How to keep your job

Staying off the unemployment lines doesn't have to be a chore, just as long as you follow these fun 'n' easy steps!

By Joyce McGreevy
Published July 14, 2003 7:30PM (EDT)

Wondering how to keep your job? Well, who isn't these days? I mean, aside from the nation's 9.4 million unemployed. And the 4 million who have become so discouraged they have stopped looking altogether.

But for anybody who's left -- and that's at least 237 of you -- your jolly days as, say, a home healthcare provider who can't get health insurance or a cafeteria worker struggling to feed your kids must occasionally be interrupted by a faint disquietude that leads you to ask, What if I should lose this cushy job?

Perhaps you are a teacher who can't afford to live in your own school district, an engineer turned cardboard box assembler, or an administrator who keeps inheriting the duties, if not the compensation, of everyone the home office terminates without notice. Whatever bliss you are currently following, the question of job security need not trouble you. You see, it all comes down to a few simple guidelines.

Yes, gentle employee, search for the phrase "keep your job" on the Internet and a wealth of employment advice is laid before you. The style ranges from the rousing cheer to the chastening sermonette, but it's all about Being a Good Worker.

For some advisors, this means polishing up the externals, such as frequently updating your professional wardrobe, talking in the voice of a news anchor, and reading travel magazines. Follow these simple techniques (remembering to budget those flourishes and fripperies into your 30 percent pay cut), and -- presto! change-o! -- you too will project a more impressive image as you put in long hours of unpaid overtime alone in your cubicle or vacuum up industrial waste.

For others, the approach is more dogged, one might even say tail-wagging. "Make a list of ways you can improve yourself, and check your progress every day!" "Read and highlight key points in the new employee literature!" "Be your boss's biggest supporter!" "Always carry an extra pencil!"

Still others advise asking questions, though the recommended number varies from "as many as possible" to "as few as necessary" to the more Zen-like "Shut up!"

In fact, the phrase "keep your job" produces 18,800 hits on Google. ThatUs one font of wisdom for every unemployed Oregonian who exhausted all 26 weeks of emergency compensation more than 28 weeks ago. Which is all very well for them -- they have time to read. But for those of you who are busy (for now), here are the experts' insights boiled down to a few handy tips.

Be dependable.

Just like certain members of the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team who can be depended upon to keep alienating former fans with a spate of crimes, misdemeanors and obnoxious attitudes. Like registered sex offender Ruben Patterson -- who still pulls in $5 million a year. Well, why not? Teammate Damon Stoudamire, who can be counted on to keep whining about how underappreciated he is, while reliably improving his odds of getting caught with marijuana (gee, you'd think he'd be more mellow), is still eligible for $17 million a year, and has the NBA players union scrambling to protect him from a $250,000 fine.

But I guess you can't depend on the 90 people the Blazers and Oregon Arena Corp. just laid off with four hours' notice. Seems all those folks did was work. BO-ring. No word yet if anyone is rushing to protect them from financial losses.

And who were those 90 people? In a report by Jim Beseda in the Oregonian (July 9), new team president Steve Patterson offered this diplomatic summary: "Most of the changes are back of the house and operational in nature." Oh, I see, rather like Cinderella -- they just stayed in the corner, kept the place up and helped make the magic happen. Well, that's all right then. In a state that keeps winning the national pennant for unemployment, they're bound to find new jobs. Depend on it.

Be loyal.

Well, you can see how well it worked for the 90-strong support staff, some of whom had worked for the Blazers for five to 13 years. But this mantra continues to get a lot of play so it must be true. After all, many companies still throw surprise parties to reward loyal workers with 20-plus years on the job.

As in, "Surprise! We broke our promise about your medical benefits!"

"Surprise! We're under investigation for fraud and you'll bear the cost!"

Or to 7,000 active and retired pilots at U.S. Airways: "Surprise! We crashed your pension while floating to safety on our golden parachutes!"

What a hoot for Capt. Hugh Greenwood of Denver, Colo., who, according to a July 1 report in the Wall Street Journal, is 67 and disabled. As a souvenir of his many travels and evident contributions to passenger safety, Capt. Greenwood has now lost most of his pension, and with it his disability supplement. He may soon lose his house and now he and his wife need to go back to work. Let's just hope they remember to be loyal.

Be flexible.

Bill Van Luyn and Nancy Miller of Grand Rapids, Mich., were flexible -- just not flexible enough. As reported in the Washington Post (June 28), Van Luyn had logged 26 years with Steelcase Inc., the world's biggest furniture maker, having worked his way up from shop floor to product development, when he was offered a choice of severance pay or a spot on the assembly line. He took the latter and is now recovering from surgery on his right hand so he can undergo surgery on his left. Likewise, Miller rebounded from the loss of an engine parts job at $15 an hour by taking on an even more demanding job at $9 an hour. Too bad she lost the tip of her index finger to a metal press, but as employment counselors like to say, it's important to keep your hand in.

Be efficient.

According to the IRS, the 400 top-earning U.S. taxpayers nearly quadrupled their income over the past decade. As the incomes of the top "earners" soared -- and these are people who net more in the time it takes to delegate an espresso than a paramedic would gross at the end of a bad traffic day -- the percentage they paid in federal income tax dropped from 26.4 percent to 22.3 percent. Very efficient indeed.

On the other hand, average taxpayers, who once celebrated 3 percent raises that didn't keep pace with inflation, and have since adapted to pay cuts and heavier workloads, saw their taxes rise from 13.1 percent to 15.4 percent. How efficient are they?

Be prepared.

Eager to break into the booming housecleaning market? Well, not so fast there, hotshot. Before you qualify to rake in $8 an hour without benefits, an increasing number of employers expect you to prove that you own a car. Well, that makes sense. After all, anyone piling up as much as 12 thou a year (assuming they scrape poop off toilets and inhale toxic cleaning products at least 35 hours a week) ought to be able to finance a reliable vehicle, plus insurance, fuel and auto maintenance. Provided they don't fritter their money away on housing, food, utilities and day care.

Be positive.

Need a role model for your quest to become a corporate Pollyanna? Look no further than Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. When the national unemployment rate (including 5.5 percent for white adults, 11.8 percent for black adults, and an equal-opportunity 19.3 percent for all teens) surged to its highest level in nine years, Chao was soothing. The increase, she explained, was largely due to the fact that 611,000 people who'd previously given up looking for work had decided, what the hey, they'd give it another go. Which, she reasoned, proves they're feeling optimistic.

After all, people wouldn't go looking for jobs if they didn't believe that jobs were out there somewhere, right? Why, that would be like looking for weapons of mass destruction without reliable evidence of their existence. (Oh, that's right, according to the new memo from BringItOn Corp., we didn't go to war because there were weapons. We went to war, Rumsfeld says now, because we knew Iraq had weapons programs. Rummy and Chao must attend Toastmasters at the same waffle house.)

So try the Chao approach on your next workplace calamity: "Two more departments laid off this week, you say? Hmmm, that's 45 more consumers with time to shop. The economy is saved, yaaaay!"

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Remember, once you have a job, keeping it is easy. Just be a team player, stand out from the pack, put on a happy face, look serious, be innovative, don't rock the boat, consider all options, stay focused, communicate openly, keep your own counsel, treat your staff like family, keep your personal life out of the workplace, swim with the sharks and keep your powder dry.

And while you're at it, pat your head while rubbing your tummy. Yeah, that'll do it.

Joyce McGreevy

Joyce McGreevy is a writer in Portland, Ore.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Business Great Recession Unemployment U.s. Economy