Layoffs in the Telecomm Industry – a Technician’s Guide for Survival

Over the past two decades the telecommunications industry has changed dramatically, this evolution has encompassed times of great wealth and prosperity such as the turbo builds of the late 90’s, as well as despair and financial loss as such as the dot com fallout in 2001 & 2002. If one finds themselves in the industry today, often times they wonder how they made it through and what can they do to survive in today’s economy.

Today’s telecomm technician must be able to handle a multitude of tasks, work in adverse conditions, be versed in many technical platforms, and perform to their managers “expectations”. In addition the telecomm technician must follow company policy, stay within budget constraints, are held accountable for company assets, and are given very little authority to make decisions. In addition to the aforementioned, the technician also faces the possibility of being laid off or terminated as companies reduce head count in reaction to a down market.

The question most often asked by people who have been laid off or terminated due to work force reductions is “why me”? The answer is complex and companies never really address the question, leaving individuals with feelings of inadequacy, anger, and depression. Personally I have experienced the effects of being laid off. I also have been in management and have had to lay people off, in either case it is not a pleasant situation.

I decided to write this guide to help individuals who may face the possibility of a lay off as they may be able to glean some useful information that may help in keeping their job.

First, let’s examine why a reduction in the work force is needed & how decisions are made on who will be terminated. In a down market, companies review their dwindling bottom line make adjustments where they can, i.e. utility reduction, delay new project spending, freeze wages, etc. Corporate executives will also explore “out sourcing” positions or departments as a means of reducing expenses, some examples include IT, Accounting, Payroll, One-Call, Security, etc. Companies who have utilized this option have reduced operating expenses by eliminating head count & benefit costs without diminishing service, although companies are paying for an out-sourcing service these cost are generally lower that performing in-house.

If these are not enough then the company will decide to reduce work force as the elimination of these salaries will impact the bottom line. The percentage of reduction varies but generally speaking will be based on what the executives feel will be enough of a reduction that will not impact day to day operations. For argument sake let’s say 10% reduction is determined, the department Senior VP’s will then take this to their direct reports VP’s and request that each of them come up with a head count number that will be eliminated. These VP’s will meet with their direct report Directors or Managers to arrive at the numbers. At this point the Directors or managers are reviewing a list of names and arriving at a list to review with the next level of Manager or Supervisor. This is the critical step as the Manager or Supervisor will provide his or her input on the individuals on the list, if the individual is positive & known as a top performer then the name may not make the list, conversely if the individual is known as a problem employee then he or she may make the list.

Once determinations are made and list finalized it is sent back up the management chain for executive approval. Once approved by executives list goes to HR then notifications sent out to employees. This is a simplistic model and is based on a non-union company, therefore is not all inclusive on the process. The most important detail is that the opinion of the person whom the employee reports to weighs heavily in the decision making process, therefore it is crucial that employees strive to favor a good opinion from their supervisors.

Now that we have an understanding of how reductions are determined let’s review what one can do to possibly keep a position.

First review your current position & ask “Can this job be performed by someone else outside the company”? In other words can this position be out-sourced? One must consider the knowledge it takes to perform the job, what technology systems are required, if experience is a factor, are special tools needed, and are there other intangibles that need to be considered.

Here are a couple of examples; an IT tech who provides desktop support, this job could be performed by an out-sourcing company as the knowledge and tools are not exclusive, certainly there are special circumstances however, over all this job could be out-sourced. The second example we’ll use a Control center technician who provides support for network operations, this technician monitors alarms, assist in trouble shooting issues, & provides support for the field technicians on a multitude of technology platforms. Theoretically this position could be performed by an out-sourcing company, however, the reality is that it would not be as the knowledge and skill set required would limit an out-sourcing company to find available people for these positions.

If after an individual evaluates his or her position & they conclude that their position could be out-sourced, as in the first example, the individual could take some of the following actions:

  1. Update your resume, it is usually a good thing to do a couple times a year and more frequently in turbulent times, one will be better prepared if they find themselves looking for a job.
  2. Research other positions within the company that one’s skill set may be applicable to, as an example the IT tech could possibly be a fit for an IP support tech position.
  3. Search for available positions out side the company in preparation for a lay off, everyone should be prepared by knowing what the job market is like.
  4. Update personal contact list, this is important as people who are job searching may need to network.
  5. Employees should meet often with their supervisor or manager to glean information on what is going on, however employees should be cautious that they do not become a nuisance or pest. Moreover the employee should not perpetuate rumors nor become a fear monger as this will only create trouble.
  6. Keep a positive upbeat attitude and keep working normally, being negative will only be detrimental to the individual and to the team and could lead to an early dismissal.

The bottom line is that the employee can be prepared if a lay off was to happen, however they must continue to go to work every day on the premise that he or she still has a job that they are required to perform and are being compensated for. If some of the aforementioned steps are taken the individual will have the confidence of knowing that they are prepared for the worst case and should not be “blind sided” if a lay off was to occur.

After an individual reviews his or her position and concludes that their position could not be out-sourced, as in the second example, however, there is a possibility of a lay off due to work force reductions here are a few actions one could take:

  1. Read suggestions in the previous paragraph as they are relevant.
  2. Individuals should take an honest assessment of their personality, behavior, and demeanor and make adjustments where they can. For example, if an individual finds that they tend to voice a negative opinion to their peers and or supervisor when company policy changes, that individual may want to consider making such statements in a tactful manner or keep opinions to themselves. For example; if an individual finds fault with a process, rather than stating “this is wrong” or “this won’t work” detail what is wrong and offer a possible solution. The idea here is to improve one’s image.
  3. Individuals could find and document process improvements that add efficiency. There are processes in everyone’s job that have to be followed; these may be software, hardware, or physical in nature. Almost everyone has to follow processes to perform their job, over time we have eliminated unnecessary steps to gain efficiency, however many of these changes are not documented. If one were to capture these changes, document them, then submit to management, this would send a strong message to management and speak volumes on the individual’s competence, knowledge, and level of commitment.
  4. Share information with peers. Many times individuals will discover new information or new ways to do their jobs that improve performance, however the individual will keep the information to themselves as they feel that they are giving up an advantage they have over others. By not sharing the information the rest of the team is not able to benefit thus productivity suffers. If the individual would document the information and share with his or her peers this will also reflect positively on the individual.
  5. Interact and work with others in a positive manner. It is inevitable that we will have a difference of opinion on many things, the way one person performs a task differs from another. If someone hands off a work order that is in-correct one must be tactful in telling that person it is wrong. One should pick their battles carefully and mutually work toward a solution rather than appear confrontational. In a turbulent work environment it is best to be viewed as one who can get along rather than one who is viewed as a pain in the ass.

This all can be summarized in a couple of statements. One, be prepared for the possibility of a lay off as work force reductions do happen and unfortunately good people get let go. Two, modify your behavior, personality and work habits, in a positive manner, add value where possible. I previously stated that one’s Manager or Supervisor opinion would weigh heavily on the decision making process when reductions are imminent, therefore it is best for one to be in favor with management when these decisions are being made.

The bottom line here is that in a tough economy companies will take the steps necessary for survival, although their decisions are not popular, corporate executives will do what they feel is best for the company. If the decisions include reduction in work force then good people get laid off, unfortunately that is reality. Everyone who works for a telecommunications company should be aware of what is going on in the economy and more importantly what is going on within the company.

While we cannot sit in on executive meetings we can read the warning signs, such as, lower stock prices, quarterly earnings dropping, decreasing orders for new service, increased number of disconnects, etc. In a slowing economy people must be vigilant in order to know what may lie ahead in the near future. Being prepared for losing your job may seem pessimistic, however one will be better positioned to find a new job, if they have done their homework than one who did not bother to read the warning signs and find themselves unemployed blaming the company they worked for. The ideas outlined in the preceding paragraphs may not keep one from getting laid off in the short term, however over time employees may be able to apply some of the principles that may allow them to keep their positions and perhaps be in line for a promotion when the economy improves.

Generally speaking, people who survive a layoff are often required to take on a larger role and work load due to a diminished work force, this dedication usually pays dividends when things improve. Unless one is a clairvoyant or has an ability to predict the future, we do not know what is going to happen from week to week, therefore it is best for one to pro-actively take control of their future rather than be unprepared and the victim of a corporate decision.

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