If Your Job is on the Line - Revisited

The below blog is revisited from one I wrote in 2014. As more companies continue to downsize and restructure in our current economy, more layoffs are certain to follow. It is hoped that the below article can help if you find yourself in the untenable position of losing your job.

Flash! “More layoffs are on the horizon.” The news media has more companies laying off staff as they reorganize their businesses. We’ve seen and heard the headlines before. It’s the old “gloom and doom” approach the media loves to report when real people have their jobs, and their livelihood, on the line. How depressing is that!

We know negative news sells, and when it comes to the media most of us approach it with the precariousness of a beekeeper handling an angry hive of bees. This negative reporting of the news, especially when it comes to the job market, has always been an area I’ve avoided because many of my clients land good jobs in any economy!

But what if your job is on the line? Rather than listen to the negative news that can swirl around any company going through a downsizing, merger or reorganization, think pro-actively about what you can do to take the next steps in keeping your career on the right track. Once you see the proverbial “writing on the wall” that your job may be eliminated, or if you may be terminated for other reasons, there are steps you can take.

Severance as Part of Your Exit Strategy

There’s the old saying “the early bird gets the worm!” If you know your job may be in jeopardy review your company’s standard severance package if they have one. This approach beats waiting until the proverbial other shoe falls, and then being called into your manager’s office with a severance package in hand. Someone in benefits or payroll may be a good source for this type of information.

Next, try to determine where the company has provided other terminated employees with severance packages. This effort may require a little “snooping” on your part, but in talking discreetly with former employees whom you know were terminated you may get a sense of the packages they received. If any received a severance package greater than the company’s standard one, you’re already in a position to negotiate a better package for yourself since they’ve made exceptions for others.

At this point, you may want to engage a career coach with experience in assisting people in negotiating severance, and in some cases, also retain outside legal counsel with someone experienced in employment law.

In my experience, employees who initiate the severance discussions do better than those who wait and receive the company’s standard one, which often is inadequate for their needs. This approach takes courage because it is your job on the line, but more often than not, employees who settle for a company’s standard package regret not initiating the discussion. Also, if the company does not have a standard package, you may have the advantage of creating one unique to your situation.

Job hunters land good jobs in any economy!

Where to Start

Once you’ve prepared to negotiate your severance it’s to your advantage to determine the best person within the company with whom to negotiate. If you start with Human Resources it’s likely you’ll run into the old policy thing. “Our policy is you get two weeks’ pay for every year worked” or some similar reply. If you’ve had a good relationship with your hiring manager he or she can be a terrific advocate in helping you get the best possible package. In other situations it could be your boss’s boss or your department head. So try to determine who would have the most influence in helping you negotiate a package.

If you know your job is in jeopardy due to performance it does not necessarily mean your boss would not support you in your efforts to get a good severance package. I have worked with clients who are well thought of by their bosses (and companies) but the nature of their job responsibilities changed or other factors made it evident they are not meeting expectations. Plus, bosses like to look like the good guys in these situations, and they can have significant influence in helping you get the best possible deal when exiting the company.

As a general rule of thumb avoid making your severance negotiations conditional on your performance. Regardless of how many accomplishments you cite, or the number of years you devoted to the company, if a manager is looking to replace you he or she will always find an area where your performance was not satisfactory if they’re looking to terminate you. It’s like the old mathematical equation where a positive number times a positive number times a negative number always comes up negative!

Instead, stress reasons other than performance as to why you need a severance package that meets your needs. You can better leverage yourself by showing that losing your job was unrelated to job performance, but rather due to a departmental reorganization or change in your job responsibilities. Managers like to buy into this one!

This approach takes a little “show time” acting, and is often best rehearsed with a coach. Also, by stressing the economic hardship the job loss creates, a tight job market, and having a family to support you may win over the sympathies of your manager. Remember, companies like looking the part of the good guy.

Negotiating Severance

The key is being pro-active in both initiating the severance, and in the severance negotiations themselves. It is also important to have a plan A with your initial list of requests, but also a plan B or even C because in any negotiation you need a fall back strategy. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Do not panic! If you know your job is on the line the law is generally on your side so companies have to be very careful how and why they terminate employees.

  • Think about working with a career coach to plan out a severance strategy – it’s not only about the money!

  • Find an ally within the company with influence. This person could be your immediate boss, your boss’ boss, an internal or even external client of the company.

  • Sharpen up your acting skills. You want the severance negotiations to be congenial and a win/win for both you and the company, but don’t be afraid to show emotion and push for a package that will best protect you.

Remember, a good severance package includes not only a monetary payout, but also benefits, an “exit statement” in which you and the company agree to the reasons for the termination, and outplacement services (i.e., career coaching) as the key components.

So don’t let negative news dismay you into thinking your life is over if you lose your job. There are steps you can take to initially provide the protection you need when exiting your company (as outlined above) and a job market that is not nearly as dismal as the news often portrays it. Contrary to what is normally believed sometimes getting fired is the first step toward that next best job or career!

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