The Gift of a Layoff: Exiting a Job Gracefully
Recently I met up with a friend who had recently been let go by his employer after fifteen years of service. He had no remorse and told me that they had given him a gift. At first I struggled with the idea of being laid off as being a gift, but as he explained he had been liberated from a job and a company that had grown stale. The pay, benefits and other perks made it a comfortable place to work, but it had evolved from a passion to just a job. Had he not been laid off he explained, he probably would have spent the remainder of his career there rather than pursuing something that he is truly passionate about.
Not everyone is as insightful as my friend. He was able to re-frame his lay off as an opportunity and regarded it as a gift. As he spoke there was no concern or uncertainty in his voice, only excitement about what’s next. His biggest challenge now is to decide which opportunity to pursue. As a seasoned sales leader with an excellent track record, he is being sought after by many companies. I spent time helping him focus on the industries, company sizes and cultures that are most attractive to him. It is important when considering new opportunities to be clear on what you want in your next opportunity. Narrowing the geography is one easy way to focus the search. In his case with middle school kids he doesn’t want to move.
The most surprising part of our conversation centered around how he was let go. He knew changes were in the works with the company and had seen other long tenured employees receive packages, so this did not come as a big surprise, but the way it was handled was a bit disturbing. He was on a cross-country business trip calling on clients and prospects for some key big revenue deals. While there he received an email from his boss' boss scheduling an early morning call. When he joined the call there were two people on the line, his boss' boss and an HR business partner. He immediately knew that having HR on the phone is never a good thing. He was told his position was being eliminated as was his boss'. He was told that he would need to turn in his laptop, badge, corporate card and other company property and not return to the office. Paperwork would be mailed to him with the severance agreement and the terms. That was it. No thank you for your fifteen years of dedication and service. His only question back was, what about the client meetings he had scheduled for the next two days. The response was: “That’s up to you whether you hold them or not.” Clearly the boss' boss did not care either way.
Being a dedicated employee and an all around good person, my friend decided to hold each of the meetings that were already scheduled before returning to the east coast. The meetings went incredibly well and he committed to himself that he would close out his last two days on a positive note. Those meetings turned into $400,000 in new revenue. Revenue for which he would not get credit. More importantly, he felt that he did the right thing for the company, for the clients and for his own moral compass.
Upon returning from the trip he sent the paperwork to process the deals and wrote to the boss' boss sharing the positive news about the significant business he closed. As he explained to me, he never heard back.
There are several lessons in this story:
1) A layoff is a gift if you treat it as one. In this case the job had grown stale and the culture had become toxic. The layoff posed a new opportunity and an escape.
2) Finish strong. Being able to look in the mirror and say, “I did the right thing” and exit gracefully is important. His final days serve as a positive reflection on his character and a negative reflection on the company and his boss' boss.
3) Change is inevitable. How you respond to it is the key. In this case my friend saw the opportunity in the change.
4) Large companies rarely have a soul. After fifteen years of service one would expect better treatment especially when the layoff was a job elimination of a high performer. His California trip alone netted the company more money than his annual salary.
"Exit gracefully so as not to burn any bridges and to keep your reputation intact."
I have heard several stories like this one. They are not fiction, but fact, and they belay the trouble with corporate cultures today. People are expendable resources. The larger the company, the less care there is for the talented people that work there. I am a big fan of smaller firms that still have a heart and soul. I like working with these smaller firms to help them define their core values and then to live by them. Bigger companies have values too, but they become words on paper rather than operating standards.
I am excited for my friend and for his next role where one lucky company will have the opportunity to benefit from his sales skills and his desire to do the right thing in all situations.