For 10 years, Rachel dedicated her life to working for Up Yours Inc. She rose through the ranks from analyst to senior manager. But her path wasn’t smooth. I told her to find another job many times before because they weren’t treating her well. When it was time for her to get a promotion two years ago, she was passed over for another male colleague. The guy was qualified, but she was more qualified. Unfortunately, she had to wait another 6 months before being considered again.
The great kick in the pants is that the guy who got promoted quit six months later to take some other job. For managers out there, this is your worst nightmare because those employees who you didn’t promote will not only secretly laugh at your poor managerial decision, they will also make you regret your choice as well.
Two months after being passed over, Rachel walked into her manager’s office and demanded not only the promotion she should have gotten earlier, but an even higher raise than she should have received.
“If you don’t like my term, unfortunately it’s time for us to say good-bye,” she told her boss firmly.
Her boss was taken aback by quiet, little, loyal Rachel. He apologized about the situation and promised her a promotion during mid-year. Rachel not only got that promotion, but also a retroactive raise as well. It’s unfortunate meritocracy doesn’t work on its own.
Even though Rachel eventually got what she deserved, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she would eventually be screwed over again. As other people began leaving around her, Rachel would have to pick up the slack. At one point, her coverage responsibility expanded from five clients to nine clients. There was nothing she could do but work late and be miserable every single day.
I’ve known Rachel for many years and have been her friendly career coach whenever she’s asked me for help. Two years after she was initially passed over she reached out to me for advice. We went to Brenda’s Kitchen, our favorite soul food restaurant for brunch to commiserate.
“Sam, I know you’ve been telling me to find another job for the past few years and I stubbornly didn’t listen. But I’m at my wits end and I finally want to leave. Management has piled up enough work on me to fill three people’s jobs, and I can’t take it anymore!”
I empathized with Rachel, and told her she would be a perfect candidate to negotiate a severance package given her 10 year of service.
“Oh no, I could never ask to get laid off,” she said. “It would feel too weird to ask them for money for me to leave. They need me!”
“Well, they sure didn’t need you when they passed you over for that promotion and raise,” I responded bluntly. “Everybody feels like they are special. The truth of the matter is that we are all expendable. Don’t ever forget it.”
I was much more forceful in my feedback than usual because I also had enough of her excuses for why she didn’t want to leave her captors. It was as if she’s suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or something. Perhaps this was the last chance for Rachel to finally break free and I didn’t want her to blow it.
“OK, Sam! I’m going to go in there and tell them I’d like to leave after 10 years. They recently laid off people in another department who received 4 weeks of severance per year served. So hopefully, I will get something similar.”
Rachel called me a week later to tell me things were not working out as planned. They told her they didn’t want her to leave, but they also didn’t give her any concrete offer to stay. They said they’d get back to her with a proposal in a week, but three weeks went by and still nothing.
Rachel finally had enough of waiting and marched back into her manager’s office reiterating her desire to leave with a severance package. She wasn’t going to quit with nothing after 10 years of service.
Yet another week passed until they finally got back to her with the following proposal: If she stayed until the end of the year (3 more months), they’d offer her two months worth of severance.
“Two months is better than nothing right? At least I’ll be employed for three more months so I can aggressively look for another job.” Rachel told me.
I asked her what her normal year-end bonus range was and she said, “About two to three months base salary.”
“So you are telling me Rachel, that if you stay for a full year, management will give you potentially one less month of a typical bonus amount and ZERO severance? Or you are saying management will give you a lousy two months of severance after 10 years of work and ZERO bonus?!” I questioned.
“Oh shit, you are right! Those bastards!!” Rachel responded.
Rachel is currently in the process of negotiating for a better severance.
Many companies will offer you a “two month severance,” which is not a severance at all. Large companies are required by state law to provide for two or three months of WARN Act pay during a round of layoffs depending on the state of incorporation. Any compensation after the WARN pay is considered severance.
Please don’t be fooled by your company’s chicanery. Rachel’s company is insulting her intelligence by offering a 35% LESS bonus and ZERO severance if she stays during the critical holiday period. It’s amazing how poorly some companies treat their employees. Don’t they know that employees can now fight back over social media and with negative reviews on Glass Door?
Rachel is a valuable employee to the firm. If Rachel goes, I am absolutely sure several clients will fire her company, resulting in at least a million dollars in lost revenue. Furthermore, Rachel has been the one picking up the slack of her departed colleagues. If Rachel leaves, it will cause a cascade of other employees to quit. Finally, once everybody at the firm and the clients find out how poorly her company treated her after 10 years of service, the company’s reputation will be tarnished.
Dear management, please treat your employees right, especially if they’ve been with you for over a decade. To not do so shows your short-sightedness. To not provide for a smooth transition will ultimately come back to bite you many fold.
As for employees, please know your rights. You have more than you think! Speak to a friend during this stressful process to gain more clarity.
If you want to leave a job you no longer enjoy, I negotiating a severance instead of quitting. If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training. Since you got laid off, you’re also eligible for up to 27 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.
Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye, on how to negotiate a severance. I first published the book in 2012 and have since expanded it to 180 pages from 100 pages in the 3rd edition thanks to tremendous reader feedback and successful case studies.
Updated for 2021 and beyond.