Tips to keep your job (or survive losing it)

First the bad news. Americans lost 533,000 jobs in November—the worst string of layoffs in three decades. Suffering businesses are cutting employees loose in all forms—old-fashioned layoffs, buyout and early retirement packages, and company closings. In total, almost two million people have been let go from the job market since the recession began a year ago.

Now the good news. OK, so calling it good might be a stretch. But put your rose-colored glasses on and imagine for a minute that the glass is half-full, because an optimist would look at this as an opportunity in disguise.

If you’re one of the lucky ones still earning a paycheck, consider this your wake-up call—a chance to snap out of complacency.

If you haven’t started an emergency fund already, it’s time to get saving. You should be keeping at least 10 percent of your take-home pay, ideally to invest for the future. But before you jump into the stock market with your stash, make sure you have enough to live a minimum of six months, sans job. If disaster strikes and you can’t work due to illness, you lose your home or—probably the most likely—you get laid off, this will keep food on the table while you handle the situation.

But that’s just the backup plan. You want to keep your current job, right? To increase your chances, you need to strengthen your work image.

You goal is to do all you can to become invaluable to the company. If your bosses like you as a person and a worker, they will probably put a good word in for you if your name comes up. This is not the time for slacking. Remember how careful you were when you landed your first real job? You probably dressed professionally, arrived on time and went out of your way to impress your supervisors. It’s time to resurrect that enthusiastic young version of yourself.

Show up on time (even better, get there early), meet deadlines and forget about casual Friday. Avoid conflict and don’t complain, whine or point fingers at co-workers (you do have the right to stick up for yourself, however). Overall, you want to strike a balance between flying under the radar and cultivating a positive image.

Maybe most importantly, come to work. It’s one thing if you have a flu so bad that you can’t get out of bed, but a common cold? Suck it up, brew some tea and come in to the office. Yes, you might be contagious. Yes, it might be uncomfortable. But the truth is, whether it’s unconscious or not, employers respect people who tough it out. It’s understandable to stay home if your kids are sick, but try your best to have a grandparent, close relative or trusted baby-sitter watch them if possible.

In the meantime, polish up your resume, just in case. And if you do find your job is on the chopping block, consider pledging to work for a smaller salary. It might be cheaper than job hunting, and you can always look for a better job in the meantime.

What if you’ve already faced the worst possible outcome—you lost your job? Use this breather to reassess your career. Are you happy in your line of work? If not, this might be just the jolt you needed to change your routine and pursue your dreams.

Now, I don’t mean to gloss over the hardship of job loss. I know it’s no picnic.  Money will undoubtedly be tight, especially if you have debts to pay—and most Americans do. In fact, ten percent of homeowners are either behind on their mortgage payments or in the process of foreclosure, and that number is expected to grow with unemployment. But you don’t have to become a statistic, if DebtStoppers has anything to do with it. Take advantage of our free one-on-one debt analysis or sign up for one of our free community workshops in Chicago or Atlanta (bonus: there's free food and a laptop giveaway). When you’re worried about making a living, you shouldn’t be worrying about losing a place to live.

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