Special Report Your Job

How to keep your job

Forget boasting and flattery. If you want to avoid getting laid off, right now it's all about the money.

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By Tyler Cowen, Money Magazine contributing writer

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(Money Magazine) -- Let's say you work in an industry that's been hit hard by the economic downturn, and you're watching competitors downsize left and right. You're pretty sure that layoffs are headed to your place too, and fast. What's your best strategy to keep your job?

You might first think of the approach that many people use at annual review time: Ask your boss for a meeting in which you quantify all your fabulous accomplishments over the past year. But that isn't likely to have much effect right now, in part because very few people's bottom-line results have been particularly fabulous lately.

Praising your boss's new suit/PowerPoint presentation/visionary ideas is fine, but it probably isn't going to stop the ax either. In a downturn you need to speak the language that matters most: dollars and cents.

Employers looking to cut personnel costs can either lay people off or lower their wages. Though there are exceptions, employers are generally more willing to do the former.

Truman Bewley, a professor of economics at Yale University, has shown that's because they fear low worker morale and even sabotage. Basically, they don't want unhappy people around who may cause trouble.

So if your job really is in danger (and you'd rather have less money than no money) you need to address that fear head-on. Let the big guy know you're willing to work, contentedly and productively, at a lower wage than you currently receive.

Some possible openers: "I don't consider salary a final measure of my self-worth." Or "My friend Peter stayed on at his job at lower pay to help keep his company afloat. I really admire that."

This move isn't without risk (see "Fireproof Your Job"). And it won't be fun. It's hard for most of us to admit that we may be worth less to our employer than we once were. But that's exactly why signaling acceptance of a wage cut can prove effective. It's the one strategy that the brownnosing braggart down the hall won't find so easy to mimic.

Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University and the author of Discover Your Inner Economist. To top of page

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