These days, the grim reaper wanders the halls, spreadsheet in hand, shaking his head, and summoning you to that most dreaded place: the little tucked-away conference room on the second floor. There, awaiting your arrival, will be your supervisor and some generic person from Human Resources. You know what happens next. You get your "package", including a "separation agreement" that outlines your "final pay" including any pay for unused vacation, severance, and pay through the end of what now turns out to be your last day ever at your company.
Gone are the days of two-week notice, or pay in lieu of notice. Now you're looking at two to four hours notice before you need to be outta there, your company computer, BlackBerry, your company credit card and any other company-owned items turned in to the administrative assistant who probably knew two weeks ago that you'd be getting the axe.
If you're facing the prospect of a layoff, there are a few practical things that you can do ahead of time to help make this traumatic event.
Your Computer and BlackBerry
If you use your company laptop for personal as well as business purposes, consider keeping all your personal files on a flash drive or on CDs rather than on the hard drive. This will help in case of layoff, when you won't have much time to offload files. It will also help if you have computer problems and need the IT folks to take your computer.
Similarly, if you have non-business software installed, keep track of it at a minimum so you can try to uninstall it before your turn in you computer. Obviously, you'll want to delete your browsing history and cookies.
Do you have hundred of Outlook contacts that you want to keep? If they're synced with your BlackBerry and you can talk your boss into letting you hold onto the device for another day while you get another device, you should be able to have them transferred. I got mine from a BlackBerry to my new iPhone; a huge help. Also think about printing out your contacts, so at least you'll have the information if you need to keep in touch with people.
Your Office Stuff
If you see the Grim Reaper lurking around, it might be time to start bringing home your belongings. Don't make a big show of this; you want to stay under the radar. Every day, just bring home a few more items, particularly any that you wouldn't want other people handling or packing. There's always a chance that you'll be asked to leave and someone else will pack up your personal effects. Leave the visible stuff in place: framed certificates, plants, photos, but take home anything you don't need at the office. If nothing else, it will give you a sense of mastery and control in a turbulent time. If you do wind up getting the axe, your final day will also be a little easier as you make the Walk of Shame to your car with the office two-wheeler and those boxes of your stuff.
Leave everything that belongs to the company: stapler, tape, manuals. If you're feeling vengeful, you might also leave a sandwich or a piece of fruit in your desk drawer. Just sayin'. You can always claim that you were just too distraught to eat your lunch after getting laid off, and it just slipped your mind.
Your Work Stuff
Chances are, you've signed some sort of agreement that you won't take any company proprietary materials with you when you leave. For those of us who telecommute from time to time, some of that stuff lives at our house. Oh, well. If they want us out in a hurry, that's the chance they'll have to take.
I will leave it to you to exercise your conscience on this. If there are things that would help you in your next life - client lists, copies of reports you've written, electronic copies of presentations, marketing materials, guidance documents, and that sort of thing - now might be the time to make sure that hardcopy or electronic copies of these items will remain accessible.
A simple way to do this is to e-mail them to yourself as attachments. Please note: I'm not advising you to violate your company policy. Just show the same loving care and regard for your employer that they'd show for you. For example, when I was laid off, the company had unilaterally changed the severance policy from one week of severance per year of service to a maximum number of weeks regardless of years of service. That sort of sets the tone about their regard for "agreements". Again, just sayin'.
Your Work In Progress
Sad to say, much of your "work stuff" will end up being tossed in a recycle bin (or a shredder) as soon as you leave, because those who come after you will need the file space. Any work in progress will be handed off to other staff who may or may not have
the knowledge, time, or means to complete it as you would have.
One thing you can do to ensure that things are distributed to the right people is to label your files and note who should get them. You'll want to make sure that your hardcopy documents and electronic files are properly filed in general, because you don't want to spend your final hours dealing with that as your coworkers are stopping by to say goodbye.
Your Customers and Colleagues
Client service is often tossed into the shredder as well. Imagine your customer calling up tomorrow and being told that you're gone. Oh, well. Unless your employer has a succession plan to deal with such eventualities, it's "catch as catch can". Customers are left to figure it out, or to await a call from someone at your company explaining that they're the new account manager or point of contact.
If you're laid off, you'll want to notify your customers if at all possible. The easiest way is by e-mail before you surrender your computer, if you're not already locked out by IT. The key here is to stay classy, even if your temptation is to write:
"Hey, guys - I just got the axe. These f*cking jackasses think it's more important to keep VP's slacker nephew and dozens of useless managers on the payroll. I have no idea who's taking over my assignments, so good luck with that. You can reach me at email@example.com for now."that's probably not the best way to do it. Try something like:
"I've just learned that today will be my last day at [company]. I've enjoyed working with you and hope that we can connect again in the future. In the mean time, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org [or at 666-555-9876 if you want to include a phone number]. Gonebut Notforgotten"and PLEASE put all the recipients in the "bcc" field of the e-mail, not the "to" field. You can do separate group e-mails for customers and coworkers with different wording if you'd like.
Your employer may not want you to contact anyone. Clearly you won't have time to call your customers the day you're laid off, and frankly, you're not in any shape to do so. Just make sure that you have their contact information (again, printing out your Outlook contacts from time to time is a simple way to do it). When you call, stay classy. Whether or not you ever work with your customers again, you may want to use them as a reference for your future endeavors. As tempting as it is to malign your witless employer, keep in mind that your customers may still deal with them to fulfill contractual obligations.
Your Office Friends
One thing about being laid off: it clarifies who your friends are. Lots of people will stop by your office in those last few hours. Chances are they know you're laid off as soon as the axe falls. Sometimes sooner. They're feeling mixed emotions: sorry to see you go, relieved that you took their place in the volcano-toss.
Sadly, many people act as though you're now carrying "layoff cooties", and they'll consciously or subconsciously shun you. Others will mumble some useless platitudes like, "well, when one door closes, another door opens". Resist the urge to punch them. They're trying to be helpful. They have no idea that the door that just closed was a trap door, and when you fell through it, you broke both ankles and a collarbone and you're in no mood for their idiotic pronouncements.
Many will promise to "get in touch" and "do lunch". Don't take this to mean that you'll ever hear from them. Your true friends will keep in touch, drag you out to lunch, take you to a ballgame, commiserate with you, and help you weather your transition.
Be sure that you have a way to get in touch with people you value. Your company may block your e-mails from reaching your former co-workers. Try to exchange personal e-mails or see whether they're on LinkedIn or other social media while you're still employed. Cultivate the relationships that mean the most to you, and try not to worry about the rest of the folks.
References And Networking
Most corporations won't give out references. All they'll do is confirm your title and dates of employment. This is not especially helpful when you're trying to differentiate yourself in a job search.
If you've done good work for people other than your supervisor, see if you can get them to write a letter of recommendation for you or recommend you on LinkedIn while you're still employed. Offer to do the same for other people. We're all in this together, and your kindnesses will likely be repaid.
Try to maintain good relationships with influential people who can be helpful as references and as career advisers. Lots of people can be helpful: coworkers, managers, customers, partners, and vendors and suppliers. By treating everyone with respect and making them look good when you have the chance, you'll build a network to sustain you in the future.
If you belong to a professional organization, make sure you stay visible while you're employed. Network at meetings, work on subcommittees, give a presentation, or otherwise volunteer. Everyone you meet could be a potential link to your next job.
If you're working in a company where layoffs are always looming, you're likely feeling a lot of angst. You may develop "survivors' guilt" as you see your friends and coworkers being laid off. Rather than waiting for the axe to fall, take some of these steps to assert some control over your situation. You'll be making an investment in your future that can make a real difference, and I know that - if you've read this far - you're worth it ;-)