Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Sep 17, 2005

Employment at Whose Will?

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Recently, I found myself at an unpredicted professional crossroads which required me to explore several contingency plans, most of which led to the same outcome: leaving my job.

Our departmental director suddenly vacated his postion, leaving his lieutenant in charge...untapped, only by default. Even though the lieutenant was assured by the company president that his ascendancy to the director's position was only a matter of paperwork, this same president left his own job within a week of making his flimsy promise.

As an
Employee At Will, I know I am daily vulnerable under any circumstances, but this turn of events seemed especially risky. I knew a couple of things: I should wait for my employer to exercise its will first, in the hopes that it might be a decision that makes sense, AND... I needed to be able to exercise my own will in response to that, if I could only figure out what that was. As I worked out all the possible outcomes, like a tangram puzzle that makes no recognizable picture, I started to hope they would just lay me off.

The lay-off has become a stepping stone on the modern career path. We no longer think it won't happen to us; on the contrary, it has become a visionary windfall of both time and money. What a weight off my shoulders, I was thinking, to have this decision made for me -- not worrying beyond that. Waiting for the "something" to happen was torture, and I began to believe that getting let go was the one "something" with no follow up "something." The one that finally would settle the problem.

Is it possible to orchestrate one's own lay-off -- to count on it the way you might a tax refund? As a colleague recently described it, the ideal game plan would be to line up a job just in time for the layoff, so your current company would give you the severance without ever knowing you're already taken care of. Or maybe you would like to just be out of the way for a limited period of time -- say, until the merger is settled, your boss finishes his dissertation, or the next generation software product is released. How might this be accomplished?

Your instructor can not advise on pulling off this scheme. She is single, without children, whose stakes are low and obligations are few. When I thought, even for only a few weeks, that I might have to just walk away, I did not spend time on a plan at all. But in the not-planning, I did explore some time-out options.

The lay-off
Don't be so certain that your company has golden parachutes left. The pay-out may only be one check, and the notice may only be an hour, so be careful what you wish for. But the set-up is still what it has always been: you are honorably discharged, often with a nice reference letter and an invitation back, and sometimes they really mean it. Try to get laid off in good weather.

The furlough
This happens less often in business professions, but as knowledge industries become run more like factories, slow business can mean an opportunity for you to volunteer to stop working for a specified period of time. There are few standards on what a "
furlough" is, so do your research ahead of time. You won't get paid -- that's the whole point -- but you can usually keep benefits and other perks of full employee status. Not likely that you can pay your electric bill with such perks.

Early retirement
In the action movies, the old cop is always 30 days from his pension when he is convinced to crack "one last case." In the business world, the old executive gets offered the early retirement cash-out. Guaranteed that it benefits the company more than the retiree, but it's not a bad deal if you can get it. Make sure you do your
homework before the negotiations so you know what you might be getting haggled out of.

Please don't injure yourself or your loved ones. My point here is to make sure you know what your
rights are if you find yourself in a Family and Medical Leave situation. If you are entitled to the time, take it. The person who needs your care will likely return the favor someday. Your employer probably never will.

Service leave/sabbatical
It's not just for academics anymore. Like the early retirement option, the sabbatical is usually granted only after a long period of service, and usually only to staff of a certain level. But more companies are under pressure to allow employees the same option of leave for volunteer service that military reservists are allowed. You may not get as much time as you would like, but more than you might expect. Approach your employer with some
strategies for supporting such a program. But hey, don't be jerk -- do the volunteer gig if you get it approved. It's good for you and good for the world.

Grants are just like college scholarships: there is one for everything, no matter how absurdly specific, and it takes a lot of time to find one that applies to you. Our students may wish to start
here (and we apologize in advance for whatever unfortunate gender-stereotype banner ad appears. It is often clothing, and "cookbook fundraising" is the featured program of the moment. you've come a long way, baby).

The important thing to remember is that you and your employer each has a "will" in the Employee-at-Will relationship. Do not allow yourself to believe you are trapped in any situation, even if your stakes are high and obligations many. When the ground begins shifting under you, sitting back and hoping for the best may relieve some of your stress, but a contingency plan will stick with you longer.


recommended reading:
Firing Back : Power Strategies for Cutting the Best Deal When You're About to Lose Your Job
by Jodie-Beth Galos, Sandy McIntosh

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Powered by Blogger