Friday, February 17, 2012

Negotiating A Severance Package

What My Boss Told Me
When I heard I was getting laid off it was unofficial; my boss had found out my name was on the list, but he couldn't tell me the exact date the Reduction in Force would take place or give me any paperwork from Human Resources regarding my severance.

He did tell me verbally that I could expect two months of severance. I was kind of numb and simply nodded, momentarily grateful to be promised anything at all. But then I asked about my annual bonus. We get paid quarterly, and the fourth quarter bonus incentive is paid at the end of January. It's also the largest of the quarterly checks since it includes any addition for exceeding your annual goal, among a few other things.

He looked at me sheepishly and admitted that probably would not be given to me. If you're not employed on the day it's payable then you don't get it, essentially. I narrowed my eyes but went back to absorption mode and let it go for the moment.

After a long day of cleaning out my office and hard drive, being taken out to lunch by my coworkers, trying to graciously accept lots of condolences and advice and interview offers, going out to dinner and drinks with friends, running into two guys I've dated recently and then and meeting up with an ex (an emotional event in and of itself) I woke up the next morning hungover and overwhelmed.

What My Mentor Told Me
Then my colleague and mentor texted me and asked me to brunch. She's been in banking for decades and has left and joined banks at least a few times that I know of. We've gotten to be great friends, and I was in need of any advice I could find, so I dragged my ass to a restaurant in a daze and we ordered bellinis.

She proceeded to unload on me all kinds of valuable advice, which I struggled to absorb as I choked down gourmet pizza and waffles and bacon (as yet ANOTHER guy I've recently dated sat to my left with another party).

She told me that I was to stay as busy as possible; the busier I am the more confident I'll be. I am to agree to EVERY meeting and interview. "You tell everybody that you are considering several options, but you are most interested in them."

I am not to sign ANYTHING from HR without getting it reviewed by an attorney. I am to understand that EVERYTHING is negotiable and that the little details matter tremendously. "They'll try to give you the standard package, but honey nothing is standard - and in any case the standard does NOT apply to your individual situation. You tell them that; use those words."

She said she knew I was probably thinking about future employment opportunities and salary negotiations and interviews, but that I really needed to focus first on negotiating a severance package. She said usually HR blindsides you with the news and presents you with an offer which people numbly sign, grateful. I was to ask for 'the moon,' and she proceeded to outline everything she could possibly think of which I was to ask for, much of which I'd never even considered.

"You need to act like you'll never have another job again when you deal with them - they don't know and it doesn't matter that you have other options and that you'll be totally fine. Of course you will be fine. But you need to get what you deserve."

Then she informed me that everyone was pissed about the situation, that something smelled very bad about how this is all happening, and that she thinks they are totally screwing me over. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she is right. I refused to take the layoff personally, but it is personal on some level. And it's a mistake.

They JUST hired another guy from another department who moved over and has zero clients/portfolio. He probably makes more than me as he has a few years more experience, but somehow I'm the one who is being let go - and they will be handing over my enormous portfolio to him (perhaps because he's been there less than 90 days and they fear a lawsuit or something).

My boss told me point blank that he would have never hired that guy if he'd known this was going to happen (i.e. that he'd be forced to lay me off as a result) and that it wasn't his decision whatsoever; this was coming down from corporate. I told him dryly that it didn't really make me or anybody else on the team feel better to know that he was not only not in control but was not even in the loop on staffing issues. He acknowledged that and said he wasn't sure how bright his future is here either...

What I Told HR
Inspired, I issued a formal letter to HR a few days later, after I still hadn't heard anything official from anybody. I figured asking for something first would set the tone for negotiations, rather than waiting for them to give me a low ball offer and then having to contest it.

I said I had been informed that I would soon be impacted by a Reduction in Force, and that I would like to formally issue the following requests:
  • One month of severance for each year of service to the company (5).

  • All Bonus Incentive Pay accrued during 2011.

  • Current company email and phone number to be maintained for 60 days.

  • Written letters of recommendation from my boss and his boss.

  • All other standard termination benefits (vacation pay, insurance, etc).

I proceeded to say that "I have spoken to an informed party about my situation, and I believe these requests to be fair and reasonable. The standard severance package is not applicable given my individual situation, which I will briefly describe below, for reference."

I then outlined that I've given the company nearly 6 years of loyal service, that I was recruited into and completed their training program (which is held in high regard and bragged about to all new employees), that my performance reviews have always been positive, that I've been repeatedly told in writing and verbally that I'm an indispensable member of the team, that I was basically promised in writing by my boss that I'd get promoted to VP at my next review, and that I was even asked to train and mentor new team members, as I've been there longer than anyone from the President down.

I also pointed out that I'd exceeded my production goals every year, despite managing the largest portfolio in the Private bank (both by number of clients and by volume), and that every time anybody else left the bank their portfolio had been dumped in my lap to sort out.

In case that wasn't enough, I subtly added that there has been a significant amount of miscommunication among management that appears to have directly led to my termination. I declined to go into detail out of respect for my team and the bank, and I assumed that my merits and loyalty were more than enough to substantiate my severance requests, but I hinted that I'd be willing to drag it out as supplementary validation if necessary.

The whole letter read like it came from an attorney (maybe I should go back to law school), and I requested a reply within 7 calendar days. Then the waiting began.

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