How to Keep Your Job During Massive Layoffs

how to keep your jobAre you worried about keeping your job? Is your company announcing layoffs?  If so, you need to listen to the recording below.

It is my distinct pleasure to introduce a new Executive Author, Helena Light, to our site.  Helena has been a friend and neighbor of mine for the last 10+ years.  She is also the Partner and COO of a small start up company in the financial industry.  She has over 30 years of experience, and is one of the most humble, personable executives I have ever met.  I am truly blessed to have Helena in my life.

After I told Helena about this blog and my passion for helping other professionals, she gladly joined as an Executive Author.  The following is the first of three candid conversations I had with Helena.  In this interview, she talks about how she successfully kept her job for eight years at the same company, even when they had laid off over 20,000 people during that time.

What is Helena’s secret in keeping her job?

  • It’s not about keeping your head down and just focusing on doing good work
  • It’s not about transferring to the hottest new division in the company
  • It’s not about proving you are more valuable than other employees

What is Helena’s secret, then?  Listen and find out.  You can also read the Audio Transcription of our Conversation below


We can all follow Helena’s example and advice to keep our jobs.  Best wishes to your career success!  Stay tuned for Part 2 of our candid conversation on Changing Careers – How to Interview Effectively

Your comments: Given Helena’s story and advice, what will do differently at your job tomorrow?  Share your comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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I am always in your corner


Audio Transcription of our Conversation

Lei: So thank you very much for your time, I know you’re so busy. I would love to hear this story you have with this bank that you used to work for.

Helena: I worked a very large in New York City, in the home headquarters, in the home office. And I started there, actually, as a part time employee.

Lei: Okay. Really?

Helena: Yes. I did start there as a part-time employee, not knowing if I wanted to be there or not be there, but a friend of mine told me she was leaving and she loved her job, and I said, “Okay, I’ll apply for it, and maybe this will develop into something.”

Lei: Okay.

Helena: So I got hired. The point I want to make is over this period of time–and I ended up being there for 8 years.

Lei: Wow.

Helena: Is there was a very large number of lay-offs during this period time. We’re talking at least 20,000 layoffs.

Lei: Oh, wow.

Helena: Now that was global, but a large number local.

Lei: Wow:

Helena: So I knew that there was a possibility I could get laid off. I could be at the wrong place at the wrong time and I needed to preserve my job.

Lei: Wow.

Helena: So I started becoming very vigilante. That’s number one. You’ve got to look around you and see what’s going on, where you’re working, and if you notice things such as, “That guy over there is being rewarded an awful lot, I wonder why that is?”

And you start really listening to him at meetings and stuff like that, and you determine whether that’s something you emulate and respect, or is it something like, “Wow, I don’t know why he’s being favored so much, but I don’t really think he’s adding that much to the environment. I think I better re-look at where I’m working, this department.”

Lei: Oh, okay.

Helena: “Because why are they valuing that person when he really doesn’t contribute a lot?”

Lei: Oh. So if the culture has favoritism, necessarily, and how he plays it – if it’s not how you wanna play it – you gotta preemptively…

Helena: Yeah, and then what happens is that department becomes dangerous. If that boss is respecting that person, you’re questioning the boss’s judgement.

Lei: Right.

Helena: And if you don’t respect your boss’s judgement, you better get out of there.

Lei: Right. Because somebody will find out eventually.

Helena: Exactly, and that boss will go, or that department will go, or something will weaken it and you need to move on.

Lei: Okay. Let me ask a couple context questions.

Helena: Yeah.

Lei: What kind of job were you in?

Helena: I was in many.

Lei: Oh.

Helena: So my solution became moving from department to department, and division to division, in order to keep my job and not become perceived as obsolete.

Lei: Wow. How were you able to start part-time, even? Is that…

Helena: Oh, because I was in public relations.

Lei: Okay.

Helena: But I was on the corporate side, meaning we – our department – reported directly to the head of the bank.

Lei: Oh wow, okay.

Helena: And we had our own private stairs that went up through his office.


Lei: Oh, okay. Yeah.

Helena: So we did all the PR for the bank, and let me tell you, there was a lot of stuff going on. It was very interesting, I loved it.

Lei: Okay.

Helena: And I did–and everything was fine there, and I did well there. One of the women in that department asked me to go with her to head up PR for the consumer bank.

Lei: Okay.

Helena: So I moved from corporate to the consumer side where the credit cards are, and loans are, and all that.

Lei: Right.

Helena: So she and I went together to that division, so that meant physically moving. So I physically had to move from one floor to another floor.

Lei: Okay.

Helena: And then you start seeing–you’re in these gigantic floors and you start seeing stuff. So what I did notice, I’ll give you an example, was down the hall there was all this excitement and all these new people being hired, and I’m like, “I wonder what’s going on over there?” And you make it your business to find out.

Lei: Right.

Helena: Because I didn’t know how this woman’s gonna do in consumer PR.

Lei: Oh, you were actively…

Helena: Constantly.

Lei: Outside of your job purview, you were actively looking around to make sure that you spot the trends before it even touched near you.

Helena: Correct.

Lei: Wow, wow.

Helena: Correct.

Lei: Okay, and so what happened with this?

Helena: So I found out. I went over there, I… You know, you chit chat during the day and you become friendly with people, and they start telling. I mean, I asked questions like, “What are you doing, and what’s, you know.”

Lei: “What’s all the excitement?”

Helena: “What’s all this?” And you find out, in this particular place, they were–they had hired, the head of the bank had hired this woman, she was commuting from Chicago every week to New York.

Lei: Wow, wow.

Helena: And she was running this new department and who did–and you looked to see who she’s hiring. Well, she’s hiring only Ivy League people.

Lei: Okay.

Helena: You can tell she was paying them very well.

Lei: Okay.

Helena: And they had a mission, and I started looking at that mission, and I didn’t agree with it. I thought it was very nebulous. It was a mission to change the culture of the bank.

Lei: That was the team’s…

Helena: Mission, yes.

Lei: So–Oh, I thought they bought a financial product that they were gonna…

Helena: No, this was a new area, right?

Lei: It’s like “change management” team?

Helena: Nope. No changing of people, just changing the culture, and how do you do that? How do you–and that’s a huge thing, right?

Lei: Well, let me ask you another context question, because you said that during these 8 years, you had witnessed up to 20,000 people in layoffs. What exactly was the environment that caused–is that an internal thing within just this bank, because of reworks? Or was it externally, economically…

Helena: Both.

Lei: It was affecting everybody.

Helena: Both.

Lei: ‘Cause maybe that’s what is…

Helena: The bank was in trouble at this point in time because it was spending too much money, to be very succinct.

Lei: Okay.

Helena: So they went through… And of course they had a new person, you know, next to the head of the bank, who wanted to be very impressive to everybody, and his mission was to get rid of people and cut expenses.

And they were quite verbal about it. They knew that that was happening, and they would report it, you know, to their shareholders. You could go to the shareholder meetings, you know, the annual meetings, and you could… They were actively…

Lei: And they were actively managing the reputation of “We know we’re in trouble, but we’re gonna do something drastic.”

Helena: Yes.

Lei: “And to you, personally, who is… Okay, I need this job.”

Helena: Yes.

Lei: Well, everybody needs their jobs, but “How do I manage this situation in a way that works for me, instead of just sit there and wait for the uncertainty to hit me any time during this time?”

Helena: Yes.

Lei: And, then, is it because of this that this group got also hired and found?

Helena: Yes.

Lei: Because they’re trying to make the cuts, and expenses, and the cultural changes to impress possibly Wall Street?

Helena: Correct.

Lei: As well as, hopefully, change what is going on with the bank.

Helena: Yes.

Lei: Okay, okay. That helped me.

Helena: But what I wanted to say about that particular… That is an example of what I would do to find out what’s going on.

Lei: Yeah, yeah.

Helena: In that particular situation, I didn’t like what I saw because it was too nebulous. It was an expensive area, you could tell; there were too many salaries.

Lei: Right.

Helena: Plus, she was spending too much time out of the office ’cause she was commuting from Chicago.

Lei: Right.

Helena: She wouldn’t–she’d leave early on Fridays, she’d come on Tuesdays. So that’s a bit questionable, and then…

Lei: And there’s no tangible metrics.

Helena: Exactly.

Lei: You can’t measure.

Helena: Right. Right, so…

Lei: It’s interesting that you say the bank is in trouble because they were spending too much, and then they make the exact decision… What’s more interesting is that you are looking at the situation as the CEO of your own work brand.

It’s like… And I always tell people this, it’s like, we are – when we’re looking for work, or we’re in the work – we are the still owners of our company, in the sense, because our work brand matters to us to all the careers that we’re gonna be in.

Helena: Yeah.

Lei: And in this way, the way that you just described this, you assessed it not from listening to what other people are saying, or, “Hey, the CEO made this decision, why would you not go…”

Helena: Buy into it, yeah.

Lei: Buy into it, right? They’re so hoopla, if they are gonna pay the money, but I think to think independantly about whether it… It’s also a fit thing, whether it fits into what you think will work matters, because it empowers you to think about, “Okay, well, should I get closer to this division, or should I get really far away because it’s gonna burn hot, and then it’s gonna burn out.”

Helena: Yes. Well, that’s exactly what happened. It burned hot and it burned out, that’s a good way to explain it.

Lei: Wow, okay.

Helena: It did. That was the end result and I am just appreciative of the fact that I was able to assess that and see the danger of joining that group.

Lei: Well, you’re in PR. Did you have an option to actually…?

Helena: I… If you want to leave what you’re doing, it’s up to you to network, find out if there’s an opening, and ask to be moved to that opening.

Lei: Okay, okay.

Helena: And usually within departments, they will cooperate with one another if that’s your desire.

Lei: Yeah, right. Okay, okay.

Helena: Right.

Lei: So you really managed your career, actively and pro-actively, to look for signs of trouble and move away from that if you’re in the department.

Helena: Exactly.

Lei: Or look for signs of promise – or trouble – and decide whether you should go towards it or not.

Helena: Yes.

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