By March 3, 2014

Are You Afraid Of Losing Your Job?

Nothing can paralyze you worse than the fear of losing your job.  If you are afraid that you might lose your job, you are likely to act in ways that are neither in the best interest of your employer or yourself.

How to know if you are afraid

It might seem like an obvious thing, but it isn’t always that easy to tell if the actions you are taking are motivated by fear or something else.

I’ve been in the situation myself where I have often wondered whether I am acting out of a desperate attempt at self preservation or based on logic and reason.fear3

One big question you have to ask yourself is: if I suddenly lost my job today, how would I feel about it?

I would venture to guess that most developers would be pretty scared.  Especially if you don’t have much of a savings built up or prospects for another job.

If you would be scared if you lost your job, chances are you are acting out of fear now.  Fear is bad, because it limits your actions and causes you to make timid decisions.

How many times have you been in the situation where you are working on a project and you discover some flaw or issue with the way the project is proceeding?

What do you do in that case?

How you handle this situation has quite a bit to do with fear.  If you are afraid of losing your job, you may be inclined to ignore the issue completely—better to not rock the boat.

If you are mildly afraid or insecure in your job, you might bring up the issue, but quickly let it go if you face any resistance.

If you are confident in your job and your future prospects, you might take it upon yourself to fix the issue, because you know it is the right thing to do—consequences be damned.

(Uncle Bob, has a great blog post about this exact subject called “Saying NO”)

Anyway, the point is that you will act differently based on fear.  So, to some degree, you can judge your fear level by how you are acting.

Are you afraid to speak up in meetings?

Are you afraid to do things without permission, even if you know they are the right things to do?

Do you constantly worry about appearing valuable rather than producing real value?

At some point in my career, I’ve answered “yes” to all of these questions, so I know there is a good chance that you have as well.

What you can do about it

Ok, so you are afraid, so what?  What can you actually do about it?

Well, it turns out there is quite a bit you can do about your fear of losing your job.  It is important to take proactive steps to address your worst case scenarios so that they don’t bother you on a daily basis.Sofa with dollars isolated on white background

First off, you need to have some amount of savings.  No matter how secure you are in your job or in your ability to get another job, you need to know that if you get the axe today, you’ll be able to pay your rent tomorrow.

How much savings do you need?  It depends on what will make you feel comfortable.  For me, I need about 6 months worth of salary sitting in the bank to feel comfortable.  (I’m pretty conservative, I know.)  For someone else it may be just a few weeks or a couple of months.  It helps to think about losing or quitting your job today and then consider how long you’d need to have your expenses paid to feel like your life wouldn’t go down the toilet.

I’m pretty frequently surprised to find out how many people—especially software developers—are living paycheck-to-paycheck.  Don’t do that to yourself.  It is not a good way to live. If you insist on living paycheck-to-paycheck, you will always live in fear.  But what do you do if you are already in this situation?

Start by reducing your monthly expenses.  It might take drastic measures like getting a smaller house or smaller apartment and cutting cable, but I’d much rather live with some sense of security and a fewer amenities, than living in a dream bubble that could pop at any time.

After you reduce expense, start putting away a percentage of your paycheck each month to an emergency fund.  I’d recommend saving at least 10-20% of your paycheck into this emergency fund until you have a big enough buffer that you no longer feel like you are under the gun.

Just having a cushion you can rely on will go a long way toward reducing your fear of losing your job, but there is much more you can do.

(By the way, if you haven’t read Rich Dad Poor Dad, I highly recommend it.  It will change your thinking about finances for the positive.)

Becoming more marketable

I’ve found that once I’ve made sure that I’ve got a buffer in place, the biggest factor that makes me feel secure in my career is how marketable my skills are.

I’ve written about marketing yourself as a software developer several times and I’m producing a complete course to show you exactly how to do it, so I won’t go into the details here, but I want to talk about why it is so important.

By learning how to market yourself, you can make it much easier for you to find a job or other opportunity if you ever need one.  Let’s consider some extreme cases, like Scott Hanselmanhowtomarketyourself

Scott is a very well known software developer who currently works for Microsoft.  Now, if Scott ever lost his job or was looking for a new job, how quickly do you think he could get a new job?  Probably within less than a day.  In fact, he could probably get several job offers within a matter of hours.  And if he wanted to pick up some freelance consulting work to start a consulting or other venture, do you think he’d be able to find clients pretty easily?

Now, obviously, we aren’t all going to be as famous as Scott Hanselman is in the development world, but I could name at least 50 developers that I know by name whose reputations in the community would be enough credibility to land them a good job in less than a day.

If you put in the effort—and I can show you how to do it—you can market your skills and experience to the world and create for yourself the kind of “career security” that you can’t get from any single employer.

Talk about getting rid of fear.  If you know that you can get a new job within a week, and you’ve got a little bit of money in the bank to act as a cushion, how could you possibly fear losing your current job?

Life beyond fear

So, what does life beyond fear look like?

When you aren’t afraid of losing your job, you act with much more confidence, because you aren’t afraid to take risks.  You find more opportunities, because you stop seeing things as a threat and start looking for how you can benefit from a situation.

When I first stopped being afraid of losing my job, I started speaking out more and getting much more involved in the architecture of the software I was building.  The fearlessness led to promotions and increased contributions to projects, because very few people are willing to honestly speak their mind.  Paradoxically, most employers actually like it when you aren’t afraid to disagree with them and argue for what you think is right.  You are being paid to be a professional, so you are expected to act like a professional.

It is also quite nice to know that you don’t have to put up with crap.  Is your boss being inappropriate and yelling in your face?  Good.  If you know you can get another job tomorrow, you can tell him how you expect to be treated and if you aren’t treated that way, you will leave.

Being asked to work ridiculous hours, but not being paid more for doing so?  Good, just don’t do it.  Work your 8 hours then go home.  I worked in many situations where the norm was working 60 hour weeks.  While everyone worked their 60, I worked my 40 and went home.  Why?  Because I wasn’t afraid.  I did the work I was supposed to do during my agreed upon work week and I didn’t let myself get bullied into working more.

And let’s not forget opportunities that fall into your lap just because you are able to act with confidence.  Having confidence in yourself—which is basically a lack of fear—causes other people to have confidence in you as well. When you are fearless and walk into a job interview, you have a much better chance of getting the job.  When you are fearless and ask for a promotion, you have a much better chance of getting that raise.  Even dealing with clients in a fearless manner results in much better outcomes overall.

So, get those savings together to get your cushion in place and learn how to market yourself as a software developer, so you can be fearless as well.

Oh, and sign up for my email list and I’ll keep fearlessly sending blog posts like this one right to your inbox.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."