Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Leaving Gracefully After You Have Been Let Go

Companies terminate employees for all kinds of reasons.  Budgets get cut, accounts get lost, new people come and they want their own team; sometimes business is just bad.  Sometimes the cutback is foreseen and occasionally it is a complete surprise. But if you are terminated, for whatever reason you are given, you must leave gracefully. Never lose your temper, no matter how angry you are.

There are two critical factors in a termination.  The first is severance and the second is references.  Both are usually negotiable to some extent.

Most larger companies have policies which govern the amount of severance allowed.  Sometimes an outgoing employee may be able to negotiate for more, depending on the circumstances.  Companies will generally stick by policy, at least initially, but, if pushed, can be persuaded to grant a longer period of pay, especially if they are approached in a friendly, non-confrontational way. 


For some senior employees, a friendly, non-threatening lawyer’s letter may do the trick (A lawyer’s letter is a lawyer’s letter, no matter how nicely it is written.  There is always an implicit threat in a letter from a lawyer. However, what is not wanted is to push the company to the wall because the company inevitably has deeper pockets than you do).  The truth is that corporate management actually understands this tactic.

But, in the long run, upon exiting a job, the most important thing may be negotiating for references.  References may determine your ability to get your next job.  Even if you have not liked the job or liked the person you reported to, asking for a reference should be something which every departing employee does, regardless of the circumstances of the termination.

Now, there is actually some legal mumbo-jumbo which, in New York State, prevents a reference of any kind.  The law basically says that you cannot prevent someone from obtaining employment.  So the way companies handle that is that they periodically tell their staff that they may not give references of any kind – good or bad.  Most managers disregard that entirely, especially if they know and like the person asking for the reference. 

However, a departing employee must negotiate with former associates and managers for references, regardless of the corporate policy about giving them. 

The time to do it is while still physically there, if possible.  It is important to have a face-to-face meeting to determine what people will or will not say about your employment and your skills. 

Regardless, it should be done immediately, not weeks or months later.

The one thing which is most essential is not to ever trash the company or its people.  I just heard a story about a gentlemen who was terminated. His firing came as a surprise to him.

So, when he was being terminated, he lost his temper with the president of the company.  Rather than smile as best he could, he proceeded to yell at the president and spew out all the venom which had built up during his employment. The result of the tantrum was that he was not given planned severance and he certainly will not get a good reference. 

I know this happens with some frequency, but allowing your temper to get the best of you, is career suicide.  People have long memories.

The best policy is to swallow hard and suck it up.  Your well-being is at stake.  If, in the case just mentioned, the fired employee had discussed the situation in a calm and friendly manner, he might have been able to determine what would be said to potential employers.

Also remember, while people will call your list of references, they may also just call people not on your reference list, including your previous employer.  And one of the most important references may be your previous company.

Leaving gracefully is smart business.


  1. Of course one should never lose their temper … whether being fired; in a meeting; or just talking with family or friends. It’s an undisciplined and thoughtless thing to do, and usually ends with personal regrets later. I know, because I've come close a couple of times (in both cases over length of notice; severance pay; and new biz commissions due.) And “burning bridges” is never a good thing.

    At the same time, keeping one’s “cool” with grace and dignity is very hard to do when you know you’re getting screwed and the other guy or gal, who knows it too, won’t admit it or doesn’t even seem to care. Especially tough to take when you’re immediately thereafter escorted by an HR person or security guard back to your office to pack your things, and then led directly out the front door. Building pass revoked; security codes deleted; access to office PC, Mac, or voicemail denied; etc. If you’re an experienced senior exec, you know the drill. It really sucks!

    So while I certainly appreciate Paul Gumbinner’s POV here, there are two sides to every coin and I would like to see a follow up article from him on how agency employers could clean up their acts.

    Most senior execs anticipate such misfortune and mistreatment under bad circumstances (because they’ve seen it before), but what about our “rookies” and “juniors” who don’t know yet? Because when they see it or read about it happening at the top, they can only imagine what might happen to them being at the bottom or middle of the heap. And so much for loyalty … on both sides of the equation.

    All of which is to say, If somebody (at any level) has to be “let go, terminated, layed-off, fired”, or whatever one wants to call it, at least do it with some humanity and allow that person to maintain their dignity.

    As for company and personal references to future potential employers, I encourage all to remember that people are most interested in “the bad” about you. So watch what you post on Facebook, Twitter, et al.

    Look forward to Paul’s next follow-up article or commentary on this subject, given my points-of-view. Bill Crandall

    1. I have written about this before, Bill. Being treated as a criminal really sucks. However, being able to negotiate for references is the most important issue on the way out. And while I detest the way some companies handle a termination, there is no excuse to losing one's temper.

  2. To build on Paul's idea about a lawyer's letter - starting the conversation yourself - with your attorney's advice is always smart and less threatening. If you leave gracefully and with good relationships you can start a negotiation off on a friendlier note and hopefully get to an agreement that works for you and your former employer.

    1. Good point, Susan. You are totally right. Thanks.

  3. I have been reading and enjoying your posts for quite a while. I find them extremely smart and informative.You have been kind enough to encourage comments and discussion and unfortunately due to my position, I feel I must make this comment anonymously. I don't know how you are able to keep your temper with @Bill Crandall! His comments are often incorrect, and while you encourage comments and obviously enjoy brisk discussion, I am not sure writing his own posts and grandstanding on another person's blog is good etiquette...

  4. As an anonymous poster, I second the anonymous post above. Bill, why not start your own blog instead of instructing Paul what he should be writing about and using his blog as a soapbox for your point of view on every subject that Paul goes to the trouble to explore?

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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