The Layoff Waiting Game

In October Ann Moore, the chief executive of Time Inc., announced that some 600 people working for her would be laid off by year’s end. Immediately, staffers began having trouble concentrating on their jobs.

Wherever they went–the elevator, the restroom, out for coffee–the talk turned to layoffs and the anxiety level rose. When a manager went into another manager’s office and closed the door, furious e-mailing followed.

Work? How can they expect us to get work done when there’s so much uncertainty?

That’s a question thousands of employees across the country are asking. The first answer is, try not to get caught up in the gossip mill. Hunker down and try to keep your focus on work. It may be challenging with so many distractions, but it’s how you can show your boss that you’re committed to the company.

In Pictures: Seven Ways To Get Ready For Layoff Time

You’ll feel better taking control, even if it’s in small ways. First, avoid gripe sessions. Of course that’s easier said than done, but it’s a way to mitigate anxiety and keep your focus on the task at hand. This isn’t the moment to be seen in a crowd of gossipers milling around the office.

The best thing for job security, though it’s not foolproof, is to try to make the boss feel as though you’re indispensable. Come up with cost-cutting measures you can suggest and ways to win new clients. Ask how you can help by taking on extra responsibilities.

Meet informally with your manager to tell him or her how much you like your job and want to stay at the company. Be enthusiastic. Explain that you’d be open to trying a different role if it made you more valuable to the firm.

Let the boss know how busy you are, too. If you’re involved in a long-term project, deliver an interim report. If you’ve completed a project, file a report about the results.

Don’t assume that the higher-ups will remember all the good work you’ve done. Gently remind them that you’ve met the goals set out in your last performance review and refresh their memory about any big projects you’ve successfully completed. Be sure you’re providing information, not overtly selling yourself. Since your direct manager may be in the line of fire, have this conversation with several managers.

Help your boss meet his or her own goals and point out solutions, not problems, says Kevin Daley, founder of the management consulting firm Communispond Inc., and head of its executive coaching unit.

Meanwhile, be assertive about looking for a new position–while keeping that job search discreet. Avoid posting your résumé on job boards like Yahoo! Hot Jobs and

“There’s a chance someone from your company will see it,” says Michelle Winkley, director of human resources for an Internet-based company and previously human resources manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers and AIG . “Recruiters may be laying off in one area and hiring in another.”

Instead, respond to specific ads. That will keep your job search from being available for all to see. And don’t send out an all-hands message on Facebook about your job search, especially if your Facebook friends include work colleagues. Network quietly among former colleagues, with industry leaders at trade association gatherings and with other professional contacts and friends and family.

As a precautionary measure, copy all important contact information and examples of your work off your work computer and transfer it to a personal computer. Only take what’s yours, though. Follow company guidelines and don’t remove any proprietary information.

Most important of all, try not to get caught up in the whirlwind of speculation. That’s bad for both your mental health and your work output.