How to Deal With the Fear of Being Fired | On Careers

Tech layoffs have been on the rise, as seen in recent news of mass layoffs at major tech firms like Meta, Twitter, Salesforce and Amazon. The trend of layoffs seen in the fourth quarter of 2022 is continuing into 2023.

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“We’ve already seen layoffs at Salesforce and Amazon just a few weeks into the new year,” Alisa Cohen, managing partner and principal executive coach at Close Cohen Career Consulting, says. “Companies are continuing to scrutinize their headcount needs and are only hiring for key positions.”

Cohen works with employees who have experienced recent layoffs or have seen colleagues laid off from major tech companies including Meta, Amazon and Microsoft. She explains that many organizations are now in a “belt tightening” phase, where firms are placing an increased emphasis on operational efficiencies and minimizing overhead costs. This reality has led to a trend that veers away from quiet quitting – the concept of performing your baseline responsibilities but not going above and beyond – toward what Cohen calls a “scared productive” mindset.

The Rise of ‘Scared Productivity’

“In the summer of 2022, we heard a lot about quiet quitting,” Cohen explains. “During this time of high job security and while the job market favored candidates, employees were less inclined to go the extra mile at work. As the pendulum swung to an employer’s market in the fourth quarter of 2022 and into 2023, workers are increasingly concerned about layoffs and are more motivated to prove their worth.”

With more layoffs looming, scared productivity is causing some employees to step up their game to increasingly show leaders the value they add.

“These professionals are taking on extra projects in the hopes of demonstrating to management that they play a vital role in the company’s future,” Cohen says.

She adds that when layoffs are pending, employees may experience fear and anxiety, while after being laid off, they may feel grief, a loss of confidence and perhaps anger. Those who remain at the company following layoffs may undergo a mixture of survivor’s guilt and insecurity about the future.

“Some employees react by going into overdrive, taking on more work in an attempt to show they’re needed,” she says.

What’s Causing Your Fear of Being Fired?

As an increasing number of workers begin to worry about losing their jobs with new layoff announcements rolling out week after week, Cohen says she’s been asked to share strategies for navigating the difficult emotions that come with the news and managing post-layoff job searches with increasing frequency.

“High achievers often worry about falling short of their own expectations or the expectations of others,” Cohen says. “This can translate to fear of job loss.” Employees in this situation should resist the instinct to be paralyzed by the fear of an unknown future, she says. “Take ownership and prepare your materials for a job search so you have a jumpstart. This allows you to take control in a situation where you may be feeling powerless.”

Are You Actually Going to Get Fired?

It’s easy to worry about becoming the victim of a layoff when your coworkers and industry peers have experienced them. Still, others getting laid off doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re next.

“Evaluate the evidence to assess if this is a rational or irrational fear,” Cohen says. She recommends starting this process by analyzing the business and financial state of your company and industry, as well as economic trends. If you have a trusted relationship with your manager, you can also ask directly about your performance, align on priorities and openly discuss how your work connects to the company’s goals.

Other indicators and signs you may be facing a layoff include noticing if your workload has been reduced, if you’re being excluded from key meetings, if new leadership is making significant changes or if you’re on the receiving end of hyper-critical feedback from your boss.

“If you suspect layoffs are ahead, make sure your accomplishments are known and offer to take on projects that create additional value for the organization,” Cohen recommends.

How to Deal With the Fear of Being Fired

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The Step-by-Step Guide to Career Success

Sometimes, the fear of being fired can impact your ability to stay focused and perform at the level required to keep your job. When left unchecked, this tendency can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, so it’s important to challenge it to stay in the moment and do your best work.

“Recognize if the fear of losing your job is impacting your ability to take strides forward,” Cohen says. “You may be feeling a loss of control or agency over your career. Reclaim this control by exploring the job market and preparing your candidacy, which can provide a confidence boost as you reflect on your career achievements.”

To do this effectively, you can use your resume and interview examples to highlight the value you bring to your employer and show the impact you’ve made on the business.

Knowing that you’re prepared and remembering that you add value will positively impact your outlook, according to Cohen.

“Fear of job loss can impact your mental and physical health, so it’s important to address more than just the professional side,” she emphasized. “Make time for healthy activities like going for a walk or spending time with a friend. It’s important to maintain balance and perspective.”

While losing a job can feel personal and scary when you’re in the thick of it, it’s important to recognize that a layoff doesn’t mean it’s the end of your career.

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