Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ask CJ: what to do when there are layoffs of rumors at your company?

Readers, a question from the inbox for which I have relatively little experience: when rumors of layoffs start at your company: what should you do?
A. Nothing. Plan a little, brush up your CV, that's about it.
B. Work on plans for career changes, think about going back to school.
C. Get out ASAP.
D. Other
Please don't take the above choices as the only one.  

27 comments:

  1. You have to observe the context as well. If, for example, if you are at a start up company and the venture capitalists have stopped funding your company, then its likely that job loss is inevitable. Then some choices maybe become more important.

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  2. Depending on the size of the company, Option A is not too bad. Most larger companies have decent severance packages that can sustain you and your family for a couple of months, and can be supplemented with unemployment benefits. Brush up the CV/resume/LinkedIn profile, talk to a realtor, and hope for the best. Remember, getting fired and being laid off are not the same thing. A corporate layoff doesn't necessarily carry the same stigma as being fired.

    One piece of advice, though: Make the company get rid of you. Some companies will give you a chance to resign in order to "save face" with future employers. In reality, your resignation saves the company many thousands of dollars in severance and unemployment benefits.

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    1. I would second that advice. Many companies will try to get you to resign. If you do that, you get no severance, and you can't claim unemployment benefit, so unless you have another job lined up, don't do it.

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    2. "getting fired and being laid off are not the same thing"

      I'm likely wrong, but in my mind there's no difference between a layoff and being fired (note, I've been both....). Maybe there's a difference if the whole site or company is being laid off, or if management does have the intention to hire people back once the financial situation improves, but otherwise it's mgt choosing the best people to keep.

      I find it disingenuous when companies describe mass firings as 'lay offs' when there's clearly no intention to ever hire people back. I guess its a less offensive term that 'right-sizing' or 'realigning/reprioritizing business interests'.

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    3. I would add that you should start sending your resume/cv out for positions as soon as possible if you think you're in line for the layoff. Especially if you want to stay in the same area or same field. Last thing you want is to be one of the applications in the many.

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    4. @biotechtoreador: In common parlance, "fired" refers to losing your job for cause, whereas "laid off" refers to losing your job through no fault of your own.

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    5. Biotechtoreador, I don't think you understand what a 'lay off' means. To fire someone is to let someone go due to performance issues, trust issues, et c. As in, the employee was at fault for losing their job. A lay off is when people are let go from a company for reasons that do not have to do with the employee's work, but rather when a company is downsizing, eliminating the entire position, et c. Lay off has never meant that the company intends to re-hire the people they've let go. And the terminology is very important. You can generally claim unemployment money if you were laid off, but not fired, because the purpose of unemployment is to temporarily help those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. If a future employer calls your previous employee and hears that you were laid off, they will understand that your termination did not necessarily have anything to do with your performance; if you were fired, they will (or should) ask a lot of questions about what performance issues caused you to be fired.

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    6. "I don't think you understand what a 'lay off' means"

      I'm fairly sure 'lay off' is a nice term to make ppl fired because the company need to "rightsize" or "realign priorities", or what ever insulting MBA dreamed up euphemism one wants to use, feel better about getting the axe. Same thing as getting fired.

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    7. Biotechroreador: Language absolutely makes a difference here, even though the net result was the same. Layoffs are becoming more and more common in chemistry, unfortunately, so as chemists we need to get over our old assumption that only poor performers lose their jobs. As anon 5/8/16 6:09 said, future employers do ask about this, and being able to say the entire research division was laid off due to a restructuring (as was the case for me) or the company got bought is a lot different than being fired for cause. It didn't make me feel any better about being out of work, but it did help grease the wheel for finding another job.

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  3. Depends a bit on frequency of the rumor/actual layoffs. You will have little influence so best to get the job done and wait. Actions are usually many months to years off from initial rumors. Good to get those publications out the door while you can. A calm exists when you realize the layoff rumors are industry standard.

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  4. What would Elizabeth Holmes do?

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    1. Charm powerful men with her deep voice, of course.

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  5. Definitely option A at a big company unless you recognize that you are likely to be one of the "graduates." Do enough research to find out why the cuts are happening - is your application group's business lagging? Is it just an excuse to "trim the fat" and lay people off who need to be fired anyway? Is your company about to be sold?

    When I went through it for the first time, all of the old-timers were like "yeah, this is my 5th one, etc." Problem is, most people who get culled for being slackers think they are hard workers who are safe.

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    1. '...you are likely to be one of the "graduates."'

      Oh HubSpot...

      Agree with Option A under most circumstances, but I would add, if you're going to brush up your CV, you might as well take a look around and send it out if there are other positions you might be interested in. It's a good time to get a pulse check on the market and you might get an interview/offer you'll want to think about regardless of what happens at your current positions. Options are good. You don't have to take them.

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  6. Move to China to fill in your open position over there.

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    1. But my Mandarin is so bad...

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  7. An interesting guide to thinking about these problems is Albert O. Hirschman's "Exit, Voice, Loyalty: Responses to decline in Firms, Organization and States"). As the name indicates, Hirschman sees three options you can pursue when you believe your organization is either engaging in unscrupulous practices or putting your career at risk or both; you can exit (watching out for yourself but preventing yourself from effecting change), you can voice your concerns (potentially jeopardizing your position but providing a small possibility of positive change) or you can go along with the status quo (either passively waiting for change or hoping that your 'loyalty' will buy you some goodwill which will translate into furtherance of your career prospects). Which path you pursue is usually a complex function of several factors.

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  8. 1. If you don't have that 6-12 month expenses emergency fund, start building it up by cutting your expenses to the bone. Find how much the unemployment benefits will be in your state.

    2. Get all your health, eye, and dental exams taken care of while still insured.

    3. Touch base with all your references if you haven't lately.

    Do not buy a new house that stretches your budget. Also do not start a big home remodel or renovation.

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    1. This. #2 may seem lower priority than the others, but it's best to get everything checked out before you go on some cut-rate insurance plan. At the very least, you'll have an up-to-date set of records if you move or get a new doctor. When I was facing a layoff (entire division being eliminated), my doctor did a more complete physical and ordered more bloodwork/diagnostics than normal, even though technically I wasn't due for some of it.

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  9. I've been laid off a couple of times, and I've been in the group left behind several times. I've also been a middle manager who has to lay off some of my team. All of those situations suck, but if I had to pick one to have happen again, I'd go with being laid off. It sucks less than the other two, in my experience. I think the best advice is to stay professional, no matter what you decide to do about your job. Personally, if I sense lay offs are coming, I keep my head down and do my work. I try not to join in the gossip, either on the listening or the talking side. It just makes me feel bad. And I start checking in with people in my network a bit more, having more lunches and coffees with people to see what might be out there. As to whether to leave before you get your severance- I think that is a decision you make in the specific situation at hand. Sometimes, the environment has gotten so toxic that you need to get out ASAP for the sake of your mental health. Severances are rarely big enough to compensate for that. I also wouldn't turn down a great job just to hold out for a severance- although I might try to use the fact that a severance is probably coming to negotiate a signing bonus.

    And no matter what, I refuse to trash the people who laid me off. I might privately take some lessons from what led to the lay offs, but when other people ask me about the company I keep my responses neutral. Most science fields are quite small worlds, and you'll usually only hurt yourself by venting your bitterness in public.

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    1. I'm the optimal bad age and in this situation. Updated resume and looking around, hard. Trying to beat the Man to the punch, it is toxic here. You'd all be surprised where I am.

      But, excellent advice, all of it. No matter how bad it gets, stay on the high road. Thanks.

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  10. I would say on day one of your new job follow option A. You should always be on the look-out for another job. Layoffs are inevitable.

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  11. D: Get e-mail copies and photographic evidence documenting the management misconduct. Find a lawyer practicing labor law. Don't make any statements that could be misrepresented.

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    1. And be VERY careful about what you sign. They usually want you to sign away everything but your pulse to get any severance pay.

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  12. You're in a much stronger negotiating position when you're currently employed, so use the opportunity to look around and see what you're worth on the open market. This is the perfect opportunity to look at other opportunities with a good reason for leaving - job security worries - that doesn't make you look like a potential problem employee (my boss is a jerk, etc). Don't worry about being disloyal to your current employer, because they're about to be disloyal to a bunch of your co-workers if not you, and at a minimum they're doing a lousy job of communicating if the rumor mill is filling a void.

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    1. I could not have said this better (I tried and failed above).

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  13. what to do when there are layoffs of rumors at your company? It is usually a good thing to layoff the rumors. They don't contribute much to the bottom line anyway. ;-)

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