This is a guest post by Chris Fontanella
Mechanics will tell you there are at least five signs of engine failure: a knocking sound, loss of power, an excessive amount of exhaust smoke, vibrations, and worsening gas mileage. But you don’t need a mechanic to tell you there’s a problem; your engine will. You will hear it sputter, rattle, and chug, and you’ll see a trail of smoggy pollutants behind you.
Corrective measures for engine troubles can be as complicated as an engine replacement or as simple as an oil change. Regardless, everyone agrees: ignoring problems—the sights and sounds of engine trouble—increases the likelihood of more issues. It’s always best to assess and address the issues at the first sign of trouble.
The same is true when it comes to your career. If you ignore any changes you see at your place of work, or the broader macroeconomic indicators that may affect the company you work for, or even what your gut may be telling you about your work scenario, then you may be heading toward bigger problems. If you fail to see and hear potentially impactful situations at work, your career engine may seize up. Act upon any advance warnings, and you’ll cruise into a respectable career.
Four Types of Office “Noise”
Unexpected and unplanned for events at work and changes in the broader economy happen all the time; that won’t change. The key is to hear and recognize those sounds of change—what I call “workplace noise” —and respond accordingly. The following are four types of noise to listen and look for:
1. Merger and Acquisition (M&A) and/or Sale Rumors
According to Statista, M&A transactions in the United States tapered off from 23,161 in 2021 to 18,072 in 2022. Regardless of the decline, the reality is that M&A activity can and does happen and has the potential to impact your job. So, if you will begin to hear office scuttlebutt about it, or you learn that more and more companies in the industry in which you work are consolidating, or maybe your company candidly tells you it has been acquired or is up for sale, then prepare to deal with that “noise.” When I worked in Bank of America’s corporate trust division, the COO announced that our unit had been sold to a bank in Minnesota and said, “Your job is still yours if you’re willing to relocate.” I went back to my office and immediately began looking for a new job. It would have been unwise to close my ears to the clamorous sounds of a relocation due to the sale of the business unit I worked in.
2. Layoffs and Outsourcing
Layoffs and outsourcing are sure signs the company is shoring up its balance sheet, maybe in preparation for an M&A transaction. The quickest way to improve a company’s balance sheet is by trimming the workforce fat, that is, reducing its number of employees. Alternatively, or in conjunction with layoffs, a company will also shore-up its bottom-line by outsourcing jobs to companies or countries who can perform certain tasks at a fraction of the price. Do not turn a blind eye when you see either happening.
3. Lack of Funding
Startups and other companies reliant on venture capital or private equity often encounter and underfunding issue. Oftentimes the organization burns through cash like there’s no tomorrow, spending like crazy in an effort to achieve profitability. When it doesn’t happen or is too slow to happen, VCs and PEs may abruptly decide to pull the plug and withdraw their monetary support. If the regularly catered breakfasts and lunches cease and management starts slashing costs, it may be because they’re running out of money. Give heed if you hear rumors that your company is stiffing vendors; there may be truth behind the hearsay. (Word to the wise business owner: If you have a startup as a client, be vigilant when it comes to your invoices. More than one has told me my invoices were being processed as they continued to utilize my services, only to find out they had run out of money and were waiting on a “capital raise,” which never came.)
4. A Change in Culture
Sometimes a company culture changes for the better; sometimes for the worse. Earlier in my career, I worked for a firm that filed for an initial public offering (IPO). Employees were enthused about the potential to increase their personal wealth through stock ownership but were also sobered by the demands associated with the event. Prior to the IPO, an entrepreneurial spirit filled the air at work. After, the company became more rigid and structured in its approach. There was less room for individuality and more expectations around conforming to set approaches to the business and managerial points of view. While this worked for some, I knew I would not thrive in such an environment. For me, it was noise I could not ignore.
The Triple A Response Program
Noise exists at every company but it doesn’t have to ruin your career. If you haven’t heard any yet, give it time. It will happen. When it does, take these three steps to better cope with any type of noisy workplace activity you encounter:
1. Assess the Situation
Don’t bury your head in employment sand to avoid hearing (or seeing) what is happening around you. Determine what is transpiring and consider its impact on your work situation. Will your job be eliminated as a result of this merger? Is your job a job that is easily outsourced? Has the company ceased paying its vendors? Has there been one round after another of layoffs? Are the cultural changes at the company ones you can live with? Size things up.
2. Address the Issue
In other words, think about and begin to deal with the problem at hand. Consider steps you can take in light of any new developments. If your company is merging with another company or it has been sold, will that event create a new opportunity for you within the company or create a reason for you to explore possibilities outside the company? Look beyond the current situation and take the time to review realistic options.
If you’ve taken the time to assess the situation and address the issue, then take the final step, and act upon it. Not making a move after seeing workplace signs of trouble is tantamount to letting your career engine seize. After I was told that the business unit I worked in at the bank was sold to another bank in Minnesota, I went back to my office and immediately started looking for a new job. The next job I landed was in the staffing business, an industry of which I am still a part, thirty years later.
About the guest post author:
Chris Fontanella is the founder of Encore Professionals Group, a professional services firm specializing in the identification and placement of accounting and finance candidates in temporary and full-time positions. He previously served as Division Director for Robert Half International and Client Service Director for Resources Global Professionals. Prior to entering the staffing industry, Fontanella spent years studying theology and preparing for ministry, having received his bachelor of arts degree in New Testament Studies from Oral Roberts University, and his master of arts degree in Theological Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of Jump-Start Your Career: Ten Tips to Get You Going, and Tune Up Your Career: Tips & Cautions for Peak Performance in the Workplace. Learn more at chrisfontanella.com.