‘What should I do to avoid being made redundant?’

I work for a bank that is going through a period of heavy redundancies. From the cuts made so far it seems that many of the casualties have not been chosen on the basis of ability or cost, but as a result of political horse-trading. I have a three-year record with this bank and am a solid performer, not a star. Losing my job now would be bad timing, to put it mildly – I have a young child, a pregnant wife and an eye-watering mortgage. How can I make sure the axe does not fall on me? Should I attempt to play the sympathy vote with my boss? Or is it better to embark on a shameless bout of self-promotion at the expense of my colleagues?
Analyst, male, 30

Lucy’s Answer

I’m surprised you’ve lasted as well as you have in the City, given the quaintly outdated way in which you describe yourself.

The language of most companies, especially banks, is now based on the notion that everyone is outstanding, even the tea lady. So if you go about saying that you are merely “solid” you are begging to be fired.

You also need to drop the disapproving talk of “shameless self-promotion” and “political horse- trading”, as this is how it works. It is a market and you need to sell yourself, not just when job cuts are in the offing, but all the time.

There are two ways of playing the political game. Which one is right for you depends on your personality. Either you can take the boasting route – that is, every time you do anything good you shove it under your boss’s nostrils. Or you take the sucking-up route and make yourself charming by complimenting him and generally being chummy.

The trouble with both approaches is that they require some natural flair – especially the second. Badly done, sucking up can end up alienating everyone.

I also fear it may be too late to start practising either, both because if you suddenly start behaving differently everyone will think it odd, and because your boss will probably have made his decision already.

If I were you I would do practical things like renegotiate the mortgage, get a lodger and send out your CV. And maybe start wondering if this rough, up-and-down world is really the one you want to be in for ever.

Don’t even think about playing the sympathy card. Talk of your unborn child will make no difference to your boss – it will only make him want to end the interview as soon as possible.

Dear Lucy

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Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.

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