In January I will have been with the same company for 25 years. It is privately owned and has no HR department. About five years ago I spoke with the owner about where he thought the company was going and he assured me things were fine and to ‘trust’ him. I know he personally is financially secure and I have no problem with that, but the $600 a year profit sharing isn’t going to get me very far as a retirement fund. I was given a very good raise a few years ago and make a good salary now. But, with the company running on a skeleton crew it is stressful. There is another person at the company that is capable of doing my job that I am sure is getting paid way less than I am and does not participate in our health insurance program. I sometimes get the feeling the owner resents paying my salary along with his half of my health insurance. To tell the truth the atmosphere is very stressful.

I know this seems really odd, but I was wondering if you thought approaching the owner about letting me go with some sort of a severance package would be really out of line? I have been looking the want ads, but with the economy and the unemployment so high I really have to question whether someone would hire me (someone with a good paying job) over an unemployed person? I think the company would save money by letting me go and I do appreciate the loyalty but would like to move on.

If you see any hope in this how would you approach the owner?

First let’s address the asking for severance portion. Yes, I’ve seen this done. I’ve seen people ask for severance and be given it and I’ve seen people told no. It is usually successful when your manager really wants you to be gone. Then you’re just offering to make it simple for him to get rid of you.

I’m not sure this is the case with you. I don’t think you’re a bad employee, just that you are overpaid. Let’s assume, for a moment, that you are overpaid. One of your big concerns is that the miniscule profit sharing program isn’t helping your retirement. Well, I’ve got bad news for you: If you are already over paid any new job you find isn’t going to come with fabulous profit sharing. You’ll end up with LESS money then before and still won’t have anything for retirement.

Even though you’ve worked here for 25 years, you can’t expect them to take care of your retirement. You need to change your lifestyle to save money, regardless of profit sharing dollars.

I also suspect you’re not ready to hit the job market quite yet. Why? You mention “looking through the want ads.” I’m pretty sure that’s an indication that you don’t realize how the job market has changed in the 25 years since you last job hunted. Want ads are generally a waste of time. Online job boards are better, but still not super. (Although, for full disclosure, I will say that I got my last job through, so it does work, but it is one of many methods.) If you want a new job, you need to network.

This may be difficult because you’ve been in the same company for so long. It’s time to start contacting former co-workers, current friends and family and let them know you are looking for a change. You need to figure out what companies you want to work for and then figure out how to get hired. Want ads are not the way to go.

The economy is terrible, so don’t count on getting even a huge chunk of severance and then walking into a new job the next week. Even a large severance payout may not be enough to see you through to a new job, which may well pay less than your current one.

I realize I’m being as comforting as a bunch of frozen porcupines, but this is reality.

Unless the writing on the wall is that your boss wants you to leave, and that he’s actively documenting reasons to fire you, I think you’d be foolish to ask for severance at this point. He may take you up on it, give you 6 weeks pay and send you out the door, and then what will you do?

If he has a history of giving out large severance payments, that’s a different story, but I doubt he does. Most small business don’t, and I doubt he’s ever addressed something like this before.

Severance sounds fabulous. It’s money for sitting on your behind. Yeah! Except that money eventually runs out. Plus, you’d have to pay for COBRA or get other health insurance, which will run you a lot more than what you’re paying now.

Find a new job, then quit. Unless you’re going to be fired. Then ask for severance. Just be direct. “Bob, I know you are unhappy with my performance. I’m willing to leave in exchange for 6 months severance. I’ll sign a general release as well. Let me know what you think.” And then you negotiate from there. If he wasn’t planning to fire you, though, this tells him flat out that you’re unhappy and may make your life worse.

Keep in mind that you’re an at will employee and he’s not required to give you any severance.

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10 thoughts on “Asking For Severance

  1. I have been looking the want ads, but with the economy and the unemployment so high I really have to question whether someone would hire me (someone with a good paying job) over an unemployed person?

    Because that didn't come up in the response: it's not true. People would rather hire someone who is employed than someone who is unemployed. It will immediately be harder to find a job if you leave the one you already have.

  2. Plus, if you leave the way you're proposing, I'm not sure you'd be eligible for unemployment, which could be a problem once your severance runs out. (And how much severance is this guy really going to give you, if he's the type who resents paying for your health insurance?)

    Why not just talk straightforwardly to your boss and tell him your fears of how he feels and see what he says? Maybe your worries aren't correct and this is all for nothing. It would suck to leave your job over fears that aren't real.

  3. Evil HR Lady,

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    Clay C. Scroggin

  4. Yes – new position, graceful resignation. I'd also try to inject some positive energy to prevent loss of the job I'm holding now.

  5. I have to agree about staying in your job while you seek another position. It is infinitely easier to find a job from a job then being unemployed. No matter what you tell a prospective employer about the reason you left your last job and your severance agreement, etc. it won't matter. Prospective employers will be afraid to look at you.

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