Wondering if it will be your last day on the job every day is emotionally taxing. Trying to be productive, let alone happy, with the constant threat of job loss is an impossibility. On the other hand, security in a position can do wonders for your morale. Sadly, though, that goal is out of reach for many Americans. A recent Pew Forum study shows that 40% of Americans fear they will lose their jobs in the next 12 months.
That's bad news both for companies and their employees. Workers who worry about their job security are less likely to be effective. At the same time, low job security tends to exacerbate the effects of work-related stress, resulting in poor sleep, feelings of hopelessness and fatigue. In short, it's exhausting to worry about your job constantly, and when you're exhausted, your work suffers.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your position at work. While they won't fix a toxic workplace or calm an easily angered manager, they can make you feel better about your skills and more secure in your position. Try these four steps to boost your value to your employer!
1.) Become an expert
One of the best ways to secure your job against replacement or outsourcing is to offer specific knowledge that no one else can. Whenever anyone has a question about how something in your area works, you become the go-to person.
Your range of expertise doesn't have to be broad, but it should be essential. Learning everything about one of your company's biggest clients, or every facet of a popular product or service, can give you a strong advantage around the office. Of course, having the knowledge is only the beginning; you also need to find ways to connect your area of expertise to as many facets of your company as possible. Being the expert in a field that fits into every part of your company is a great way to make yourself indispensable.
When choosing an area for skills development, try to focus on business segments that are growing. Look for places where there's new hiring or promotions. Those represent the future of the company, and you want to be right there in the thick of it.
2.) Help others
An ordinary response to extra work is to put your fingers in your ears and ignore it. You've got enough on your plate already, right? Sadly, this is the kind of thinking that endangers careers. While you don't need to say yes to everything, helping your co-workers is a great way to improve your job security.
When you do this, though, don't do it while expecting a quid-pro-quo. You're helping others because you're a team player, not because you're expecting them to turn around and help you again. This positive attitude is another strong asset that will stick in the minds of managers making tough personnel choices.
When it comes time for companies to make tough decisions about who to keep, they often look for flexible people. Downsizing is easier if you've got people who can easily flip between job functions. Helping others deal with their workloads can demonstrate that kind of flexibility. In the worst case scenario, having one more person calling you indispensable because you're always there to help them can only benefit your job security.
3.) Master a system
New technology is often the bane of businesses. When importing a new system, piece of equipment, or software tool, it takes time to train employees to use it. Worse yet, if no one knows how to use it, the considerable capital expense invested in it is basically wasted.
You can help prevent that waste by learning a system better than anyone else. Become the resource person for a piece of technology that's instrumental to your business. It could be a data entry system, a new machine, or a network resource. That puts another tangible value behind your attachment to the company: The machine or system is useless for the time it would take to train someone new.
4.) Develop your soft skills
New people can be trained in just about anything, and they might be able to do it better than you. Younger workers may be willing to do the same work for a lower salary, or have more recent knowledge about an industry. What they don't have is an integration in company culture that makes work easier. You can develop that integration by working on the "people skills" that help the workplace function.
This could be as basic as knowing names and building relationships in other departments, or as involved as taking a course in interpersonal communication. Become the co-worker everyone wants to work with. While you still need to keep your job-specific knowledge up-to-date, maintaining relationships with your colleagues and clients is just as important.
YOUR TURN: How do you stay engaged and involved at your workplace? What tips would you provide for people who have a fear of losing their jobs?