better to bring up in your next performance review.
If you're not sure what your department's priorities are, ask! You boss or manager should be able to tell you which projects are the ones that are most important to them or to your team's success. Worst case, pay attention at your next department or company meeting. If you look between the buzzwords, you should be able to tell which projects or initiatives are the ones that are most important. Then look for ways to work on those priorities first.
Get Training to Boost Your Skills, and Pick the Right Skills to Boost
Beyond being smart about the things you choose to work on (and the things you choose to work on first, if you don't have control over your workload), the best way to make yourself indispensable at the office is to learn skills that are in high demand. Find your niche, or a subject area that you can become the team expert in. If you're working on a team full of sysadmins and no one's especially great with Active Directory, a few training classes can quickly put you in a position to be the company's domain administrator. If your company has no social media presence, reading up on how other companies handle social media for promotion and customer service can give you an inside track to a whole new job title.
See if your company will pay for training classes. If they have to do with your job, many companies are willing to pay for them. Plus, once you've gotten the training, you can immediately put the skills to work when you get back from your class. Plus, just by showing the initiative and desire to grow and develop your skills, you show your boss that you're a great asset. As long as you choose skills that are in demand (either because no one else has them, or because the only person on your team with those skills is overworked and ready to quit), you make yourself valuable enough to escape layoffs and boost your resume in the process.
Keep Your Resume Up to Date, and Keep Other Job Prospects in Your Pocket
As you build those skills and work on those high-flying projects, don't forget to keep your resume up to date, and keep your feelers out for other opportunities. Even if you're not planning to leave your job, you should always keep your options open. An updated resume and a list of companies competing for your skills makes you more valuable at work (as long as you don't go flaunting your job offers in your manager's face), open to promotion, and it's a huge motivational boost. There's nothing better to make you feel good about a day's work than knowing you're valuable -- if not at your current company, then to someone.
Beyond the benefits at your current job, keeping a few contacts or job offers in your back pocket will help protect you if the rest of these tips fail and you still find yourself laid off. Sometimes people aren't just laid off for performance or skill-based reasons. In many cases, it's financial, personal, or cultural, and if you wind up on the chopping block, you want to be able to get back on your feet as quickly as possible.
In any case, jobs are hard to get, and if you actually like what you do (or like it enough that you plan to stick around), it's worth taking a few steps to protect yourself. Hard work, getting along well with your colleagues, and these simple measures will make sure that you're one of those people your colleagues know they won't be able to function without.