Arm yourself for layoff

A major corporate layoff is like a war...with everyone scrambling to salvage what they can from the wreckage. And the smart employees are the ones who figure out what's available and what's negotiable. What will you do if you're laid off? The time to think about it is now...not when it happens to you. Then you might be too stunned to act quickly. Here's what you need to know now:

Most companies are willing to give laid off employee’s severance pay. The standard is 1 week for every year of service. But try to negotiate for 2 (some companies are even willing to pay up to 3 weeks of pay for every year of service). It all depends on your contribution to the company and the precedent that has been set with others in the company who have been in a similar situation.

Executives frequently get six months to one year of severance pay-often with health benefits. However, with the volume of lay offs increasing, companies are reporting that fat severance packages are being trimmed significantly.

Ask for compensation for all unused vacations days. This is standard procedure but you should still go through your records to make sure all of your vacation days have been counted. For example, you may have "carried over" some vacation from the prior year that may get overlooked.

Negotiate for an extension on your health insurance coverage beyond the 18-month COBRA requirement. You may even be in a position to ask the company to pay all or part of your health care tab for a period of time.

Another benefit to negotiate for is outplacement services. An outplacement firm will help you find your next job and provide you with needed support.

Why not familiarize yourself with the local outplacement firms now, so you can negotiate for the one that will be the best fit for you? For instance, some outplacement programs might have the right price tag but provide limited services. The older you are and the longer you've been with your current employer, the more negotiating power you have. Be vocal about the fact that you are going to have a tougher time looking for a job because of your age and length of time with one employer.

If you are given a choice between severance pay and outplacement, choose carefully. The money might look tempting but be realistic about your job hunting skills. If you can't get a new job quickly, your severance pay isn't going to help you for long.

If outplacement services aren't an option, ask for office space with a phone and secretarial services for conducting your job search. Although this isn't an ideal situation, it's better than shuffling around in your bathrobe feeling sorry for yourself. You'll be forced to get dressed for "work" and you'll have a secretary to type letters and the phone bill will be paid. Another advantage is that employers will perceive you more favorably if you still look "employed."

The downside of this arrangement is that you might feel embarrassed in front of your former co-workers. And your co-workers will be distracted and confused by your on-site job hunt. There have been cases where the employee spread bitterness around the office. And sometimes the laid off employee believes that the lay off isn't real. ("If I keep doing my old job, maybe they won't ask me to actually leave...")

Find out what kind of reference your company plans to give you and get it in writing. Ask your former bosses to write a letter of reference, which includes a section explaining that the lay off had nothing to do with your performance. When you get the letter, read it carefully to make sure it says exactly what you want it to say.

In fact, you'd be wise to give your boss an outline of some key points and accomplishments to mention ahead of time. It will probably be greatly appreciated and it will improve your chances of getting a useable letter.

Because lay offs are becoming more common place, some companies are beginning to reduce the help they give to laid off employees. If you are ready to negotiate for what you need it will pay off when a pink slip comes.

Companies know that the help they provide to laid off employees not only helps get the employees back on their sends the right signals to the rest of the employees who are watching. The survivors of a lay off will be more productive and have better feelings toward the company if they know their fellow workers were helped.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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