layoffs looming and baby on the way

A reader writes:

My multi-national employer is in trouble. This is public knowledge and our GM has warned us that there will be cuts due to a projected revenue shortfall in the tens of millions of dollars. Given that my division is essentially a vendor, we’re at the mercy of clients who aren’t booking work and the trends suggest they won’t book enough in the near future to fill the gap.

Looking at a number of factors in my personal situation, I feel like there is a 50/50 chance I’m going to be laid off in the next few months. My best guess is that such a round of layoffs might happen at the beginning of our next fiscal year, which starts in April.

I’m the sole breadwinner. My wife is pregnant and we’ll be expecting our second child in a few weeks. My state has generous paternity/family leave laws and I plan on taking advantage of it while I can (shooting for 4 weeks). I would not be eligible for this leave with a new employer until I’ve worked for them for a year. As we don’t have much of a local support network of family, I will spend most of this time helping my wife recover and taking care of our older child. It’s not “vacation,” but I could squeeze some job hunting in.

The bummer part of all this is that I have a very specialized profession in a tiny field that is concentrated geographically in my area. Jobs like the one I currently hold are few and far between, and since I currently work for one of the behemoths in the industry, most other opportunities will likely be a step down in pay and benefits. On the other hand, there is literally no one else in my company with my specific technical or institutional knowledge and they’d be kind of hosed if I left. But we’re all replaceable and this is a numbers game.

Also, I don’t really like what I do and would love a career change, but the timing is horrible and a transition to what I really want to do when I grow up will be lengthy and ultimately may not be successful. While I have a nest egg, I don’t have the level of savings required to try to make the leap (realistically I need 1-2 years’ worth of expenses saved up). And there’s the whole we’ll-have-a-newborn-and-we-really-need-good-insurance-right-now thing.

So what should I do? Should I sweat the possibility of a layoff and try like a madman to get another job right now? Should I just roll with the punches and put off a serious job search until after the baby comes and then get crazy? Or should I just hang on and see if the layoffs come to fruition? (I’m betting that you’ll say NO! to this last option — and that I’m more marketable as a currently employed candidate, anyway.) I am comfortable with the severance package outlined in our employee handbook (and during the last round of WARN-Act level layoffs, my company was more generous than their published guidelines), so I do have a cushion even if they stick only to their minimum.

I’ve been reaching out to my network over the past 3 months and have been responding to job posts, but with everything else going on, it hasn’t (perhaps rightfully so) gotten my full attention. Thoughts on all this?

Start actively looking now. The best thing that anyone in your situation can do is to pretend that you know that you’re being laid off, and proceed the way you would if that were the case. Search as aggressively as you can, activate your network in every possible way, find ways to cut back on your spending, etc.

If it turns out that you don’t get laid off, then great — there’s no reason that you need to accept a job offer if you’d rather stay where you are, after all. (Although it’s also possible that you’ll end up finding a job you’d prefer over your current one — who knows.)  But if you do get laid off, you’ll be very, very glad that you started living as if that was the case now.

Keep in mind that job searches take a long time for most people these days (for many people, up to or even more than a year), and that yes, you’re generally more attractive to employers when you’re employed so you don’t want to squander that advantage while you have it. Keep in mind, too, that your company may not be as generous with severance this time as they were last time, so you don’t want to count on anything — even what’s in their published guidelines, frankly, as sometimes those have loopholes.

What you have right now is the gift of extra notice. Use it. If it turns out that you didn’t need it, you’ll have lost nothing by being prepared, and you’ll give yourself some peace of mind.

At the same time, you could also talk to your manager and see if you can any sense from her about whether the upcoming cuts are likely to affect you. I wouldn’t have any shame about mentioning the baby and saying that you’re really trying to plan (not in order to play on her sympathies to lower your chances of being laid off, but because it might make her more inclined to give you honest information so that you’re as prepared as possible).  She may or may not have useful information for you, but you might get some insight that will help you better understand the landscape. However, during this conversation, trust negative information much more than you trust positive information, because some managers reassure everyone that their jobs will be safe, either because they’re hoping that’s true or because they don’t want people to start leaving. In other words, don’t let any reassurances slow you down from the plan above.

Good luck. And congratulations on the upcoming new baby!

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