I have been with my organization for over seven years and have recently been told that I am being laid off. The organization has been going through a series of massive transitions – including multiple rounds of lay-offs for over three years – but I thought I was safe as I had survived each round so far. Although I have some serious issues with how management has handled these changes and the new direction the organization seems to be going in, I have done my best to be a good team player and often pitched in to fill multiple human gaps beyond my job description over this time period. I feel really angry and let down by my organization. I am in the process of wrapping up and negotiating my severance package but struggling to find the motivation to do so. Any advice?
We definitely empathize with you. Being laid off is tough at the best of times but it is especially difficult before the holidays – especially if you did not anticipate getting your notice and feel blindsided by it. Regardless of the circumstances of whose choice it was, leaving a job well is critically important in order to maintain your professional reputation, positive job references from this position and strong relationships within your professional network. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare to move on:
Get ready to leave sooner rather than later. Although it may be tempting to drag your end date out to buy yourself some time, it is rarely in your interest (or your employer’s) to stay around for a lengthy period after notice has been given on either side. Even when the decision to leave is your choice and you have the best of intentions of doing a thorough and complete handover, once the decision to leave has been made, it is often very difficult to keep your motivation and focus on your old responsibilities. We recommend negotiating a speedy transition with any extra time paid out so that you can begin your job search for the next chapter in your career.
Do your research and get prepared to negotiate your severance package. Each province and territory in Canada has a provincial ministry of labour responsible for setting the standards of employment law within their jurisdiction. Additionally, many nonprofit organizations contracts also include a section outlining the severance benefits they offer – with benefit levels usually tied to length of service. Before entering into any negotiations, make sure you clearly understand the minimum standards of severance you are entitled to under your ministry of labour and what, if anything, your organization offers in your contract or its human resource policies. Keep in mind that both your organization and the ministry outline the minimum severance owed to you. Depending on the circumstances, there is often room to negotiate based your age, tenure at the organization and any legal precedents regarding how long it will realistically take you to find another job – an option many employees forgo because they don’t think it is available to them. In addition to a financial payout, there are also other benefits you can negotiate such as career coaching to help you make the transition, a contribution towards an educational program or a letter of recommendation. Don’t be shy – do your research, consult legal experts if needed, reflect on what benefits would be the most important to you and start the conversation from there!
Proactively find out what is most important to your employer for your wrap up and handover – and get started. Positive word of mouth about you and your work is valuable currency in the Canadian nonprofit sector. Take initiative by discussing with your employer and any relevant colleagues about what your handover priorities, process and timelines should be. Demonstrate your professionalism and expertise as someone who has actually been in the job by making suggestions or providing your own views on what the priorities should be in terms of the best interest of the organization and why. Once you have agreement on the priorities, do your best to keep the deadlines and make sure all the relevant people have the information they need to pick up the work in your absence.
Get your network contacts and reference information in order. This is a good time to do some maintenance on your networking building skills. Who do you want to keep in contact with – personally or professionally – within the organization? The stakeholders, clients and partners you have worked with? In addition to broadly announcing your departure and the transition point of contact for your work to the organization’s internal and external networks, make a list of the people you want to establish a relationship outside of this position. Either by phone or email, let each of them know that you would like to stay in contact with them, why and provide your personal contact information. Once they have accepted your offer to stay in touch, make sure you add them to your social media networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook. This is also a good time to clarify with your employer how reference requests will be handled. References from past employers are not a guaranteed employment right. Clarify if they will offer you a reference and, if so, what would they say about your time at the organization. Finally, make sure you ask how references will be handled if your immediate supervisor leaves the organization so that you can make an alternative plan if needed.
Put a preliminary plan in place. The last day can be emotional – whether it is a feeling of exhilaration or despair. Make sure you have a plan to take care of yourself on your last day of work and for a few days following. We advise putting some type of structure in place for those first few days before you start job hunting in earnest. Do you need to arrange to be surrounded by friends who can help you process or take your mind off things with fun activities? Or do you need to carve out some time alone for yourself to process such as planning time for to journal, take walks in nature or art galleries? We strongly encourage you to do whatever works best for you to transition into a new frame of mind and get ready for a new job search.
Nancy Ingram is a co-founder and Principal Consultant at Foot in the Door Consulting, which specializes in helping nonprofit professionals build sustainable, satisfying and values-driven careers. Nancy and Foot in the Door Consulting’s team of expert associates have over 45 years of collective experience on both sides of the hiring and management process in the nonprofit sector in variety of sectors including human rights, social justice, environmental justice and animal rights. They can be reached through www.footinthedoorconsulting.com.
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