3 Steps to Protect Yourself When Your Job is Unexpectedly Terminated


You show up for work a few minutes early, just like you have for the last five years. After pouring a cup of coffee, you head for your desk. And then you see it — a hand-written message, saying your boss needs to meet with you as soon as you arrive.

It’s a bit out of the ordinary, but you grab your notepad and head for her office.

You’re surprised when she stands to greet you, especially when she shakes your hand — because you just saw her yesterday. You notice she seems unsettled, more businesslike than usual.

And then she begins:

“You’ve been a real asset to the company, and the years you’ve spent here have been good ones. But with the reorganization, we’ve had to make some changes and, unfortunately, your position is being eliminated. I’m really sorry to see this happen, but I know someone with your talent won’t be out of the game for long. Take the rest of the day to tie up loose ends and check with the HR department to make arrangements for your severance, the transfer of your health insurance, your 401K . . . .”

The rest of it hits you as a dull roar, a blur of words you can’t process.

The phrase, “your position is being eliminated,” keeps repeating inside your head. You suddenly realize the boss has finished speaking, and she’s waiting for your response.

I’ve been receiving lots of emails from folks who are concerned about the future of their job, especially after returning to work following the Covid shutdown. They may have been working remotely or been given time off while the company offices were closed.

But now, a lot of businesses are re-evaluating the cost of maintaining all that office space, meaning they’re consolidating job responsibilities and functions. And that’s resulting in cutbacks and the elimination of positions that are no longer necessary in a post-pandemic recovery.

Let’s face it, being told your job — or you! — have been terminated can make you feel like you’ve been attacked.

The most common reaction is the feeling that you’ve been blindsided.

You’re filled with questions . . . Why me? Why now? Why wasn’t I a part of the discussion before they made the decision? Can’t we talk about this?

And then you feel the anger building. This is not only unfair, but it’s also illegal — or it should be. You want to lash out, tell the boss exactly how you feel.

But I’m telling you, don’t do it.

Even though your brain is reeling, you must respond as a professional.

Here’s why: The first words out of your mouth — your initial reaction after receiving the news of your termination — are the words that will be remembered. Yes, you’re ready to explode, but you must temper your reaction with perspective.

If you’re on the verge of losing it, simply say, “I understand.” Then add, “I appreciate it coming from you. We’ve had a good relationship, and I know it’s never easy for a supervisor to terminate someone.”

Why take the boss’s decision with such diplomacy?

Like it or not, you must do everything you can to preserve the relationship with your boss. She is a vital source of recommendation. And although you want to vent your anger and frustration directly at her, you’ll gain nothing and end up hurting yourself professionally.

Yes, it may be difficult to evaluate her potential influence on your future career — especially through a cloud of disappointment and anger. But her recommendation is one of the few remaining assets the company can provide. So don’t blow it.

Your post-employment relationship with your employer must be about you.

If you’re selected for termination, you must continue to present yourself as a professional during the exit phase and beyond. And that means no flipping off the boss as you turn in your company car keys, or including a letter of dissent and accusation with your exit documents.

Any negative input from you will become ammunition that management and HR can use to torpedo your future career, especially if you stay in the same industry.

So what’s your next move?

Remember, management often does the wrong things to the wrong people. Whether you were caught in a widely-cast net of layoffs or singled out for termination because of a comment you made to the VP’s wife at the Christmas party, your stellar past performance and contributions to the company won’t buy you another minute behind your desk. The die is cast. You’re leaving, and now, you must turn your attention to making a professional exit.

And that includes using every advantage in the time you have left to make your transition to a new employer as financially stable as possible.

Unfortunately, you may not be given the opportunity to exploit the company’s resources and relationships to your advantage. It’s not unusual for a dismissed employee to be required to leave the premises immediately. For reasons having to do with intellectual property theft, preservation of the workplace atmosphere, rumor control, and reduction of wrongful termination lawsuits, the immediate removal of a terminated employee has become common.

So what do you do after you’ve turned in your keys to the office, received your last expense reimbursement check, and packed all your personal items into the trunk of your car?

1. Your first move is to formulate a transition plan.

That means taking a step back from the emotional fallout and looking at the specifics of your situation.

Start by establishing a financial timeline. When the income from your job stops, how long can you survive financially, based on your current resources? Don’t just estimate or speculate based on a best-case situation. These need to be quantifiable measurements. For example, how long will your savings last? How long will your severance package last?

Understand that you never want to evaluate a severance package in the same way as your savings account or other cash-equivalent investments such as your stock portfolio. Your personal assets are in your possession, and under your control. But a severance package isn‘t. Until your severance is received via a company check clearing your bank or is irrevocably transferred from the company’s account to yours, you can’t rely on it.

Companies change their policy. They rationalize exceptions to previous agreements. So consider any severance you receive as a bonus. And if you’re given the option of a lump-sum payout, I recommend taking the lump-sum right upfront.

2. Next, set up a working draft of possible courses of action and their probable results.

This can take the form of an outline, a list, or a logic-flow diagram. Include your short-term options as well as your long-term career goals. This kind of planning can be extremely helpful, especially when emotion and the overwhelming nature of the circumstances can leave you distraught or on the edge of panic.

3. Third, evaluate the advice from others based on what they have to gain or lose from your decision.

Remember, the opinions and input of others carry no guarantee of making you happy or providing you with satisfaction in the long term. That’s up to you. Relying too much on the advice of others may provide a scapegoat for an unsatisfying future, but you’re still the one who will have to deal with the results of making choices that were ultimately wrong for you.

I’ll leave you with this

In any kind of professional transition, you want to give your brain the best environment in which to work. For example, this could mean taking a walk when you hit a wall or waiting until the following day to accept or reject a new offer of employment.

The old adage of allowing your mind to “sleep on it” actually helps your brain generate possible solutions.

Realize that confusion is the mind’s natural “holding” state until it reaches an answer. Neuro-linguistic research has long held that “feeling confused” indicates your brain is actively working on a solution. If an answer doesn’t eventually present itself, it’s usually a sign you need additional information about one or more of the options under consideration.

Maintain the basic routines your body needs to preserve good health.

I also think it’s important to continue as many “normal” activities in your life as possible. If you usually go to the park with your dog on Tuesdays and Fridays, make an effort to keep going. If you typically set aside Sunday afternoons to tend to a garden, read the next chapter in a favorite novel, or play a round of golf, try to retain that schedule.

Life change is best accomplished by altering one situation at a time.

And while you’re in the process of replacing your job, it’s best to keep as many of your positive life rituals as possible, knowing they can provide a sense of stability as you explore new options during this phase of your life.

© 2021 Roger Reid. All Rights Reserved.

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