Whatever happened to job security? It turns out that most of us have to invent our own.

Hiring people is expensive, and handing over a paycheque every couple of weeks really adds up too. So the expense has to be worth it. Employers calculate the value of the skills you bring and the work you do, and it has to add up to more than the cost of hiring and retaining you.

When it does, you are an asset to your employer. That is the reason employers keep you on. It is also what they consider when they choose to let someone go.

There have been numerous stories in the news lately about employees landing in hot water at work over comments they’ve made on social networking sites or their bad behavior (on their own time) coming to public attention.

This had some people asking, why should your employer care if you act like a drunken lout at a soccer match on the weekend, or what you say on Facebook, as long as you are professional at work and do your job well?

The answer is that when your private anti-social behavior goes public: you can transition from an asset to a liability for your employer. Companies spend vast sums to build and protect their brands – both their consumer brand for users of their products or services as well as their employer brand to attract and retain current and future staff.

A large part of their brand is formed by the culture and values of the organization and the people who work there. Having your brand associated with misogyny, harassment, homophobia, or other forms of socially unacceptable behaviour can turn off consumers and make it harder to attract future talent. That’s where your social media posts or bad behaviour on your own time can become bottom-line issues for your employers.

They have more to lose by keeping on an infamous employee than by letting them go.

In her recent infographic, my colleague Elizabeth points out the behaviours that put a person first in line to get the axe. These include gossiping, whining, and hogging credit, among others. The thing is, the more of an asset you are to your employer, the more of these you can get away with.

It’s when you cross the line from an asset to a liability that the axe falls.

I once worked for a company that had a very passionate, high-energy, high-maintenance sales representative. He would yell and scream and bully people at work if he didn’t get his way. He would sell services that the company didn’t offer – leaving whole teams having to drop everything and scramble to make good on the contacts he’d signed. He was a pain in the butt to work with. However, he always exceeded his quota, brought in new business, and was good for revenue. And so his behaviour was tolerated for far longer than it would have been from a less successful sales person.

He crossed over from asset to liability when he identified himself as Dave from Company X (he was proud of where he worked) in a sports radio call-in show where he then proceeded to use a stream of homophobic slurs to deride various members of an opposing hockey team. It became more damaging to keep him on (for morale and the brand) than was justified by the revenue he generated.

In the case that your employer is going out of business, or the industry you’re in is experiencing a massive downturn, there’s little you can do to protect your job. In most other cases, job security comes down to providing more value for your employer than it costs to keep you.

Look for ways to reduce your employer’s costs, improve efficiency, make more money, reach new business, or help promote a better image for your employer’s brand and mission. (Or, of course, you could join a union or get a government job.)

Peter Harris

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