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The Southern California Job Market : Making It Work : A Primer for When You Wonder, 'Can This Job Be Saved?'

March 07, 1994|STUART SILVERSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Deborah Jones is skating on thin ice at work.

Just a few weeks ago, Jones, an administrative assistant for a financial services firm in Los Angeles, was told her job was in jeopardy after a boss accused her of skipping out early and making frequent paperwork errors.

Stunned by the complaints, which she calls unfounded, Jones quickly asked for a meeting with her supervisors. Although the session cleared up some misunderstandings, Jones concedes that her job security remains questionable.

"They watch me very closely. . . . As long as I remain there, I'm going to have to be careful," acknowledges Jones, who asked that a pseudonym be used for this story to avoid further grief with her bosses.

Can this job--and others in jeopardy for similar reasons--be saved?

In many cases, say career counselors and other job consultants, employees can work their way out of trouble even after getting "shape up or ship out" warnings. But, they note, it takes quick action, a coolheaded approach and, over the long run, a single-minded willingness to sell yourself and take on new responsibilities.

For starters, the employee in jeopardy must decide whether the job is worth the considerable time and effort it will take to keep it.

Sometimes a situation is too far gone to turn around. A manager might simply "have it in" for an employee, even if the supervisor officially states another reason for the problem. As a result, employees should be aware of hidden agendas and office politics before deciding what to do.

Hanging onto a job may also be impossible when a company isn't singling out one employee but is launching an across-the-board layoff of larger groups of workers.

Employees tend to get into trouble in their jobs for one of three reasons, experts say. In each case, says Walker, there are constructive steps the worker can take.

Often the problem stems from the arrival of new management, because of a merger or another type of corporate shake-up. Long-entrenched employees may not recognize that they have to adjust to the new management's ways.

On other occasions, employees are experiencing personal crises such as divorce or a death in the family and start neglecting their work, which angers their bosses.

Or employees may feel they've outgrown their jobs and want to move on to something better. But their bosses don't see it that way, and instead want them to buckle down in their current roles.

The problem, career advisers say, is that too many people delude themselves for too long.

"When your job is in jeopardy, you have to look at yourself the way they look at you when you're having a physical exam at the Mayo Clinic. You have to look at every inch of yourself," says Harvey Mackay, a Minnesota businessman and author of such business books as "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive."

For those who want to try getting back on their bosses' good sides, it's usually a good idea to follow Jones' example: Attack the matter head-on by quickly calling for a meeting to review the circumstances.

The opposite approach--trying to ride out a bad situation until it improves on its own--can be deadly.

How the meeting with the dissatisfied boss is handled is critical.

To prepare, seek the advice of a respected company veteran or a mentor outside the firm. When the meeting is underway, be sure to stay calm and professional and keep your emotions in check.

Another key is to nail down what the supervisors regard as the problem and what can be done to correct it. Then, in the months following the formal meeting, seek out feedback.

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