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You can’t read a newspaper or news Web site without finding story after story about companies laying off people. ABC, NBC Universal, CBS, you name the network or broadcast company, layoffs have been occurring for almost a year. Yet, while other industries receive billions in taxpayer bailouts, broadcasters won’t be included. We don’t represent enough voters for the politicians to care.

The car makers, however, are in a quite different position with a huge union, representing tens of thousands of voters. Chrysler, Ford and GM seem to have no problem quite publicly begging for a taxpayer bailout of their failed businesses. And, congress seems only too willing to use our tax money to buy themselves more votes, er, bailout these failed enterprises.

And, while Congress fiddles, Rome burns. The unemployment rate in the U.S. rose to 6.7 percent in November, the highest rate in 15 years. That represents more than 10.3 million Americans without work. Businesses cut 533,000 jobs last month, which was the biggest lost in jobs since December 1974. Perhaps, just as bad, the number of workers who have become so disenchanted that they’ve given up even looking for a job rose to 12.5 percent.

If you aren’t depressed yet, consider that a recent survey of 101 CEOs revealed that 60 percent said they plan to cut workers in the next six months. Just because you had a job through the end of 2008 may not mean you’ll be employed by the end of 2009.

What’s a person to do?

The good news is that you still have a job. This gives you time to develop an action plan while you have access to your contacts and are still employed. It’s always easier to move from one job to another job, than it is to move from the unemployment line to a job.

Let’s review some things you can do to prepare for what we hope never happens, but may help you recover quickly if it does.

First, be sure you have a copy of your personal Outlook address book at home. I know corporate IT says that it “owns” everything, but consider this as a survival tool. Keep a copy off site and be sure both copies are kept current.

Just last week, I received a panic email from a reader employed by NBC Universal. He’d just gotten the axe and was quickly blasting the news to all his friends before the IT guys killed his computer connection. He had just minutes to provide his contacts with his home e-mail contact information.

Create a distribution list and a basic email with your other contact information. That way, you can quickly send this information to key people you might want to inform if you suffer a similar fate. You have to enter one name in the “To” line, add a quick additional note and hit send. You might not have time to enter 25 or 30 names before IT yanks your RJ-45.

Second, keep up with the news about your industry. You’re less likely to be blindsided if you’re up to date on industry issues and news. And, if you get cut, you’ll want to know which companies are healthy and which are not for that resume blast.

Third, be absolutely sure about the health of your own company. Read any public financial statements or press releases issued by your company. Public companies are required to issue regular business and corporate statements. Your HR department can supply them to you.

Don’t just depend on corporate grapevines, company newsletters and company Web sites. Use both internal and external sources. See if there have already been cutbacks, shift reductions or other mandated cost reductions, perhaps in other offices.

Look at both current and historical information. Some broadcast networks announced large-scale layoffs and corporate reductions almost a year ago. Research such information back to January 2008. Broadcast Engineeringnewsletters report on these happenings, and all back stories from our newsletters can be found on our Web site. A search for "layoffs" will give you a good place to start.

Fourth, if you are offered a voluntary separation package, don’t let your emotions influence your decision. Know your own personal financial situation, retirement plans or new job options before you jump onto what might look like a lot of cash. Being offered $50,000 to retire may sound like a good deal. It might not be such a good deal if your own retirement savings has recently taken a 40 percent hit from the stock market crash.

Finally, be sure you have a current copy of the company’s HR policy manual. Know your rights and benefits before something happens. Understand the company’s policy with regard to terminated employees. What might be your benefits? Currently, 24 states require companies to pay terminated employees for unused vacation. Are you located in one of those states? Does the company termination policy specify how that issue is handled?

Make yourself invaluable

The best thing you can do is try to avoid any layoff. Be sure you are perceived as a team player. Make sure your supervisor is aware of your knowledge base and how it applies to your tasks. If you need to blow your own horn, do it.

Ask for training on new tasks or duties. Volunteer for new assignments. Be the go-to person for new projects. The more valuable you are perceived, the less likely you’ll be shown the door.

If layoffs come, all bets are off as to who gets the boot because companies have wide latitude in terminating employees when the process is classified a reduction in force (RIF). Good and not-so-good employees can be disposed of equally.

Let’s hope our industry doesn’t experience further downsizing. But, if it does, forewarned is forearmed.

PS: What’s happening in your company? Let me know. Anonymity guaranteed.