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I don't like having peoples' fates in my hands!!
December 26, 2006 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I've just been informed of some things that are going to happen in the office, and will involve several people losing their jobs. I've been given the heads-up so that I can choose if I'm to be one of those people, or if I'm going to get the jobs of 3 or 4 other people when they get laid off.

I work for a company that my stepfather is part owner of. He told me over Christmas that several hundred thousand dollars need to be cut from the payroll budget for 2007, and he wants me to tell him what I want to do: Stay on and take on the responsibilities of three or four other employees who would be laid off (he said it would most likely only be for about 3 months) or get laid off.
I'm leaning towards volunteering to get laid off for several reasons:
1. I absolutely should be the first to go; in two years here I've still not established a single job duty. I work where I'm needed and do what I can to stay busy.
2. I have no interest in this business and really don't want to take on job responsibilities that will "lock me in" for an indefinite amount of time, when people who have no intention of leaving would have to leave.
3. I am close with my co-workers, especially a couple of the ones who would be on the "chopping block," and I could never, ever live in good conscience doing that to them.

Part of the reason I haven't really established any job duties here is because I've been waiting to figure out what I want to do and where I want to go first. No one has expected me to stay, especially not me. I'm looking at this as the kick in the pants I need to figure out what I should do next.
For what it's worth, I have a bachelor's degree, live near Detroit and want to move sometime soon, once I get myself financially together. I've looked into training to become a court stenographer and am going to interview at a stenography school tomorrow.
I'm thinking the best bet is to go ahead with the school, as long as it's really what I want to do, and work waiting tables while I do that.
I'm pretty much sold on my thoughts, but I was hoping for some objective feedback. Or, maybe if anyone's been in a similar situation, any advice may help!

Thanks in advance. :)
posted by slyboots421 to Work & Money (18 answers total)
 
Pull the ripcord. Your stepfather is giving you a face saving out. He is aware of the fact that you have worked there for two years and have no real job function. He knows you are mature enough to take the fall and save the others, and this way he does not have the responsibility of having laid you off. You did the honorable thing. He may even be getting some feedback from his partners, the other owners. I was a partner with a gentleman whose son worked in the business, but was not particularyly motivated. We eventually looked upon his salary as part of the compensation to our partner.

Go to steno school.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:39 AM on December 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


It sounds as if you're stable enough financially that choosing to be laid off is an option -- it may not be an option for these other employees, so that's definitely a worthwhile consideration. Furthermore, being the "I'm doing the jobs of four people" person after staffing reductions is one of the worst places to be -- it's often immeasurably stressful, comparably thankless and career-limiting because it puts you in a position where leaving would do larger-than-normal damage (double that when working for a relative). If I were in a position that I could make the decision you're faced with without risking financial ruin, I'd leave the inevitable work and stress for someone that is more likely to stick through it, for the same of everyone involved.
posted by VulcanMike at 7:45 AM on December 26, 2006


He told me over Christmas that several hundred thousand dollars need to be cut from the payroll budget for 2007, and he wants me to tell him what I want to do: Stay on and take on the responsibilities of three or four other employees who would be laid off (he said it would most likely only be for about 3 months) or get laid off.

This doesn't add up, unless he is paying you close to a million dollars a year, or the other employees are making in close to half a million each.

Suppose that three employees make $120k a year, that's about $10k a month. Laying off four employees for 3 months will save at most $10k * 3 * 4 = $120k. That is at the low end of your stepfather's cost cutting budget, so they must be earning substantially more, or he plans to cut their position for substantially longer. Unless they are sitting around picking their noses, it seems unlikely that a recent college grad is going to successfully replace several six-figure employees. Of course, that side of the business may be collapsing, and these employees may no longer be productive.

1. I absolutely should be the first to go; in two years here I've still not established a single job duty. I work where I'm needed and do what I can to stay busy.

This also doesn't follow. If you know a little about a lot of different job functions, then you are in a great position to hold things together through tough times, and then be part of the hiring process for new employees when things get better. Maybe you really can do the jobs of these six figure people in your sleep, and stepdad realizes that he has a bunch of overpaid hacks on the payroll.

2. I have no interest in this business and really don't want to take on job responsibilities that will "lock me in" for an indefinite amount of time, when people who have no intention of leaving would have to leave.

The politics of family businesses really suck. On the other hand, this is probably your best shot at running your own business someday. Remember that many people actively dislike their jobs. A luck few merely tolerate the work they have to do. If you leave to go work in your dream industry, you will almost certainly have far less freedom and power than you do now. Think this through carefully.

3. I am close with my co-workers, especially a couple of the ones who would be on the "chopping block," and I could never, ever live in good conscience doing that to them.

No one likes to fire people, but if you ever plan to get beyond entry level positions and into mid-level management, you have to come to grips with it. Often the people who need to let go are the ones who are tons of fun, but not terribly productive. You have to keep the asshole who brings in the revenue, but everyone hates. It is important to keep business and friendship separate.

Finally, you don't provide enough details for really great advice, and you probably shouldn't. Think this through carefully, talk it over with your stepfather. If you really want to take notes for the rest of your life, go back to school. You may be passing up an amazing learning experience here, and school will always be an option in the future.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:46 AM on December 26, 2006


I have to agree with Johnny Gunn, and commend you for taking the high road, too.
posted by CMichaelCook at 7:47 AM on December 26, 2006


b1tr0t, I appreciate your advice and opinion. Just so you and others know, though, they're talking about laying off about 13 people total. That's where the rest of that number comes from. I would only be able to do a couple of the jobs though, since I am but one lone worker.
I do agree that it's important to keep business and friendships separate. This has been my first "real world" job and since none of the people I chum around with are in the same department, I never thought this would be an issue.
I appreciate everyones' advice... I just got a call from my stepdad to go to lunch around noon to discuss this more. I immediately got nervous but I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to say.
posted by slyboots421 at 7:57 AM on December 26, 2006


Quit. I agree that your stepfather wants you gone (for the sake of the busines), but doesn't want to actually fire you.
posted by mkultra at 8:12 AM on December 26, 2006


No one likes to fire people, but if you ever plan to get beyond entry level positions and into mid-level management, you have to come to grips with it... You may be passing up an amazing learning experience here, and school will always be an option in the future.

The obvious counter-advice to this would be: if you don't want to climb the ladder in this company, and can afford not to financially, then you're in the fortunate position of having your self-interest and your conscience point in the same direction. Based on a large amount of admittedly purely anecdotal evidence, there's little to be gained from resigning yourself to aiming for "mid-level management" and rationalizing the corporate treadmill as a "learning experience" when your gut is telling you something different.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:16 AM on December 26, 2006


at most $10k * 3 * 4 = $120k.

Ummm, in this simple equation you're also leaving out workers' comp, insurance, benefits and in most businesses, other costs of keeping employees that don't show up on paychecks. In some industries the cost of employing an individual is 40% over what that person sees on the paycheck.
posted by bilabial at 8:26 AM on December 26, 2006


I suggest you lay out your thoughts to your stepdad over lunch, and ask for his opinion and thoughts. It's a great opportunity to learn from someone who knows more and has more experience than you - a mentorhship.
posted by LadyBonita at 9:02 AM on December 26, 2006


See how stepdad feels about you collecting unemployment benefits. You earned them, and deserve them, but surprises are not good.

Do you have savings for the layoff period?

If business picks up, and you are available, would he rehire you? Full-time, part-time, pay rate?

What's the unemployment rate in your area?
posted by theora55 at 9:15 AM on December 26, 2006


I'm with LadyBonita...

You have your thoughts and feelings on the matter, which are valid and seem reasonable. You don't know what the step-dad is thinking. Fill in the hole with facts before making excessive assumptions.

Part of growing in these settings is asking questions and seeing how things are done. You may find that the 'advance notice' is an invitation to see/participate/ help resolve the crisis, a test to see if you pony up to the challenge of working through it all, or as JohnnyGunn suggests, a face saving way out.

The important thing is that change is afoot, it seems to me. I've found the most growth occurs when the most change is presented. Stepdad may really need help, someone he can trust, someone with an embedded and strong interest in the success of the business. One of his hardest challenges in the coming years is going to be planning for succession issues. No doubt, he's got an interest in seeing this thing healthy in the 10 year time frame.

I also agree with b1tr0t, interesting things usually happen outside work... that's why we call it work. The breadth of skills needed in any business is enormous, and you can probably find an interesting enough niche somewhere in it, once the crisis is over.

It helped me years ago not to label a family business 'the enterprise that builds X', but instead, 'an economic engine that builds security and a future'. Wordsmithing, to be sure, but worth considering.

Have fun with whatever change you choose! Good luck!
posted by FauxScot at 9:28 AM on December 26, 2006


Stay on and take on the responsibilities of three or four other employees who would be laid off (he said it would most likely only be for about 3 months)

I've been the person who did 3-4 different jobs, in one or two cases because I wanted to (which worked out well enough, though there were some tense moments), in another case because the company I worked for didn't hire ahead and it just worked out that way (which turned out quite badly). I'd be *exceptionally* wary of being saddled with too many roles because of someone else's decision.
posted by weston at 9:46 AM on December 26, 2006


leave
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:04 AM on December 26, 2006


I have no interest in this business and really don't want to take on job responsibilities that will "lock me in" for an indefinite amount of time,

Sounds like it's been time to go for a while. Regardless of current events, you need to move on to something that interests you.
posted by tkolar at 10:27 AM on December 26, 2006


If anyone is checking back, :), I just went to lunch with my stepdad and another partner in the company. So it did not go as I wanted it to. I got the impression that they're hoping for some more revenue in the next 12 months, that would generate both money for me and things for me to do, but it's still up in the air. I got hired under that same idea and am still waiting.
I also got the impression that they WANT to get rid of a couple of people, regardless, and want me to fill in for them if necessary. I don't know.
In answer to a couple of other questions, I'm not particularly in a financial position to survive a layoff right now - I'm in some credit card debt (not a huge amount, but enough to take most of my paycheck so I'm) living paycheck to paycheck and live alone. The unemployment in my area looks to be about 8.2% - Michigan's economy is horrible and getting worse.
I do want to go to school and I do plan on getting a second job regardless, so I can get out of this credit card hole, I just wanted to get a whole new job altogether but feel like I didn't express my thoughts well enough or they were misinterpreted. I hopefully bought a little bit of time and they both said at lunch that if in 6 months I find a new opportunity and can take it, they will be fine with it. It's not as "final" as I was thinking it was before.
Thanks for all of your thoughts and answers. If anyone has more I'd love to take them.
Sigh.
posted by slyboots421 at 11:09 AM on December 26, 2006


Your position sounds difficult.

However, it seems you answered your own questions in your initial post. Seriously. Read that post as if someone else had posted it. The answer LEAPS immediately to the viewer.

I can't imagine why you didn't take the high road and volunteer to leave at lunch.

The only other alternative is that you ARE the cost cutting measure. They figure they can work you like a rented mule since you're family, and loose 3-4 payrolls in the mean time. Just throwing that out there as a possibility.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:47 AM on December 26, 2006


If you are going to stay on, try to learn as much about the business as possible. Talk to your stepdad often, try to pick his brain (as well as the other biz partner). You should try to develop a mental model of the state of the business, so you can estimate whether the company is going down in flames, or ready to make a recovery. This will also help you decide which tasks to focus on. Fix the things that are most likely to return revenue to the company, not the most fun or interesting things.

If they want to keep this a family thing, then this will be a good opportunity to learn how the business works. If you really hate the business, then knowing how it works will allow you to hire a professional manager to run the business for you eventually. If the company is going down in flames, and they are using you to keep it operating as long as possible, then you will discover this fairly quickly, and then choose to bail at the right time.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:49 PM on December 26, 2006


So, they're hoping that you'd be willing to help them out by doing the work of several people. Despite the fact that you've expressed concerns about whether you're qualilfied/appropriate for that level of responsibility. And despite the fact that the level of responsibility they anticipated for you intially never materialized.

It sounds to me, unfortunately, like they're in financial trouble and are grasping for a way to get back on track. If I were you, I'd find a way to gracefuly exit this situation, ASAP.
posted by desuetude at 1:39 PM on December 26, 2006


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