What's a good rapid reaction strategy to implement before leaving the office for the last time?
September 23, 2008 9:05 PM   Subscribe

"We're going to have to let you go." What do you do before leaving your boss's office?

Two of my coworkers were let go last week, and the company said that there will be "significant shifting of responsibilities in the near future." I live in Illinois, where the unemployment rate in August reached 7.3%, compared to 5.4% nationally. Although I'm not in finance, the events of last week certainly made me think even more about job stability.

I don't think my job is in jeopardy, but if it were, and I went into my boss's office tomorrow and found out that I was being laid-off, what would you say? I was thinking it would be helpful to have a wallet-sized card to pull out right after they deliver the news. I would imagine that the element of surprise works in favor of the employer, and the laid-off worker looks back days or weeks later thinking, "I should have done this" or "I should've asked for that." I'm not talking about telling off your now-former employer, although that could be reasonable.

But are there certain terms and conditions you should demand before leaving? Local and state laws might influence what you say, and if you were a union member there would be another set of considerations. But I'm talking about across the board considerations. What's a good rapid reaction strategy to implement before leaving the office for the last time?
posted by tenaciousd to Work & Money (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Don't sign anything merely because they ask you to. (You might choose to if they make it worth your while.)

I don't understand how you can demand anything special when you are laid off, unless you think there is some illegality involved.
posted by grouse at 9:11 PM on September 23, 2008

These days, often when you're fired, you're often walked right out the door, with minimal time left to gather your things.

Telling off an employer, unless you know for a fact you won't be dealing with any of those people - or people they might talk to - is a bad idea.

I'd start preparing your strategy now - once it happens, if it happens, it's too late.

Update resume.

Know how to contact possible references, or anybody else. Send out a polite parting email to those you'd like to give your personal contact info to, if possible.

Save a portfolio of your work to a memory stick.

Make sure you have all your stuff before you walk out the door, as you might not
If you get laid off, I'm at a loss as to what one could demand, assuming, as most states are, you're an at-will employee. They lay you off, you leave.
posted by canine epigram at 9:13 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

%Boss_Name, I feel that we've worked well together, and I'm proud of my work here. May I count on you for a reference?

Be professional; it's a small world. You may work with her/him again.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 PM on September 23, 2008 [20 favorites]

You say your job isn't in jeopardy, which makes this kind of academic. Under those conditions, it might be more productive to think about what you should ask for when given new, additional responsibilities.

But if you are laid off, you might at a minimum say something like: "This is hard to adjust to, though I guess I understand why you have to do it. Is there anything you can do to make this any easier on me?" A little non-hostility, and sympathy, might produce some interesting concessions.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:16 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not sure they have to give you anything other than things like your 401k and any unused vacation you have accumulated.

I was laid off in January after eight years with the firm. I had a feeling it was coming so it wasn't a shock. No sense getting up in their face about it. The people who informed me had no choice in the matter. Better to maintain some dignity, take it like an adult and look at it as the end of and start of a new chapter in your life. They also gave me a very nice severance package.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:16 PM on September 23, 2008

Theora has it right. Don't look for sneaky surprises, just be professional and roll with it.
posted by rokusan at 9:30 PM on September 23, 2008

As others have said, it is important not to burn bridges unnecessarily.

If you haven't done it, start saving up and reduce recurring expenses so that you can survive without income for a few months.
posted by applesurf at 9:30 PM on September 23, 2008

"These days, often when you're fired, you're often walked right out the door, with minimal time left to gather your things."

Or to clean up your computer. Before it happens, back up any personal files and keep your browser bookmarks, saved passwords, etc. clean. Yeah, IT sees interesting things all the time, but those things doesn't have to be yours.
posted by liet at 9:34 PM on September 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

applesurf has a good recommendation. Start saving just in case. If we live in the best of all possible worlds, then treat yourself with the money you've saved.
posted by ktrey at 9:35 PM on September 23, 2008

liet, too true. I once got escorted to the door by security after being let go from a temp assignment, when I took "too long" to print out my time-slip (which I needed signed) and made the mistake of clearing my cache. They thought I was deleting files or something. It was not a good scene.
posted by canine epigram at 9:40 PM on September 23, 2008

This probably isn't something you could use in the dreaded "you're being laid off" meeting, but one of my favorite stories is of a guy I know who had encrypted and password-protected the work he had been doing on his computer at work. As the story goes, a few days after he had been let go, he was invited to meet with his former boss, and in that meeting he was able to use the password as an extremely effective bargaining chip to renegotiate the severance package he had been offered.
posted by Balonious Assault at 10:19 PM on September 23, 2008

The problem with being laid off is that suddenly you're in a bad position in the employment market: trying to get a job as an unemployed person raises questions about why you're out of work, and also limits your negotiating power. So despite your inevitable disappointment that you were chosen for the axe, you're still gonna want your employer behind you every step of the way to your next job. So yeah, be professional, don't be a prick, don't take it personally, and don't forget that your boss didn't sleep last night just as you wouldn't if you knew you had to can someone the next day, so don't be a wise-ass either. Also your HR staff are all too familiar with the guy who got aggressive and later tried a court case, so don't give them any red flags to jump all over (your boss will have been schooled by them too to look out for this - it's their #1 concern).

When I got laid off I felt shock, but I also knew that dwelling on the ifs, whys and wherefores of the situation would not aid me in my new immediate, and somewhat urgent, task - to find another job. All the cliches in the world about it being the worst time, or why wasn't it done differently, or I've been with the company X years, will not aid you in any way with this task. A boss relieved that you don't hate him/ didn't give him a hard time and an HR department that respects your professionalism will.

As for negotiating terms and conditions, I was given a severance package which I had 12 days to sign and return. You're right to be thinking of the best way to deal with this, but the whole process is pretty distressing and attempting to negotiate in that moment isn't the best time. And should you wish to do some negotiating with your employer, it's something you'll want to do later with your own legal representation - because whatever they present to you will most certainly have been carefully prepared by theirs.
posted by forallmankind at 10:20 PM on September 23, 2008

Re: preparing for the improbable...

At Zero Hour, you may want to discuss with your boss: references, potential severance, and career search assistance (formal or informal).

I really don't think there is ever anything to be gained by discussing the "why me / why now" question or airing any grievances, etc.

Keep all of your contacts' information updated and portable (or duplicated out-of-the-office). Be sure you consider outside vendors, co-workers, senior management, cell numbers, email addresses, etc.

You may also want to keep a portfolio of your work updated.

Think in advance about what you want to take with you, so you don't forget anything.
posted by Exchequer at 10:29 PM on September 23, 2008

If you're expecting the axe to fall at any moment, make sure that your browser history is cleared, personal files backed up and deleted, and any samples you might need for your portfolio are saved to media in your possession.

It's also handy to have a copy of the company address list and/or co-workers' contact info.

Other than that, you're not really in a great spot to demand anything when you're getting canned. If you can manage not to cry or otherwise blow your cool, I'd say you're ahead of the game.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:31 PM on September 23, 2008

I second what many have said: save company phone/email directory information to a memory stick or print it out. get your working files in order and copy what needed. work on contacts and try to get a feeling for other jobs that might be out there. cultivate references. you should always be doing this but now is an especially important time.

expect to arrive at your office back from that talk and find yourself locked out of email and network communications already. be prepared not to be able to retrieve any information and act accordingly. this is why you should not be on ebay or mefi or your personal email accounts from a work computer. speaking of which - if you have accessed your personal email from work, change the password from home now. do the same for online banking and other personal/critical websites you may have accessed.
posted by krautland at 11:33 PM on September 23, 2008

Be careful what you say as it could be used against you. I would simply express that I had enjoyed working at the company and would miss it. I would say I really enjoyed the opportunity.

THEN I would say something like: "Obviously this comes as a big surprise and I'm very sad to hear this. Because it is a surprise, it will be a financial hardship. What is the proposed severance package? Could I get 2, 4, 6, 8 weeks? What will happen to my health insurance during that time? (You should be eligible for Cobra)"

I might also ask about the prospects of doing some contracting or consulting for your group - to "ease the financial hardship". I might ask if I could buy my blackberry or computer from the company at the depreciated rate so they can write it off their books (be sure to keep the software on it!). Get any agreement in email (have your boss email to your private email before you leave the office), if s/he can't do that then write the email yourself as soon as you get back to your desk - ccíng your private email and confirming your understanding of your conversation. Ask your boss to email you back "Confirmed".

Best of luck!
posted by zia at 12:34 AM on September 24, 2008

I want to nth Theora55.

In this situation as in any work situation I ask myself "what is the upside?". I can't see any upside in telling a boss off. You might get some near term satisfaction, but it can harm you in so many other ways. I also think people often get caught up in the "stick to the man" mentality. Your boss is a human and and is probably going through a tough time as well, and if you have a boss that isn't having a tough time firing you, you are better off not working with this person anyway. In my experience it's a very rare for someone to get fired for cause that does not deserve it. In the case of a lay off or RIF (Reduction In Force - the acronym does its part in making a layoff or mass termination sound less nasty, another trick of the "man") the terminations are rarely the fault of the boss unless he/she is directly contributing to company failures that are directly causing the financial woes that are causing the lay off. I have been fired and I have fired - and in terms of that one uncomfortable termination meeting, being the firer sucks more.

I have unfortunately had to do this quite a few times. Fairly early in my career, I had to implement a RIF for 1/3 of my department about 15 people in the terrible economy of late 2001. This was purely a monetary issue for the company all these folks were decent performers, however, they were chosen because they were in the bottom 1/3 in terms of performance. The one thing I learned, is that you get to see a side of a person that you would never see outside a termination : how they react to the worst work news they could possibly get. Out of the 15 people some people were angry at the company and really angry at me, some people cried, and some people handled it amazingly well - so well that in 2 or 3 cases I decided that this person was so reasonable and so mature that I would have been better off firing someone else. In fact, one person said to me, "I'm really bummed out because I love working here, but I understand. Wow, this must be incredibly hard to fire all these people, how are you holding up?". While I could not reverse the fact that these people were being RIF'd and I had tried to help all 15 people with new jobs and references, it was hard not to work extra hard for the people who I thought handled it well. To this day I have a great "last impression" of them. It made me feel better about recommending them for a new job, and in one case I was actually able to hire one person back 6 months later when I got additional head count.

Or more succinctly, whether being fired or quitting "always leave them smiling".
posted by ill3 at 12:45 AM on September 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

You could do like I did. I was in the research library when my boss came upstairs and asked if I had a moment. I told him I needed to finish my research for next week's trip...which I knew wasn't happening, as I'd seen other people going down the stairs with boxes and angry looks on their faces.

I proceeded to make him wait almost a half-hour before he could drop the ax. That was kinda fun.
posted by notsnot at 4:08 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you haven't built a "fire box" by now with little bits of incriminating evidence you've found over the time you've been employed it's likely that you have nothing with which to leverage any sort of severance beyond the standard.

If on the other hand you've made a habit of riffling through waste baskets, checking copy machines for forgotten originals, taped conversations, and saved questionable emails... then you've got something to work with.
posted by wfrgms at 6:19 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Adding to the "sign nothing, commit to nothing" pile. Remain professional and noncommittal in the face to face portion.

Back up anything you want well in advance, including any accolades you've received ('great job!' emails, that kind of thing); any numeric data that supports your effectiveness as a whatever-you-do, i.e., 'saved company 17% in production costs in 2007 by replacing trucks with team of donkeys' or whatever; also any performance reviews; also any company reports that may help you include quantified data in future resumes or interviews (profit/loss reports, budgets, etc.). Specifics can be useful, and you may need supporting documentation, or at the very least, memory triggers of what you accomplished at this job so you can talk about it in your interview for your next job.

Delete your internet history and wipe your computer of anything personal.

Do all of this when you sense the cold wind blowing--don't wait to find out whether or not you're right.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:36 AM on September 24, 2008

" I know who had encrypted and password-protected the work he had been doing on his computer at work."

It would be inadvisable to do this, it could easily amount to blackmail and have legal ramifications; plus, I believe that work generated while employed is the IP of the employer. As such there may be a detinue action if encrypted and a password isn't supplied. In any case, it would be exciting to watch it develop. But, err, I wouldn't think it clever to do.

"…made the mistake of clearing my cache. They thought I was deleting files or something…"

Isn't that what by your own admission you were doing? Or do you mean deleting companymasterplan.doc?
posted by oxford blue at 8:24 AM on September 24, 2008

Yes, I mean they apparently thought I was deleting actual important work files, as opposed to clearing the cache (which yes, I'm aware is technically deleting files).
posted by canine epigram at 10:15 AM on September 24, 2008

If you suspect you're next, I'd start packing up my personal possessions slowly, sneaking some home per day. Then again, I wouldn't trust anyone who's packing for me while I'm in the office.

At least when you're laid off, you're eligible for unemployment and it's as "no-fault" as you can get.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:10 PM on September 24, 2008

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