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Warning: Profanity, cartoon violence.

So, there you are, sitting at your desk noding working when an IM window pops up:

Hi, YourNameHere. Could you come to the boardroom for a second, please?

That can't be good. Off you go. Please take my advice and hit the bathroom first, enduring what's about to happen with a full bladder makes a bad time a lot worse.

OK, so you've urinated, and you approach the meeting place. There's your manager, looking embarrassed, with somebody from HR nearby. There's s sealed manila envelope on the table. If you're unlucky there's a security guard too. Well, shit. It looks like this is it. You're about to experience a termination event, which will likely be a bit traumatic. Even if you could see it coming, it all feels a bit unreal while it's happening. I can't do anything about that, but what I can do is tell you what's about to happen, and why.

The event

You roll into the boardroom and sit down. Your about-to-be-ex-manager gives you a little speech. If you work for a bigger organization, it'll be scripted for him/her by the HR team and they have to stick to the formula. The manager may go as far as to dabble in some ironic vocal intonation and eye-rolling, but they have most likely been given strict instructions about following the script. For a smaller company they might be winging it, but if they have done this before, the result will be a lot similar to the script. It'll sound something like this:

"As you know, recently...blah blah blah some corporate bullshit...and unfortunately that means that we need to restructure our team. Please understand that we have explored every option before making this decision. As of today, your position with us is being terminated. We have a severance package for you here.

Slides over the envelope.

Catbert here from HR will now explain the severance package to you."

At this point Catbert will talk, but you'll probably be in shock and thinking about how you're going to pay the bills, so it'll pretty much sound like Charlie Brown's teacher. When that's done, you can try asking some questions, like "Whuuu?," but it won't really help, because mostly they can't answer them.

Behind the scenes

Your manager, if not a total jerk, probably feels pretty bad. He or she would like to be comforting, but just like a job interview, this is not an actual conversation, and there's no point in pretending that is is. There are two primary goals from their side of this meeting, and your comfort is secondary to these:

  • Don't get the company sued
  • Get this over with with a minimum of fuss

Unless you have the misfortune to be employed at will, your severance will have been carefully calculated by company lawyers to avoid the first bullet, and the manager's primary job is not to screw that up. The biggest way to screw that up is to give the impression that the termination is about performance, that is, for cause. Termination for cause has to follow a whole different process, usually including a performance improvement plan and a lot of paperwork. Almost everyone asks "Why me?" or "How could this have been avoided?" or something similar. Your now-already-ex-manager literally must not answer this question, or a swarm of leather-winged demons will pop out of the conference table and drag them to hell. Or so Catbert has strongly suggested.

If the security guard is there, you're about to be walked out. If you're lucky you can get your coat en route. You'll need to hand in your company assets: security badge, credit card, phone, etc. It's also possible that you'll get working notice in which you may have to train your replacement or otherwise go through the motions for a few weeks. All of your about-to-be-former coworkers will treat you like you have something dire and communicable, so it's better to be shown the door.

How to handle it like a pro

Please don't live tweet it. You'll be done soon, and you can mash out an update from the hallway.

Glance at the paperwork to get the 20,000 foot overview, so you know how screwed you are, but don't bother to pore through the details. They're not going to change while you sit there, and you probably can't focus anyway. Stick it back in the envelope and take it home. They can't make you sign it at the table, because lawsuit, so don't even consider it.

If you like your ex-manager, cut them a break and don't ask for reasons. They can't tell you and it just makes them feel even shittier. Plus, Catbert might chortle, and you really don't want that, it's creepy. You can probably get the scoop later, from your cow-orkers or even your ex-boss, over beer, sometime after you turn in the paperwork.

Thank your manager for the time you spent together, get up, and shake hands. You may ignore Catbert if you like but he/she is going to be your conduit to important documents later, so try not to set that bridge on fire. Don't unload on either of them, because you're going to need them later, for a reference if nothing else. Don't screw your future self by venting.

That said, it's OK to feel sad and a bit angry. It sucks, and no one will begrudge you a little bitterness. Shock will probably help you to keep it together long enough to get out of the office. It's probably best not to talk to your ex-colleagues unless it's a mass killing and you're all off to the pub. An informal farewell lunch will likely get organized so, though not by your ex-boss unless they're totally tone deaf, or about to get terminated too. (Sometimes they sack the manager after they've culled the team, which makes for a particularly shitty day.)

On the sidewalk

Now is a good time to say "Well, fuck." If you didn't drive, and they aren't asshats, they've offered you a cab. Take it (unless it's an uber and you have concerns about safety or uber's ethics, or both), this is not the time to be a martyr. Taking your stuff home in a box on the bus is not a good feeling.

Reviewing the severance package

You can go to a laywer if you want to. This will likely end up costing you a few grand, minimum, so unless you think you were really short-changed and can get more than that, think hard about whether it's worthwhile. This might be a good time to shake your professional network for advice, especially if this isn't the first round of cutbacks. Find out what others got and see if yours compares. Sometimes companies will lowball you a bit and have a second offer on ice. Other companies give you one shot. Make sure you know which it is. You can always ask for a small increment and see if they go for it or not.

You have a set amount of time, usually a week, to get back the signed copy. If you don't sign you are generally deemed to have rejected the package, and now you'll get the legal minimum unless you lawyer up. This is a David and Goliath thing, and unless you didn't really need to work anyway, it's probably not going to turn out well for you.

But I must express my rage!

Go to the pub with your pals. Try not to vent online. It's all archived somewhere, and perhaps your next prospective employer is going to find it. That's not going to be helpful to you.

What next?

That's beyond the scope of this writeup. One small bit of immediate advice: Keep your employer on the top of your LinkedIn profile at least as long as you are on severance. Headhunters won't reach out to you if they think you're not working, which ironically is just when you need them.


References

Personal experience on both sides. I live and work Ontario, Canada, so YMMV on the details. For example, it's my understanding that in Israel your severance is accumulated in advance by your employer, as set out in legislation, so there's no negotiation. This seems a lot better to me, I'd love to hear from someone who can speak to this.

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