What an Oscar-nominated film can tell us about standing up to bosses, taking control of our careers and treating layoffs as new opportunities.
If you watched the Academy Awards on Sunday, you probably noticed actress Marion Cotillard, looking glamorous as always. You may not have heard about the role that brought her to the red carpet — a Belgian-French film called “Two Days, One Night,” directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes — but as a job seeker, you can probably relate to the dire circumstances under which the main protagonist struggled.
Cotillard played Sandra, a factory worker whose job is about to be terminated. Even worse, her cruel supervisor puts the ultimate decision in the hands of Sandra’s co-workers. Either agree to let Sandra go, he said, or everyone will lose their usual €1,000 annual bonus. The final vote is to happen the following Monday. From the opening moments, the terrified/mortified Sandra has one weekend to contact each of her 16 co-workers personally and essentially beg them to give up their hard-earned bonuses for her sake.
It’s a gripping narrative, but in real life, it’s a diabolically cruel — and perhaps unrealistic — ultimatum to ask of any staff. But the Dardennes brothers’ film does highlight the keen existential dread many workers still feel after so many years of recession in a global economy. Here are a few ways you may be able to avoid Sandra’s Faustian bargain and take charge of your own destiny if you think layoffs are imminent.
Toot your own horn. If you don’t get the recognition you deserve, it’s up to you to rectify the situation. Make sure your boss and co-workers understand the time and effort you put into your work, and keep a record of your accomplishments. While no one likes a constant braggart, this is no time to be humble.
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Acquire more skills. Simply saying “that’s not my job” is no longer enough. If your employer needs a skill, take the initiative and learn that skill by taking classes. Even if it doesn’t help in your current job, it will certainly come in handy at your next.
Develop allies. Sandra had an uphill battle because she was reaching out to co-workers only at a time of crisis. But if you can create closer relationships with co-workers and supervisors organically, getting to know them better each day, you’ll lower the chance your name will appear on a potential layoff list.
Realize you have other options. As a survivor of four layoffs in the last six years, I can tell you that there are options other than making concessions that could hinder your career development. The job situation in the Seattle area has improved dramatically in recent years. Perhaps learning to accept a layoff can lead to a much better opportunity elsewhere, with better benefits.
Cotillard didn’t pick up her second Oscar statuette this time around, but her steely-yet-vulnerable performance can be a source of inspiration for thousands of workers whose jobs are similarly at risk every day.