“How can I tell if I have job security?”

Question: Alan, what questions do I ask to find out if I am an integral part of the corporation, or if I am going to keep my job?

Mississauga, Ontario

Answer: Dear Janet:   

As we all know, all employees and employers are unique. What might work for one employee to determine his or her degree of job security might not work for another employee. However there are certain “job security themes” that are applicable to nearly all employees and employers.

Here are six (6) questions you might ask, if they seem appropriate for you and your employer:      

1. Perception of Your Promote-ability: “To be considered for a promotion, what skills and abilities do you think I should try to develop?” Your boss’s response – and even his or her body language – when you ask this question should tell you a lot. A person whose contribution is valued should get one or more positive and practical responses to this question; at least attention and indications of concern or support. Conversely, expressions of hesitation, bewilderment, doubt or negativity in response should tell you that your job security is not solid. (Incidentally, the same question could be raised with respect to a raise in salary, higher bonus, or to be one of those employees eligible for a stock or stock option grant.)

2. Involving You in Long-Term Efforts: “May I participate in our department’s yearly or long-term planning?” If your superiors see you as likely to be around for the long-term future, they are more likely to involve you in plans concerning that long-term future. It’s that simple. In contrast, a response such as “I don’t think that would make any sense,” or even “Why?” should tell you a lot. Again, though, watch for facial expressions and body language: small things can often tell you a lot of big things.

3. Willingness to Invest in You as a “Long Term Asset”: “Would you support my request to HR for company reimbursement for my tuition for online courses to learn a new skill or new language that would surely help our department? As they say, “No one changes the oil in a rental car.” Well, its converse is true: “All smart people change the oil in a car they plan to keep a long time.” If you are seen as a long-term asset, worthy of investment, you have job security, and vice versa. This would be even more telling if you prefaced this question with something like, “It sure seems that you could use more support with spread sheets (or Arabic language; or software coding; or Six Sigma training; or some other truly critical need of your boss.)  How could he or she say, “No,” if he or she really does need that extra support, unless you are not considered “likely long term?”

4. Willingness to Sponsor Your Career Path: “Would you be willing to sponsor me in developing a long-term career plan with the company?” This is a variation of question number 3, above, and perhaps more applicable to senior managers and executives, who are often rated among their peers as “High Potential” or “Low Value.” It truly puts the manager in a position to either lend his or her credibility to your long-term career. A negative response says, in effect, “I don’t think being affiliated with you in this company is advisable.”

5. Grant of New Responsibilities: “May I take on added responsibilities?” This is perhaps the simplest question to ask, and the simplest answer to help you asses your relative job security. What boss does not want to transfer more responsibilities to an employee, unless, of course, that employee already has “one foot out the door?”

6. Frank and Open Inquiry: “Forgive my frankness, but if you were me, would you plan on a long-term future with this firm, or would you seek it elsewhere?” With certain people, nothing beats the straightforward approach. However, the biggest strength of this approach is its biggest drawback: your boss may not tell you the truth, but instead what he or she wants you to believe is the truth. Still, it’s something to consider.

Of course, Janet, there are limitless other ways to determine your relative job security. These are examples, only, but illustrations of the “job security themes” I have noticed over the many years I’ve been in this line of work.   
Your question will, I believe, help so many others who face the same quandary you do. Thanks for writing in! Hope you’re enjoying the blog! 

Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.