Life@Work Lessons: When the Unthinkable Happens

I’ve had a rich and varied career so I have decided to share some of my experiences (good and bad) in this series which I’m calling Life@Work. My hope is these experiences can help others in some way.

To reinforce, after my previous post, I loved my job at Expedia. Tasked with building the corporate communications team, I assembled a fantastic group of people and together we changed the way the company presented itself to consumers and the industry.
I was moving fast, toggling between Expedia Inc (the corporate entity being spun out of IAC/Interactive) and I lobbied for the creation of a VP position and happily my wish was granted. Or so I thought.

The lady hired for the position (let’s call her “W”) was neither qualified, nor confident – a dangerous combination. I was happy to have another person in place and went out of my way to set her up for success but from the first day, it was obvious my days were numbered.

She had me reporting to a consultant she’d insisted had to come with her to the company. I learned later she would send emails from her boss to this guy. He’d write a reply and she would send it. He was a nasty piece of work who was eventually fired for sexual harassment…but I digress.

Long story short, I was made redundant fairly quickly. Reorganization I was told. It had absolutely nothing to do with me. Over the following few months, the majority of my team either received the same treatment or quit. W herself was eventually walked out as well.

In my situations, I walked into a meeting and W was sitting there with someone from HR. While I was in the meeting, they cut my network connection and removed my laptop. I was given a separation package and walked to my car by security.
Most people never experience this so if and when it happens, it tends to be a shock. Here are some tips that might help.

In general:

  • Back up your phone, files and contacts on a regular basis. You will likely not have access to them once the termination process has started.
  • Keep copies of your performance reviews. If there are ever any questions about your performance, these are handy docs to have.
  • Funny business. Most of us don’t have to deal with crazies in our work life but if your spidey sense tells you something’s not quite right, it doesn’t hurt to make some notes.

In the termination meeting:

  • Don’t panic. There’s a good chance this has little to do with you and even if it does, it’s probably a sign this job is not a good fit for you.
  • Cause or no cause? The state of Washington is an at-will employment state and very few companies make you sign a contract that has a “termination without cause” clause.
  • Reason. In a respectful manner, make sure you ask why you’re being terminated. Any reasonable employer will tell you.
  • Be graceful. Whatever happens, take the high road. That meeting is not the time to dispute your termination. Ask who your future contact at the company should be and make sure you get their card.
  • Exit stage left. It’s likely you’ll be walked out of the office. HR types do this to minimize the chance of dramatic scenes – on the part of the person being terminated or other staff around them.
  • Your “stuff”. In some situations, your employer will box up your belongings and send them to you. In others, you will be allowed to pack a box while being supervised. If you have things on your work computer, you may have to ask for access as your computer will often be removed

After the fact:

  • Separation agreements: generally, you will not be asked to sign anything in the moment.
  • Legal advice: it’s always a good idea to have a legal expert review any agreement before you sign, as they’ll be familiar with norms re severance, etc.
  • Letter of reference: if you’re departure is truly related to a reorganization or reduction in workforce, it’s reasonable to ask either for a letter of reference or a personal reference from your previous manager. Some companies have policies that forbid this however so don’t be upset if it’s not possible.
  • Outplacement: sometimes as part of your separation package, you will be offered outplacement services aimed at helping you find another job. Its worth considering as theses services can offer valuable tools, techniques and networking opportunities. (I’ll write more about this in a future post). 

Deep breath! I’m a big believer that when one door closes, another one opens. By remaining positive and open to new things, you’ll be well positioned to look for new opportunities.

While you’re first instinct may be to panic, I encourage you to think of this change as a unique chance to step outside your day-to-day and consider what you want (rather than have) to do as a next step.

More to come on setting yourself up for success in a future post!


One thought on “Life@Work Lessons: When the Unthinkable Happens

  1. Jason: I felt my heart pounding again, just as it did when I sat with “W” and HR for the same humiliating conversation, my computer was taken, and my programs were all appropriated by W. She took credit for everything I had done (you can read about them in her professional bios today). We both moved on, and we’re both better off for it. But it still makes me ill, thinking of what happened. I wrote a scene I’d love to share with you. It appeared in a slightly different form in my first novel, Putt for Show. If you’d ever like to read the first person version (names changed to protect the guilty), let me know, and I’ll send it to you. Best of luck back in Seattle, friend. Marj

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