It’s been 10 years now since I left BFGoodrich — after working with that company in Akron for 29 years. And I exited with a severance payment much more favorable than most people receive — unless you’re a college football coach. Still it bothers me after all these years when people lose or give up jobs they don’t want to leave — unless it’s the head of Lehman Brothers or a similar douche bag.
Man, I’m grouchy today. Don’t run on Thursdays — maybe I better start.
Anyway, the short story at Goodrich is this. The company in 1998 acquired Coltec Industries, a competitor headquartered in Charlotte. Then Goodrich’s CEO, Dave Burner, announced that he had decided to relocate Goodrich’s headquarters in Akron to Charlotte — for reasons that were vigorously discussed in the Akron Beacon Journal, The Plain Dealer and elsewhere for months. Anyway, after a year or so of contentious antitrust litigation and congressional hearings, the deal was done and more than a hundred or so of us who were part of the corporate staff were left in Akron for a variety of reasons, some personal, some business, some unexplainable. Trust me.
So I look at staff reductions — voluntary or involuntary — these days with a little more skepticism than most detached obversers. And I know that this is a tough situation for the employees involved and for their families. It’s also a difficult time for those members of management who do have some empathy for others and an ethical backbone — and for those employees who remain following the departure of friends and colleagues. Two stories this week caught my attention.
First, The New York Times reported Saturday that thousands of white-collar employees left Chrysler the day before Thanksgiving as part of a “voluntary reduction program.” The goal: reduce salaried staff by 25 percent or 5,000 or more. Those leaving received buyout offers for as much as $100,000, depending on length of service. Those staying — well, good luck. But it’s a difficult choice either way, particularly if you figure you are going to need a paycheck again anytime soon. This, folks, is the kind of decision that keeps you up well into the night, every night.
So having been there and done that a decade ago, let me offer some modest — and genuinely sincere — advice to those at Chrysler, The Plain Dealer and to the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of others who left jobs or will leave in the not-to-distant future.
- The severance payment — no matter how generous — will only last for a while. Put together some modest plan for how to best manage the money. And since it generally comes in a lump sum — on top of regular earnings during the year — expect a huge tax bite — maybe as much as 40 percent or more (federal, state, local, Social Security). If given the option of talking to a financial adviser as part of a severance package, do it. And few, if any, organizations will do this, but if given the option of spreading the payments out over an extended period of time, consider doing that.
- Make sure you understand what happens to your medical benefits — and how long they will continue, if at all. By law you can extend those benefits — but generally it is extremely expensive. Still, it may be an alternative. Ask about COBRA.
- If outplacement service is part of the severance — take advantage of it. It’s helpful just to polish your resume and interview skills, if nothing else. If you are going to be looking for another full-time job, consider that the job search should be full time. Professionals can help here. And if this isn’t offered as part of the severance package, ask for it. It’s a low-cost benefit for your former employer to toss your way.
- If the severance package — or your medical benefits — includes counseling, take advantage of it. Most people don’t want to admit this — I didn’t — but leaving an employer on less-than-pleasant circumstances is difficult. People react differently, but having concerns (fears?) and self-doubt about the future are common.
- Related to the point above, talk to your family. Make sure your children understand what is happening. They will have concerns as well. Let them know it is going to be OK. It will be.
That last point is really where I want to end. When I left Goodrich I figured my career was over in my early 50s. That it would be impossible to find a job equivalent to the one I had. And then I had the opportunity to do something that I always wanted to do: teach. I was fortunate enough to join the journalism faculty at Kent State — and the eight years I spent in the classroom were much more rewarding — personally and professionally — than if I had remained at Goodrich. And it would have been almost impossible to have left Goodrich voluntarily — because of the pay and the pension benefits.
And yet anyone who says this isn’t a tough time for someone who has just been laid off — or who has left a job because of an uncertain future — hasn’t been there. It’s difficult. It’s draining — emotionally and financially. It’s also an opportunity. Best wishes.