Friday, February 26, 2010

Would You Fight to Keep Your Job?

A few weeks ago during Bad Boss Week, many of you shared stories – and almost all of those stories ended with an employee leaving their job. Most of those stories had elements of discrimination or bias (age, gender, religion), or just plain inequity – and some of the readers suggested that the authors of these stories might have some legal recourse. Which causes me to ask the question:

How hard would you fight to keep the job you have?

I have been both the manager who has had to tell employees they no longer have a job, and the employee who was told they no longer have a job. I have also seen hundreds of colleagues in this situation. If you know what this is like, feel free to skip the next couple paragraphs, but for the benefit of readers who don’t know, this is how it goes:

You have a meeting (possibly via phone) with your boss on the appointed “notification day” and your boss says something like, “Your job is being eliminated and you have thirty days to find a job within the company or you will be separated,” or, “We need to cut half of the team, and your contribution was not as strong as others, so you have thirty days to find a job or you will be separated.” These are the two basic ways that corporations choose to ‘downsize’ – work elimination (first example), or staff reduction (second example).

Just so we are clear – most bosses take absolutely no pleasure in doing this. They hate the decision and they dread having to tell the employees. They use words like ‘resource action’, or ‘downsizing’, or ‘laid off’ to temper the impact, but let’s be honest – it really means ‘you’re fired’. They will tell you, “You didn’t do anything wrong,” and chances are (unless you are being fired for cause) that is true.

So now what do you do?

Most people put on a full court press to find that elusive ‘other job’ within the company they are at. They update their resume, contact every person they know, and apply for every open job. The lucky ones who find a job often settle for something they don’t really want to do, or that is below their qualification level.

But are they really the lucky ones?

Those who don’t find jobs immediately start the search for jobs outside the company. But finding a job in thirty days is highly unlikely, even in a good economy.

And then the day comes when you are being ‘separated’ from the company. Would you sign an agreement not to sue in exchange for a severance package? Or (if you think you have a valid argument) would you hire a lawyer and fight the decision?

In my experience, employees who make the decision to move on are more peaceful and happier with their lives than those who fight ‘at all costs’ to keep their job. That certainly was the case in the stories submitted on bad bosses.

What I do know for sure is that this is a very personal decision for every individual. There may be many factors that come into play – a family to support, the need for medical insurance, whether or not they get a severance package, or (sigh) the economy. Another key consideration for many is the time, money, and stress associated with a fight. Is the job really worth all that?

You tell me – what would you do?

Would you use your company’s internal escalation process to fight the decision? Would you stay in an organization where your skills aren’t valued? Would you take a job that’s a demotion or has a decrease in pay? How hard would you fight?


KarenG said...

My husband and I are of the "everything happens for a reason" school, and "when God shuts a door, he opens a window" so the two of us would simply smile, take whatever was offered to help out the next job search, and walk away, being careful as well to never burn our bridges.

Colette said...

Karen, there really is something to be said for just walking away... and keeping that smile.

Anonymous said...

Whether I fight or not would depend upon if I felt I was being fired "for reason" and the ground "for reason" were bogus, then I would fight it as that would follow me in my future career.

If it was not "for reason", then I would see if a comparable challenging position existed within the company, while at the same time looking for work externally. The reason for both is that if I found something good in the company I would prefer to stay, but if nothing presented itself, then I would want every day for searching for my new career direction and at anytime(unless you're ready to retire), you should immediately begin looking so that you don't waste time and possibly lose out on a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Anonymous said...

I have fought to 'get' my job and fought to 'do' my job. Would I then fight to 'keep' my job? Not for that employer! If my SKA's aren't enough, I'm in the wrong place.

suholla said...

If I know my work is good and if I know it's not being valued, I'm better off not being in that job. It would be a near impossibility for me to smile, as Karen says she would, and take extra care not to burn bridges, however. Depending on the circumstances I was being fired under, I might burn bridges or not but in all cases, I wouldn't be able to leave with a smile (unless I have something better already lined up)

Colette said...

Thanks to all of you for weighing in. I think the varying responses really do show that this is a very personal decision, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Depends- sometimes people should fight to keep their job if they have an understanding that this might help them with a later lawsuit. Say someone is to be let go is 20 years older than the other similar role employees and has more experience. He/she should fight to keep their job if that person thinks he/she might have good cause for an future age discrimination lawsuit. Fighting might give more ammo for later suing.

That said I have a friend who actually was given the choice leave or change jobs in the huge company he works for. Good for him that there was a comparable position open. This probably doesn't work for most situations with smaller companies though.

Anonymous said...

Don't wait for the axe to fall. If your boss and the company does not value your contribution, start looking for another job.

I escalated that my boss did not value me, whilst other senior managers in the company did. With hindsight I could have fought harder, however the job hunting found me a position with more pay and better opportunities.

As for burning bridges, loyalty is a two way street. I recommend putting that energy into building your future elsewhere.


Colette said...

Anonymous, I agree that if someone thinks they may want to take legal action later, then they are best positioned if they have tried all their company's internal escalation routes first.
Peter, great advice!

Dave E said...

If the decision is made I would not fight it, nor would I cry about it. Assuming I had 30 days as opposed to being 'shown the door' right then and there, I'd look internally. From what I have seen of people in this situation, using networked connections is more successful than the 'official job search' channels.

That would not preclude looking externally either though.

The one thing I have learned over the years both as a regular employee and as a contractor is that there's no such thing as a 'permanent' job, even in the good times.
Get over it and move on, no point in looking back.

Anonymous said...

I've learned to recognize when the company is in a death spiral, so I don't fight when the layoff comes. Although I agree that it's not good to burn bridges, I always tell my bosses (as tactfully as I can) what I think about the situation. Too many people wimp out and slink away, assuming that leaving peacefully will help them down the road, but that is wishful thinking. When you don’t stand up to poor bosses you just validate their actions – which includes their decision that you weren’t a keeper anyway. I’ve actually had bosses recruit me back after I told them my honest opinion. Both sides earn a reputation, and several of my former companies exist no more because nobody wanted to work for them. One former boss is now a school lunch lady because of how she treated her employees. I believe that you do everybody a lot of good by giving your honest opinions during your exit interview, as calmly and professionally as you can. Maybe they’ll think harder about what caused the layoff and what damage they’re doing to their company, and maybe stand up to their own bosses. At least you don’t leave them with a pat on the back.

Colette said...

Anonymous, If you work in a large company I'm not sure a lot is accomplished by letting your boss know what you think in an exit interview. Often those bosses are low in the company and your thoughts are lost. In a smaller company -- or if your boss is close enough to the top it might actually be worth saying what's on your mind. Thanks for sharing here!

Anonymous said...

I'd say if it has gotten to the point of dismissal, you're way too late. Yes, maybe you can "fight" for a bridge or "fight" for some extra separation benefits, but by this time the war is lost.

Where this battle needs to be fought is in migrating to positions of unique, superior value, proving that superior value every day and making sure your management knows it.

Also avoid conflict unless you can win - railing against everything gets you nowhere but on the first to get canned list, in short wisely pick your arguments and disagreements. Also avoid bad managers and executive resources at all costs, even if a transfer or lateral move is necessary.

While this can't protect you against the nuclear option where a whole organization get RAed, it certainly can help prevent the situation described above.

wizardofwords said...

I have lived thru this, Colette. After nearly 18 years with a Crown corporation, I was told that my position was being eliminated and that I would have to take a position I didn't want. I had the guts to believe in myself and fight for a buy-out package. That was enough to set me up as a freelance writer and the rest is history.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me, although, I admit that at the time, I was scared and unsure as to whether I was doing the right thing. Afterall, I was giving up a really good paying position with super benefits ... all for the unknown.

But 17 years later, I've published dozens of magazine articles, taken super paid-for trips on assignment to exotic locales, co-written 2 books and this month, my first solo project comes out, with another non-fiction title in the works. Did I make the right decision, you bet I did! The key is to believe in yourself and your ability to succeed.

Colette said...

wizardofwords (love your name), you are my hero! You're about 17 years ahead of me!

Anonymous said...

When it comes to "keeping your job" a sure methodology to follow is to stay close to your boss and his/her "chief lieutenants"; culturally and through 3 key business communications activities; proactive updates/insights, immediate responsiveness to inquiries and timeliness/preparedness at meetings. Job performance is important however my experience over 34 years on both sides of the desk is that when it comes to cutting positions it is rare that a "boss" can discern across multiple employees enough job performance differentiation to solely make all the cuts. Ergo he/she relies on lieutenant input, cultural and communications' perceptions. So... know who your "boss" (and "lieutenants") is culturally,(basically values and expectations; and not necessarily just from a business point of view), be consistently and effectively proactive on updating and insights; always be prepared for meetings...

Anonymous said...

With my current employer, I absolutely wouldn't fight... my career has done nothing but stagnate since starting with them, and I strongly disagree with their ethics. I'd actually be happy if they RA'd me... I already know what I'd do with the severence package, but unfortunately my dept is way too busy for that.

Colette said...

Anon @9:17 - I do agree that bosses get their input from many sources, and being viewed positively by the key influencers can help.

Anon @6:52 - Maybe it's time to look for another job elsewhere?

Kenneth H. Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenneth H. Lee said...

Much would depend on the company, the outlook of new opportunities within said company and how I felt I had been treated up to that point.

When I got RAed from my three letter company in 2007, I did try to look for another position withing the company but it vaporized when it went through approval process. It would have been a position I could have done, but which I really did not want to do. Been there, done that. I did it only to help put my in a better position to look for a position I would be happy in.

Early on during my tenure, I enjoyed my work and felt that I was being treated fairly. As time went on, it changed for the worse for all of us.

It was a mixed blessing getting laid off. Even though I am still looking for a new job, I am happy to be away from the organization I was in. I was feeling stagnated for the last six years of my tenure due to not being allowed to change positions because I was a critical resource. Management knew I wanted to move on to a new area, but would not let me.

One saving grace was that my manager was able to get me extended through 12/31/2007. I was originally notified on 5/1/2007 with a departure of 5/31/2007. Plus I had been given an unofficial heads up that I should consider looking for a new position.

I did fight, but basically gave up fighting after the one job I almost had vaporized. I knew going into the forced march that finding a new position was going to be difficult to impossible because of all of the hurdles that the company puts in your way since they really want you out of the company.

Colette said...

Kenneth, yes, sometimes leaving can actually turn out to be a good thing. I hope everything works out for you.

Paula Greenspan said...

It's been just over a year now since I was kicked out of my warm and comfy but often boring nest within corporate America. I can't say I was glad when it happened but it was the spur I needed to completely change my life.

I'm working for peanuts now - wouldn't even qualify as minimum wage if translated to American dollars. But I'm having the adventure of a lifetime teaching English abroad and I'm very glad it happened!

Clearly this is not an option for everyone but I do encourage people who get the bad news to examine your assumptions about what your life must be like and break out of that box if circumstances allow. What are your dreams that you'd forgotten about? What do you enjoy most?

Colette said...

Paula, that is fantastic! What a terrific idea! I totally agree that in our second acts we need to do things we really love!

Anonymous said...

I've been blessed with the ability to tell that the "company ship is sinking" in enough time to abandon them before implosion, on five different occasions. I shared my opinion with all employers at exit interviews, except when my manager did not show up for the appointment.

Anonymous said...

Colette, on your comment to "wizardofwords", you are making excellent progress, maybe far less than 17 yrs behind.

On the subject: once your immediate manager, who probably had little input into the final decision, taps you, it is probably of little use to start a vigorous appeal for that job.
In the past my experience was that lower management having been given an attrition target, fights for ALL those affected by defending and preserving the department's mission. Sometimes this was successful.
More recently, your fight is more likely to be is to convince your senior management of your value so that they are willing to actively assist you in finding a new, and appropriate, position in the company.
And sometimes, as has been suggested here, "getting the boot" can be the best thing that has ever happened to your professional life.

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