Dan was uneasy. Really uneasy.
About his work, about his family about his professional security.
He had just bought a new house after 5 years as a vice president with a local company. They had settled in nicely and everyone — his wife and kids — quickly made friends in the neighborhood. Speaking of the kids, Tina and Ricky seemed very happy in their new schools.
The new house was a big step up and to make the down payment, they had depleted most of their savings. Things seemed to be going well at work when they made the purchase so the risk seemed worth it. His last three performance reviews were very good and he received a raise and last year qualified for a nice bonus.
But then, things began to change.
The company hired a new senior executive and Dan’s team was realigned under his supervision.
What made this transition more unnerving was that he was excluded from the interview process. He had been traveling on business, however, that this significant change was a complete surprise sounded some alarm bells in Dan’s gut.
“Oh, I am sure everything will work out fine,” his boss said. We are bringing him in to shake things up but I am sure you will survive.”
Wow, the phrase “…but I am sure you will survive” was not only not reassuring, but Dan could not shake the overwhelming feeling of dread that flooded over him on his way home.
His company was in a small city. There were not that many jobs that paid as well as Dan’s position, so losing this job would probably mean a relocation.
Barely three months later, on a Friday afternoon, Dan was brought in to his new boss’s office. The Vice President of HR was there. Dan knew it was over.
He was terminated because “we want to go in a different direction.” Nothing was said, no other explanation. When he pushed for more information as to the “why”, he was told, again, “we are going in a different direction. I have another meeting. Margaret will explain your package and then security will escort you to your office and then escort you to your car. We will need to review these documents and sign them by next week.”
Dan sat there stunned. For someone who had done a good job, he suddenly felt as if he had done something wrong, almost like a criminal.
In a moment, this wonderful company that he had seen as part of his family life was not there. The great collaborative relationships he had with the team, the team he helped hire and develop, were no more. It was a sudden and painful divorce.
As he drove home, he began to cry. The sense of shock, the feeling of sadness and the dread of having to find another job and uproot his family. Sadness and guilt engulfed him.
Dan was a lucky guy. His wife, though shocked by the news, knew immediately that she had to help her husband plot a strategy. She quickly began to reach out to friends and former colleagues for their advice.
Over the next several days, as Dan absorbed the loss and began the grieving process, Jennifer took the helm. She knew Dan was so angry and humiliated that he might not do a great job protecting his rights. Here are the highlights of her — their — transition plan.
First, she scheduled an appointment with their attorney who had some employment law experience and was friends with the VP of HR at Dan’s former employer. They decided that before Dan signed the company’s transition offer, they would let their attorney attempt to negotiate. They lived in an employ-at-will state so Jennifer and the attorney agreed that he should be conciliatory in trying to gain some concessions to the bare-bones severance agreement. He knew, from previous experience, the company had offered others who left the company better deals. Here is what they asked for:
- Nine months severance, not the 90-days the company offered
- Outplacement coaching from a consultant of Dan’s choosing. Jennifer had heard that when the company did provide outplacement they used the cheapest deal they could find — it was all about costs, not value of the terminated employee.
- Benefits for the full term of the severance.
- Payment of his bonus. Apparently his new boss nixed that part of the deal along with the outplacement coaching benefit.
- A mutually acceptable written statement that would cover all official reference inquiries made to the company’s HR office. Members of the senior team, board members and others not on the referee list would not be allowed to make any comments other than what was agreed to, and contained in the statement.
Jennifer’s plan was to encourage Dan to get away for a long-planned fishing trip with some friends. His network of advisors had told her that when someone loses their job there is a grieving period, much like the one associated with a death. For Dan not to experience that process would be a big mistake, her friends advised. So Jennifer laid down the law and Dan reluctantly agreed to 10 days at a family fishing cabin with a couple of close friends.
Phase II of her strategy would begin when he returned and nothing on her list had anything to do with cleaning the garage or any other projects at the house. When he returned, Dan had a new job: finding a full-time job.
While Dan was away fishing his lawyer orchestrated some important concessions including outplacement, payment of a bonus that would equate to six months pay and six months severance. “Dan’s new former boss was not too pleased but the heck with him if he can’t take a joke,” the lawyer told Jennifer. “ I knew what they had done for others who were pushed out and I just made them live up to that standard.”
While Dan was away, Jennifer cleaned up the spare bedroom which had been used for storage since the move. She had a telephone with voice mail line installed — the cell coverage in their neighborhood could be inconsistent — and a good telephone. She also converted their old DSL service to a high speed cable modem to facilitate his on-line research.
She found a good ed desk, a great chair, some wonderful lamps and a nice side chair. It looked like a real office, she thought. An area rug added a warm touch.
Why all the trouble?
She read that creating a true office at home was important for job seekers in order to establish and sustain a discipline for regular office hours and telephone networking.
She made a mental note: no vacuuming, or kids running through the house. “We will have to make some changes for a while” she thought, but this will be worth it. We will make it an adventure and we will overcome!
Her next call was the hardest one of all: She called a realtor to list their house for sale.
Next time, we will focus on Dan’s daily schedule as he begins the search for the next chapter in his professional life.