managers pushing us to work harder while we wait to be laid off

A reader writes:

In mid-August, my company informed us that my department was to be laid-off sometime in September. It is now the end of September and we have not had any more information about the layoffs. Our bi-weekly department meetings have been cancelled and my direct managers have no information. Our senior managers have been asking for overtime and increased productivity.

Is this normal? What is the usual process for layoffs? Are my senior managers’ expectations unreasonable? (They are not being laid off).

Would it be crazy to leave for another job when a severance package (albeit vague) has been promised?

I’m supposed to be laid off by now. How hard do they expect me to work?

There are three common ways of doing layoffs:

1. Let people know that they’re being laid off at a specific point in the future. (Often this timeframe is 60 days, if the layoffs are covered by the WARN Act, which — with some exceptions — requires employers with 100 employees or more to give advance notice when closing a plant or doing mass layoffs, defined as 500+ people or 33% of their workforce. But when the WARN Act isn’t in play, the timeframe can vary.)

2. Let people know the day they’re being laid off, with no advance warning. You’re called into an office, told you’re being let go that day, given a severance agreement, and told to pack up your things and go. This happens so fast that you’ve usually already been locked out of your computer while sitting in the meeting.

This is very common, largely because many experts who deal with this stuff believe that having those employees linger is bad for morale and prevents the company from starting to recover and move forward. Unsurprisingly, the people who are on the receiving end of this find that this way isn’t so good for their morale either. (It is true, though, that there are cases where doing it this way makes sense — although those cases are probably outnumbered the times that it happens when it shouldn’t.)

3. Let people know that they’re probably going to be laid off at some point in the future, without giving a specific timeframe … or giving a specific timeframe, which then passes with no update. This is your situation, and the confusion and lack of communication are pretty common when it happens.

So what you’re dealing with isn’t unusual, but it sucks. And it’s unquestionably an unkind way to treat people. It’s possible that they don’t have answers themselves — but now that they’ve decided to bring you into the loop, they need to continue giving you information about what’s going on, even if it’s just “we don’t know yet, and we’re waiting on factors A, B, and C to play out.”

And leaving you all in a state of limbo and yet still pushing you to put in extra effort is obviously absurd.

Of course, this could have played out even more poorly:  They could have not warned you that layoffs were coming, pushed you to work tons of overtime (which you probably would have done, because you’d be assuming that you’d still have a job at the end of it), and then laid you off when it was done.

In any case, I would absolutely start looking for another job — actively — and accept an offer if you get one; don’t wait around for a severance package. There’s no guarantee of how much severance you’ll get unless you have a contract that spells that out (which most people don’t), and no law requires that you get any severance at all. You could wait around for it and discover it’s only two weeks’ worth of pay, or something like that. Or it could be more generous — a few months’ worth, for instance — but you might not find a job during that time and have no source of income once the severance period runs out.

Basically, look at severance as a safety net, not as something you want to be dependent on.

{ 69 comments… read them below }

  1. Wilton Businessman*

    Personally, I would not wait around for them to let me go. I would be looking, very actively, and probably accept the first thing that was offered to me that was within my compensation range. There are times when you can wait it out to find your perfect job. This is not one of them.

    If the perfect opportunity showed up tomorrow, it’s still going to be 2-3 weeks before you get an offer in your hands. If you find a job and are scheduled to start before your current company lets you go, yes, you will leave a little money on the table. I prefer this scenario any day because it’s like a big giant eff you. But this is the perfect scenario, it probably won’t happen that quickly.

    A severance is nice, but you need to get moving now. The severance will carry you for a little while, but not for an entire job search.

    I won’t even address the OT because that is perfectly unreasonable.

    1. Candice*

      This job market doesn’t leave the luxury, in my opinion, of waiting around for anything. Unless you have significant savings built up, get your resume out there and take the first thing within your pay grade that comes your way. If you’re lucky that will happen within a month, but I agree with Wilton Businessman, it could be a long time coming.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        I agree – don’t wait around because there once was a vague reference to “severence packages”. My company has had 4 layoffs in the last year, and the severence packages gets smaller every time.

    2. anon-2*

      If layoffs are coming — and you’re going to be affected — the best thing to do is start looking NOW.

      And unless the severance package is substantial, don’t wait for it. GO. Your marketability is much greater if you’re employed than if you’re NOT employed.

      And if you’re critical to the layoff/post-layoff transition, you may even end up saving your current situation. I’ve seen it happen – someone whose assistance in the transition was so critical, he found another job – then resigned — and the counter-offer was “well, we will guarantee that you WON’T be let go” in writing. Not everyone was going to be axed – this guy saved his job by finding another job. He was so critical to the transition that they had to promise to keep him after the staff reductions.

      Don’t laugh – “No layoff” deals do exist. Just as non-compete agreements do. Managers and executives just don’t like to admit that they DO exist.

      1. Anonymous*

        What length of time was guaranteed in the deal? How would this not come under the standard advice of never accepting a counter-offer? If a company wants to keep me, they need to tell me in advance, not after I’ve found another position.

        1. anon-2*

          I once worked at a defense installation. There were frequent layoffs and furloughs.

          Occasionally, an engineer would resign – and if it was over job security, the counter-offer would not necessarily be money but a promise that the individual would not be laid off in x amount of months or years’ time. Usually until one hits a milestone (retirement eligibility, 401K vesting). It often is a two-way street – a non-compete agreement also exists for the duration of the agreement.

          Counter-offers often are extended, not just as a quick fix — but frequently, they’re forcing management to take stock and a thorough review of the employee who just tendered his resignation —

          – 1) Can we function without this person? How well? Forget the cliche that “no one is irreplacable”. Sometimes, a person may have a unique skill set AND knowledge of systems that would take YEARS for a company to replace.

          – 2) Is what the person’s asking for reasonable? Forget the cliche “that’s beside the point. WE’RE in charge here.” If an employee has been “unloved” (underpaid, or not allowed to progress) — this can be fixed. If management really wants to fix the problem. But that takes good faith and reconciliation on both sides for it to work.

      2. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

        Oh wow! I wouldn’t trust that one bit. Unless my new job had serious shortcomings, I would walk.

        Good for him though that he was able to pull it off.

  2. Kou*

    At first I thought it was unlikely they would spring it on everyone as a surprise considering it’s an entire department, and then I remembered that the last place I saw people get laid off did exactly that. One of the higher ups went into the call center one day and told everyone who worked there to pack their stuff and go home immediately, no warning to anyone.

    1. fposte*

      I also think it’s depressingly common in retail and the restaurant business to just show up for work one day to find your place of business closed forever.

      1. Kou*

        Or, if you’re retail, you get the super fun experience of the store putting everything on sale to try and clear out stock before it closes, so right before you’re out of a job you get to work in a crazy hectic store with customers commenting about how awesome it is all the time.

      2. perrik*

        Not just retail, of course. I worked for a small biotech startup. We knew things were rocky between our company and the large biotech corp which had recently acquired it, and a Monday meeting hinted that things would get better, unless they didn’t, we’re optimistic that they will, probably, well, it all depends…

        On Friday our keycards didn’t work and there was a sign on the door to meet at a conference room at a nearby hotel. Surprise! At least we received a generous severance. Thanks to my natural cynicism, all my personal stuff had already been taken home or stored in my car.

        OP, the management at your company is insensitive and clueless. Don’t let the glimmer of some vague severance promises tie you to this job. Given how you’ve been treated so far, I wouldn’t count on them paying you severance or covering COBRA, or even giving you time to clean out your own desk when layoff day rolls around.

  3. quix*

    Back when Chrysler got bought out by Cerberus Group, most of us in our call center saw the writing on the wall, since Cerberus is kinda infamous for their slash and burn style of management. I left for grad school (in a different kind of mistake) but apparently the center manager kept saying that he had no information on any possible layoffs right until they closed it completely. I’m not sure if it would be worse if the manager was lying or kept in the dark himself.

  4. Amouse*

    A few days before I was set to move out of province and leave my job an entire floor where I used to work was laid off (around 200 employees). The job I was leaving was in a different department a floor above this. Many of these people I had worked with from my earliest “real” job and many I was close with. There was a huge age differential. There seemed to be half that were just beginning their careers, half near retirement age and not many just in between. As I remember it they were given a phase-out plan for lay-offs with several different groups being laid off on different days. The less experienced the employee the earlier their last day was and the older employees who were near their retirement would have to stay on for nearly 10 months. I am assuming the pension packages were fairly generous and the rationale was that employees would had invested more years into the company (which really wasn’t the original company they had started at but a company who had fairly recently bought them out) deserved more notice to find a new job. Still, looking back at the trauma that mass layoff announcement caused I cannot imagine what they were going through having to work another three-ten months knowing their end date would come and having to still do their jobs productively.

    I try believe the company must obviously have had an extensively researched rationale for laying off that many people but still, I look back on it with overwhelming saddess for those friends of mine who had to go through that. I can’t imagine what this OP is going through not evening knowing their end date.

    I agree with Alison look for a job and don’t wait on them.

    1. Anon1*

      I’ll assume this happened someplace in Canada given the reference to going out of province. The timing of the layoffs sounded more like it was based on ensuring that everyone received at least the required notice. The longer you’ve worked at a place, the longer the minimum notice tends to be. Age factors into it as well.

      1. Amouse*

        I am assuming the pension packages were fairly generous and the rationale was that employees would had invested more years into the company (which really wasn’t the original company they had started at but a company who had fairly recently bought them out) deserved more notice to find a new job.

        so, we agree on that.

    2. class factotum*

      My former employer laid off an entire workgroup in my building (this was before I was laid off) but kept them on long enough to train their replacements, who came to the US for a month from Poland to learn their new jobs.

  5. Anonymous*

    It’s hard not to think of a severance as free money- a payoff for all your hard work, but I’d really urge you to change your perspective on what it will mean for your financial future. If they’re laying off a large group of people, what is the likelihood they’re willing to pay a severance of more than a couple weeks, if anything at all?

    You’ve had this end date in mind for a while, and you shouldn’t wait to start your job search once they’ve decided to let you go. Will they give you a month’s notice? Two weeks? An hour, before you’re escorted off premises? It sounds like they’re already ramping down the department before they can axe it entirely- who knows what they’re waiting for your team to achieve before your departure?

    This is borrowed time. Make the most of it.

    1. Kou*

      This is a good point. I know this isn’t a hard rule or anything but any time I’ve seen layoffs, the more people go at once the less they get individually.

      I’ve even seen cases where a few people were laid off and got a nice severance package of many months or a year, then a few months later the rest of their department was phased out and got almost nothing– a week or two.

    1. bob*

      Not really, not when you’ve been told you’re dead weight because it just sucks the life out of you and makes it miserable to even go to the job every day.

    2. KellyK*

      That is a good point. If you’re getting paid for the OT, then working as much of it as you reasonably can and socking away the extra in case you don’t have something else lined up when you get laid off might be a really good idea. (As long as you don’t let it interfere with your job search.)

      Though bob has a point that it is extraordinarily demoralizing to be told you’re not needed by people who want to wring every last bit of work out of you that they can before you’re let go.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree – and it shouldn’t be mandatory. I’m just thinking if it were me and it was a non-exempt position (which the OP confirmed) I’d want to take advantage of the chance to stockpile some extra savings knowing what’s coming.

        It would still be demoralizing, but I think looking at it as I was using it to my advantage would help me deal.

  6. Anonymous*

    When the regional branch I worked at was being shut down, many of us were told an end date that was 8 months in the future. It was interesting to see how each of my coworkers decided to handle it–I called it playing the corporate lottery because so many of them were hoping to hit it big (getting both severance and a new job at the same time) without really understanding their own particular odds given the economy today. I also noticed that many didn’t make any changes in their personal spending, despite knowing that on X date they would be unemployed.

    Of all my coworkers who were laid off (~150), I know of exactly one who managed to score a job before his severance ended. Most are still unemployed now, over 9 months after they were let go. In the meantime, the extended unemployment benefits that they had all heard about last year have been being phased out, so many of them will exhaust those benefits very soon if they haven’t already.

    The best strategy I saw was with one of the few coworkers who found a new job before they were let go. He said to his new company “I’m going to miss out on a payment of $X if I take your job offer today. Is there any sort of a signing bonus that I might be eligible for?” And the new company actually came through with a bonus for him!

    1. Blinx*

      My old company had layoffs every year, so the writing was on the wall for a while. When my time came, I worked my 60 days notice (excruciating), and was fortunate to get a generous severance as well as unemployment. Now, 10 months later, my severance is long gone, unemployment will only last another 3 months. But I was able to save up a year’s worth of expenses, which is what I will be living on in January. It hasn’t been fun, living very frugally, but at least I feel secure in knowing I can still keep the house and heat it.

      1. anon-2*

        Yeah, Blinx, but if you had found another job before the 60 day notice period was up — you’d either be working at a new company, or, perhaps they would have found another slot for you at your old one, with the proviso you keep it quiet and continue to train your replacements.

        Working and getting a check beats spending severance, and collecting unemployment. Just sayin’.

  7. Elizabeth West*

    #2 happened to me. :(

    I went to lunch and when I returned, I needed to visit our other building. I waited for my phone backup (the marketing dude) to finish whatever he was doing with the sales manager. Suddenly he came over to me, shook my hand and said “Um…bye!” I said “Where are you going!?” He said, “I’m not at liberty to say!” Then he left, followed by the manager.

    My other coworker and I gaped at each other and were like “Did they just….” and then my phone rang. Yep, I was next. Within a half hour of coming back, I was in my car with all my stuff.

    Both our positions had been eliminated completely. I wasn’t too surprised at the marketing–the company had been trying to get that up to corporate for a while. But no more receptionist? That kind of sucked because I did ALL the clerical work for the whole office, not just phones. I did get six weeks’ severance pay, which was nice.

    Grapevine has told me more people were axed and now there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. I guess I’m lucky to have escaped.

    1. ChristineH*

      Oh goodness….I cannot imagine having to experience that! :( I was laid off in 2008, but had 30 days notice, and that was rough in and of itself (I was the only one…not sure of the reasons, although I have my suspicions that’ll keep to myself).

      Just the thought of coming in one day and, without warning, being told to pack your stuff immediately makes me shudder.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Ugh, having notice sucks too. At the nonprofit I worked at, the CEO told one person she was being laid off AT THE ALL COMPANY MEETING IN FRONT OF EVERYONE.

        Her face turned bright red and everybody’s jaw dropped. She had a couple of weeks. but how rude to tell her that way. They should have said something to her right before the meeting. This exec had a bad trait of trying to scare us–“We don’t make this goal, everyone may be out of a job!” etc. I guess he thought it would motivate us, but all it did was make him look like an ass. She and I are still friends though, and we use each other as references for that job because it sucked so much and we can both say good things about each other. :)

  8. Blinx*

    OP, I feel for you. This stinks. Your direct managers are probably in the dark, and will be laid off as well. I’m betting that the senior managers who are pushing for the OT will get some kind of bonus, based on the department’s productivity before it closes. If you are hourly and will get paid overtime AND if you want it, then work it. Otherwise, just put in a normal day’s work until you are told to leave.

    Depending on the size of the company and the circumstances, you might be able to determine what your severance will be, based on existing policy. By all means, job hunt, but until you land another position, you’ll just have to stick it out, to be eligible for severance and unemployment. Good luck, and keep us posted.

  9. Guest 1*

    There’s absolutely no reason in this case to work hard at all. I’d slow roll things to the maximum extent possible. I’d also think about how to sabotage things.

    If they really wanted to keep you motivated, they’d have offered retention bonuses. They’re just being real cheap. Give them what they deserve.

    1. Jamie*

      “I’d also think about how to sabotage things”

      Thi sis why some companies opt to tell people at the last minute. So the vast majority who wouldn’t do this and deserve the notice are screwed because of the legitimate fear of the small minority with this mindset.

      1. Jane Atkinson*

        Not only what Jamie says. You risk sabotaging yourself as well.

        That kind of thinking is highly likely to spill over into other areas of your life, poisoning your relationships with family, friends and co-workers – who’ve done nothing to deserve this. I’ve seen it happen.

        If someone who does this runs into those same co-workers later, the former co-workers are not going to be all that keen on providing a good reference or making an introduction to someone in their network. Very few people can definitely say that they they’ll never need those things in the future.

        Short-term revenge can come back to bite you, big time, in the long term, when it’s too late for regrets.

        1. Amouse*

          Highly agree with both Jamie and Jane. Acting out of anger or revenge never ends well and it always catches up to you. Please don’t follow the advice of trying to “Sabotage things”. Not not good.

    2. Blinx*

      The only real motivation would be to stay in the company’s good graces so that you’d get a decent reference. But it’s tricky, since it’s not known if the managers will be laid off as well.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Also, coworkers who know how you handled this are connections to future jobs. You may think that since you’re all in the same boat, they’ll take glee in you sabotaging things, but many/most of them won’t, and will be unlikely to recommend you for jobs in the future — who wants to recommend someone who sabotaged their last employer?

    3. The IT Manager*

      Guest1 that’s a horrible attitude and it can come back to bite you in the ass. Depending on your act of sabotage, it could get you arrested or fired before you get a new job and a severence package. And if you get fired for this act of sabotage you’re not likely to be eligable for unemployment. At the very least, there’s no way is anyone going to give you a good reference if you get caught.

      Now unless the LW is getting OT, I do recommend that he/she not work the extra hours and concentrate on job hunting after work.

  10. Janet*

    Do we work together? All year we’ve been told at my work that lay-offs are coming. Now, some will survive the lay-offs but decisions of who stays and who goes are being made by someone at our corporate headquarters in another location – my team is being handled by someone I have never met or spoken to. I think everyone at my work is actively searching and trying to beat the announcement.

    Because the sad fact is that even if you survive the layoffs in this situation, the job is terrible. I’ve survived layoffs twice so far in my career and morale is horrible, work is double what it used to be and pay is usually frozen along with any funds for resources. The idea of going through that again is depressing.

    1. JT*

      My organization had layoffs when the economy crashed, and that did contribute to lower morale. But we’ve worked back from it (and rehired a bit as things stabilized in the economy). So it’s not always the case that layoffs mean the ship is sinking.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is absolutely true. In fact, layoffs — when done correctly — can be the thing that rights the ship. The sad reality is that sometimes departments or areas of work or staff really do need to be cut in order for the business to maintain financial health or to recover from financial problems. And making those cuts wisely can be the thing that puts the organization back on the right track. It’s really not a case of all layoffs = bad.

        1. Steve G*

          I worked in a department 3 jobs ago with 50 employees, and from my 2nd week it was obvious 1/2 did 1/2 a days work, and it easily could have been 30 people. I only stayed 6 months because I was bored from lack of work (how could I take on extra responsibility to get ahead when there wasn’t even enough work to keep people busy?). 3 months after i left was when the huge layoffs came.

  11. Colette*

    I used to work for a large company that got progressively smaller as they laid off more and more of their staff. It was a terrible position to be in – it’s hard to job hunt when you’re in that environment every day. I was laid off in 2007. I got severance. Former colleagues were laid off later & didn’t get anything because the company filed for bankruptcy protection.

    I guess my point is don’t wait for severance – the writing is on the wall. Look for something else now.

    And I’d weigh the request for overtime – is the money you’d make worth the time away from job hunting and your personal life? I think it’s ridiculous that they’re asking, but if you’re about to lose your job, there’s not much they can do to you if you don’t want to work it.

  12. Not So NewReader*

    I just wonder how many head executives read this blog.
    They should be reading it.

    This is sad, sad stuff.

    What companies don’t think about is in some instances we are not only their employee but we are also their customer.

  13. EngineerGirl*

    First off, one correction that AAM might not know – in California WARN kicks in with 50 people.

    Now the issue. Our company is in this position right now because of uncertain funding for our projects. Some people have been given WARN notice, others not. My assignment was technically complete last year, but I’m being given additional assignments and kept on. I’ve had several discussions with my manager on roll-off dates. He honestly can’t tell me. Nor can his boss, or his bosses boss. They really don’t know because of all the factors involved (and I believe this from what I’m seeing). But they were kind enough to let people know that the ground is shakey. So yes, they can be honest and truly not know.

    But here is the thing the OP really needs to consider. It is far, far, easier to get a job if you have a job. If you want to be at an advantage, look now. Don’t forget that there are some short sighted employers that won’t look at you if you are unemployed. Compared to a severance package (which may be as little as 2 weeks pay) it isn’t worth it to hold out.

    And yes, increased overtime is definately a part of this. They’re trying to do more with less.

  14. First Time Poster*

    My entire department was laid off last year, and the work was outsourced to a company out of state. That put about 30 of us all needing new jobs at the same time. To the above comments and advice, I just want to add that you might think about this: If you wait until you’re all finally laid off at once, there will be “X” number of you out there in your local job market looking for new jobs, and presumably with very similar skills. That really increases your competition if you’re all looking for work in the same type of business, as was the case with me and my former co-workers. If I had known the layoff was definitely coming, I would go back in a time machine (haha–if only!!!) and have been in the job-hunting market sooner rather than later.

  15. Girasol*

    They may be delaying trying to save your job or they may be trying to squeeze the last drops from you before sending you off. You don’t get to know. In any case, do what you have to do. Be sure your kudos letters, resume, performance evaluations, work samples, and contacts – any information that you may need and are not restricted from taking as you go – are in a folder at home or on USB memory ready to pop out and take. Be sure you have contact information for your coworkers either saved or in Linked-In. Talk with coworkers about what you can do to help one another. Check your benefits and be sure that anything you need to do to maximize what you can take with you is done ahead of time. Start a job search. Start a resume writers’ circle. Be aware that people who seem very kind in your last days can become suddenly unfriendly after a layoff. Any unwritten handshake agreements may not be honored, so don’t depend on them. Managers may suddenly change their tunes, not because they’re mean but because someone has misled them and set them straight on layoff day. (I’ve seen a manager almost in tears when he discovered that he lied to his people concerning layoff because he was given false information himself.) So be kind and do right but take care of yourself.

  16. kar*

    Start looking for a job NOW while you have one. It is easier to find a job when you already have one. Once you enter the world of unemployment, it becomes harder. Harder because unfortunately, companies prefer to hire someone already employed.

    (i speak from experience. i was laid off twice – once in 2008, once in 2011. )

    1. anon-2*

      … and you might KEEP your current job (post-layoffs) if they really need you to help execute the staff reductions / offshoring / outsourcing. Seen it happen often.

  17. OP*

    Hey everyone, it’s the OG OP here.

    First, I’d like to thank Alison and everyone who responded with the great advice. Sharing your experience has really opened my eyes. A little bit goes a long way, and you’re really helping people here. Utmost thanks.

    I’d like to clarify a few things:

    1. I work at an Internet start-up company that is automating my position.

    2. I am hesitant to leave without a severance package because they described it as being based on tenure. I just happen to have outlasted everyone who either quit or got promoted. But you have opened my eyes (Alison, @Kou, @ Girasol and others)!! My 2 years of work could get me 2 weeks pay, while newer hires get a Target gift card (which my company does instead of bonuses).

    3. My direct managers are getting laid off as well. A few were recently hired and are moving back to their previous positions. The others are out of luck. They are being overworked beyond belief.

    4. My department was switched to non-exempt status before the layoffs, so I would theoretically be receiving OT pay. However, I greatly cherish my free time so I chose not to work OT (I used to work OT any time it was requested – from last Halloween until April they asked for OT almost every weekend).

    @ Girasol – “Be sure your kudos letters, resume… are in a folder at home or on USB memory” Great advice! Some of the best I’ve heard. I’m definitely bringing my things home immediately.

    @ Guest 1: I hear ya buddy! That was my initial reaction, of course. But since the anger has subsided, I will heed the wisdom of the other posters and go back and undo some of the potentially sabotaging things I’ve done. Making decisions when angry never leads to any good (but it can be cathartic!).

    Thanks for the great advice!

    1. Judy*

      None of the companies that I’ve worked for have had written severance polices more generous than 2 weeks per year. And several it was 1 week per year, with a 2 week minimum.

      From what I understand when layoffs have happened, the policies were followed at those companies.

      We now get our paystubs electronically on a website, and access is removed when you are not employed anymore. A former co-worker who was taking another job out of state attempted to buy a house, and had delays because he had to request copies of his last paystubs. (So even if it’s available online, it can take 2-3 weeks for copies to be mailed to you…) My thumb drive is now my best friend.

      1. Blinx*

        But some companies have more severance, so it really pays to find out. Some of a base of 6 weeks plus X weeks per year. One company I worked at, you got 6 months if you only worked there a year! That was special circumstances, though, since the entire site was closing after a merger. (Too bad I was a contractor there and got zippo). But at all companies I worked at where layoffs were officially announced and employees had sit-downs with management, everything was spelled out on paper, so you knew where you stood. Employees can’t be kept in the dark.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Very cool response, OP. I am getting the idea that you will definitely land on your feet.

      And, yeah, they can take your job that is one thing. But if they take your integrity, that is a whole different story.

    3. Guest 1*

      A few other things to think about:

      1). Written policies can get changed without notice to eliminate severance benefits, so don’t rely on any severance policy that you see. Several companies reduced (or eliminated) severance benefits a few weeks before large layoffs.

      2. Are you sure that your company isn’t doing this to try to eliminate having to pay severance and unemployment benefits by making things so uncomfortable that people jump instead of waiting around?

      3. Check to see if you have any benefits (like company matches for a 401(k) plan) that aren’t fully vested, so you’re not surprised.

      Sorry to be so cynical and vicious about companies, but I’ve experienced a few companies who were laying off people and tried to make them leave instead of paying severance and unemployment. Uncertainity and poor morale plays into the hand of companies like that. They didn’t tell us about possible layoffs because they cared about their employees. They told us about them (and then left us in limbo while increasing the pressure) to benefit their bottom line.

    4. mh_76*

      As the others have said, do look for a new job but don’t leave yours until you either are laid off or have something new.

      If you wind up being laid off, file for unemployment (UI) as soon as you can. You’ll have to tell them about your severance package, how long it will last, and how much it’s for (some places do a lump-sum payout instead of a severance period).

      If your state law mandates that accrued vacation be paid out, ask the UI people if that is taken into account when you file for UI or not (I honestly don’t remember, that layoff was 2006 and the ones since were from w2-contract jobs w/ no vaca. benefit).

      My own layoff story is that I was the only one laid off at that time (job was eliminated because of an org chart change) and I got to choose between a lump-sum severance payment or a severance period with pay & benefits (I chose the latter), both with a dollar value of 1 week’s pay per full year employed (I was in year 7 at X Univ so I got 6 weeks). The layoff happened mid-July and I took the severance period as a “summer stay-cation”.

  18. Andrew*

    The best book on carrying on at a company that’s laying off people and slowly dying is actually a novel, “Then We Came to the End,” by Joshua Ferris. Just brilliant.

  19. Anonymous*

    I agree with Alison as to not look at a possible severance package as a lifeline, but rather as a probably safety net; even though it’s there you don’t want to have to use it. Look for another job right away.

    Also, I know it sounds tempting, but don’t try to “sabotage” the company. Even if they are being jerks about the impending layoffs by making you work harder, you gain next to nothing by attempting sabotage except for possible litigation, not to mention the countless amount of bridges you’ll burn from those who will have to pick up your mess. Layoffs suck, but they are that unenviable aspect that managers have to do.

    Finally, I have a love/hate relationship with “Who Moved my Cheese?” It’s one of those books that I think is used for the wrong reasons moreso than the right ones.

  20. Anonymous*

    In Pennsylvania a lump-sum severance does not count against unemployment, but severance paid out like a paycheck delays unemployment until the end of the severance. There’s a two-week waiting period before you can receive unemployment, but you don’t have to apply for jobs during those two weeks.

    Once you start receiving unemployment, you must apply for the required number of jobs per week and keep the documentation for two years.

    You can do temp and casual work while on unemployment (as long as you report it — it will reduce your benefit), but if you are a graphic artist or programmer or someone else who can freelance, you can lose unemployment because you are thought to have “started your own business,” and if you have started a business you are assumed to be employed all the time. regardless of the reality.

    From what I hear, people in Pennsylvania who routinely work two jobs to make ends meet really get screwed by unemployment, because if they get laid off from a full-time job and keep the second, part-time job it reduces their unemployment or wipes it out entirely.

    New Jersey, last I knew, seemed to have more educational benefits available to laid-off workers.

    1. mh_76*

      you must apply for the required number of jobs per week and keep the documentation for two years

      Wow! MA wants 3 job-search activities per week (even updating your “marketing materials” counts as do support-group meetings and a whole bunch of other things). If you’re in the first stage of UI (pre-extension), they only track for randomly-selected people (3x on UI and I’ve never been picked) but track everyone in the final-extension-stage. There is a way to freelance but I’d have to look that up. I don’t know if there’s a way to get UI after a freelance/independent gig ends but I’ll look that up soon as that’s the “boat” I’m currently in.

      I feel for you in PA! Best of luck!

  21. some1*

    #2 Happened to me in a round of layoffs, and honestly as hard as it was, I don’t think I would have liked to have notice about it. I was already looking anyway and had a job interview lined up.

    My friend told me that she learned in business school that a manager should always pretend everything is the status quo before layoffs come down, not sure why. The morning I was let go my boss sent me a meeting request for the weekly dept meeting.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The reasoning for that is that companies don’t want people who aren’t being laid off to hear that layoffs are coming and start looking for another job. They especially don’t want to lose their best people, who are the most likely to be able to find a new job quickly.

      They also don’t want sabotage from unethical employees who are angry about being let go.

      1. anon-2*

        The reality is – however – that the best employees tend to flee after a layoff. The mindset is “I COULD BE NEXT”.

        There are always aftershocks after a layoff. If you want to lay off 10 — you lay off SEVEN. You’re going to lose three more.

  22. Ashish*

    When we do downsizing should we give future notice to the employees..??or tell them on the day and expect to leave the job on the same day..??

  23. Ts*

    What my work is doing is laying off people left right and center the count is at 12 then turning around and asking the senior employees for overtime . How is that possible?

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