Work while you are at Work!

by rwaters on January 10, 2011

People consistently ask me, “What can I do to avoid being laid off?” Addressing your productivity at work is one of the most important steps. This may seem obvious, but if you stop to think about how much time some of us spend actually working on tasks that we are being paid for you might be surprised. I do not mean to imply that you can never have a personal conversation at work. My plan is that you really focus on doing your work.

There seems to be a level of denial that occurs when people think their jobs are in jeopardy. Instead of hunkering down to do more work, they respond by doing everything BUT work! If you feel the urge to do nothing when you hear the Four Horsepersons of the Layoffs coming, – – resist, resist!

If your department folds, or even your company, everyone associated may be laid off. That is beyond your control. However, if you are known to be efficient, positive and hard working, you may have some options that are not open to everyone. Like a chance to transfer to another department, or even a referral for another job that is available in another company. Your good reputation will have preceded you. If certain people are being targeted as cost cutting measures or to eliminate duplication of work you might think there is nothing that you can do. But, in case you still have time, commit to turning over a new leaf.
Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Do this First!
The first step is to find out how you are spending your time. Take out a piece of paper and write down the hours of the day that you spend at work in fifteen minute increments down the left had side of the page.
7am –
715am –
730am –
745am –
8am – and so on.

Leave this paper where you can see it during the day to remind you to write down what you have been doing. Then just go about your day, but write down EVERYTHING! If you spent 30 minutes chatting with one of your cronies and only get to the work in the last 5 minutes, that is 5 minutes working! If you have to continually go back through stacks of papers on your desk to find the same thing instead of filing these items efficiently the first time, you can only count the amount if time it would take you to file the papers properly. If you take a ten-minute break every hour to go get fresh air, or to smoke, you cannot count that time as productive. (You may still need to do it to keep from going nuts!) Time that you cannot account for productively cannot be scored as working time. Do this for a week. That’s right a whole week. One day will not give you enough information to determine how much time you are really spending on productive tasks.

After you have gathered a week’s data add up the amount to time you spend really working. Subtract the rest of the time spent from the number of hours that you were at work. The difference may startle you! Remember that one wasted hour each day will result in an average of 250 hours per year (365 days minus weekends & holidays). 250 hours equals 6.25 WEEKS of work lost each year. That is only for one hour being lost each week. Scary, isn’t it?

Once you find out where you are in the process, it will be much easier to adjust your schedule to fit in more “work” time! If other people can hear you having lengthy personal conversations (cubicles are NOT offices!) they may think that since you are already not doing anything, when the axe falls that your work will not be missed.

Do this Next!
The second thing is to make sure other people know that you are doing a great job! Like Alan Weiss says, “If you don’t blow your own horn, there is no music.” Working away in silence may be a time-honored tradition, but it probably will not help keep you employed. Send your boss a quarterly accomplishment sheet that highlights projects that you have completed successfully, or are guiding to a brilliant end! Better yet, send it monthly! Then summarize quarterly. This sheet does not have elaborate, it should be simple, and done faithfully – just the way you want to be paid!

Blowing one’s horn might run contrary to your past training in humility. But in this day of bosses who work in multiple offices or even other countries, if they can’t actually see you working they may not think that you are doing anything! Particularly if you are working on one large project! If the only time they hear from you is at completion, you may not get the chance to blow your horn at all. I encourage you to develop a proper tone for doing this by just listing things that you have facilitated. If you have helped in other areas like running the United Way local campaign (at your boss’ request) be sure to mention when you have exceeded last year’s donations. Do not mention any one you have had to push out of the way to get things done. Just say, “Engineering has completed their portion of the work on schedule,” or something else innocuous. You never know if your boss has family in that department!

Even if your job is already in line to be eliminated, you will develop positive skills that you can take somewhere else. Leaving a favorable impression, even when you are laid off has resulted in many re-hirings that I know of and even in promotions at new companies when individuals have shown particular professionalism in the face of adversity!

In case you are wondering where reading this message falls in the work/non-work spectrum…you better believe it’s work, friend!


Marylou Hughes, Keeping Your Job While Your Bosses Are Losing Theirs, William Neil Publisher, 1998.

William A. Salmon, Rosemary T. Salmon. The Mid-Career Tune-Up: 10 New Habits for Keeping Your Edge in Today’s Fast-Paced Workplace, AMACOM, 1999.

Diane Stafford, Your Job: Getting It, Keeping It, Improving It, Changing It, Kansas City Star Books, 1998.

This blog was written by Rhonda F. Waters, Ph.D.
President of The Mutare Group
“Helping motivated adults achieve key goals through education and training.”

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