Companies & Industries

If You're Being Let Go


Try to make a graceful exit. Just make sure you get the termination details ironed out, don't blame yourself, and remain positive that better things are in store

Dear Liz,

Things have not been going well for me on my job. I like the people and the work, but my boss isn't happy with my performance and I'm tired of trying to please him. In the past, I've always been, if not a favorite, then at least very well-liked and appreciated by my managers, and this situation has me really down.

This week, with closed-door meetings among my boss, his boss, and the HR person happening almost every day, I fear that I'm going to be fired. I'm sick about it and want to disappear into a hole. But I'm afraid to speak to him about it—what would I say, anyway: Am I getting fired? What do you recommend?

Yours,

Basia

Dear Basia,

Take heart! You will survive this and move on to a position that suits you better. In the meantime, let's see what you can do to make the next few days or weeks more pleasant.

First off, know that mismatches between individuals and jobs happen all the time. It's only logical. And I suspect this is a mismatch, given your past successes and the fact that you feel like this job is a lost cause. Every company has a distinct corporate culture, and every boss has his or her own quirks. And of course you've come to the assignment with a specific set of experiences, skills, and expectations too. Getting all those elements to line up is not a trivial thing. Sometimes a person like you and a company like yours just don't gel, and when that happens, it's good for everyone involved to recognize the bad fit and move on to Plan B.

You do have some choices. You can sit tight and wait to see what happens, or you can approach your boss and ask him to tell you what's up. The problem is that if your boss has been coordinating with his manager and an HR person about your situation, he won't be free to say much of anything to you until he has gotten a green light to proceed. So there may be no advantage to approaching him. But here are a few other things you can do.

Prepare for the Worst

The first thing is relax. Think about the classic, cliché break-up line, "It's not you, it's me." The same principle applies here. Don't start to question your talents, accomplishments, or potential attractiveness to another employer if this job doesn't work out. Smile and assume a confident air at work, even if you have to fake it. If they don't love you at that company, lots of other people will. Don't skulk around like a person fearful of being fired. Do the best job you can, be ready for whatever comes, but don't allow yourself to be panicky and rattled. These things happen.

Next, prepare a list of questions in case the "it's not you, it's us" meeting happens. Here's a list of questions you should ask:

When is your job officially over? Is it the minute you leave his office, or two weeks later? Request that this information and the terms of your dismissal be put in writing.

Does the company plan to contest your unemployment compensation claim? This is very important.

Are you due any severance, and if so, will it be paid to you in a lump sum or paid out like regular payroll checks for a period of weeks?

Will your departure be deemed a resignation or a termination? Push to have it characterized it as a resignation if you can, for the sake of your employment references down the road. And ascertain whether having it termed a resignation will affect your eligibility for unemployment compensation.

What happens with your insurance coverage at work? Ask your manager if you can keep your company-paid health insurance for a month or two after you've left, because you've tried your best at your job (suggesting that there's blame on both sides of the mismatch—the employer, after all, thought you would be a fit for the job and hired you into it). That will delay the start of the COBRA coverage that you will have to pay for yourself. You should also investigate any other insurance that you may have through the company, such as life or long-term disability.

How does your boss plan to communicate your leaving to your customers? In the best case, you get to write a letter to your customers, which your boss approves before it goes out, in which you will tell customers how lovely it has been to work with them and wish them well. You will include contact information for the person who will be taking over their accounts, as well as contact information for you after your departure.

Although you can't take the company's customers with you to your next assignment, the human relationships you've established are important too, and your customers shouldn't have to hire a private detective to locate you once you leave.

What does your boss plan to tell people inside the company? Likewise, you will want to confer with your boss on the exact wording of the announcement to the rest of your team about your departure. There's no guarantee you will be able to write or even have input into that communication, but it doesn't hurt to try. I would advise you to shoot for something like this: "Basia has given me her resignation in order to pursue an opportunity (with more technical duties/with less travel/closer to her home/etc.)"

Remember to Breathe

Getting fired is no fun, but you will pick yourself up and look ahead to the next adventure. Don't let this bump in the road slow you down. The more relaxed and upbeat (not bitter) you are if and when your boss delivers the news, the easier your negotiations with him will be.

Life is long, and there's a good chance the two of you may cross paths again. He may wish you all the best—he may even become a great job reference for you. Smile, remember to breathe, and tell yourself that this little detour isn't that big a deal (because it's not). The thing you can control at this stage—and you will—is your reaction to events as they unfold. It's just another learning experience—and material for your book!

Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.

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