Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Under the Gun: You’ve been written up twice or been told-you’re next-what do you do?

It is truly something that most of us do not want to think about; “you’re not cutting it here and we are giving you fair warning.” I know three people that were in this situation in the last few years, and I was in this situation early in my career. What do you do?

Case one) a professor has been told that his contract will not be renewed. This person has taught at the same place for very many years and is just three years from retirement. A new chairperson (who is not returning) has decided that this person has got to go.

This entire situation is insane from both perspectives. The professor is shell shocked, is over 40, and has taught at this particular school for over 20 years. His evaluations have been very sketchy and not well followed up on by the new chairperson; in fact, the chairman has only visited his class room once! This situation cries out for an unjust firing/age discrimination suit. The school is extremely exposed! On the other hand, the professor has been in denial. He has not sought out legal representation nor has he asked for a job reference (this is a negotiation tool). He has asked for another assignment but that request has been denied twice.

Case two) a long time employee (purchasing agent) is being pressured and has received a second warning about job performance. This person is most meticulous and cares deeply about giving excellent service, yet this person is experiencing extreme pressure from his boss and HR.

Case three) a very average customer service agent has been told that his job performance over the last few years has been lacking (and he has had confrontations with sales staff), and his supervisor has decided that if another reduction in force (staff reduction) should happen, that he will be the first person laid off (and will not be eligible to be rehired-in the very unlikely event this might happen). This does not exempt him from being terminated for cause if his performance should drop any further, but if it remains the same, he is advised that he will be first in line to go.

Let’s face the facts; it does not get any worse than this. Frankly all situations are similar in that none of these situations are salvageable. One might say couldn’t the person in the second example save his job with superior performance? Again sadly the answer is no.

Let review what might be done:

In situation one, the person has the beginnings of an age discrimination suit. He is over 40, and the school has done very shoddy due diligence. At this point in time and in all the situations, you need to start negotiations for what you can salvage, and face the fact that none of these negotiable items are your current job! In situation one this person definitely needs to consult with a legal professional! What should he go for: A good work reference and maybe his last 3 years salary as a payout with full benefits? He might also threaten to take the suit “public” as most schools hate bad publicity.

Situation two differs) the organization has dotted its “I” ‘s and crossed its “T” ‘s. Earlier I stated the employee is very professional (I have worked with this person before), and this does not describe her work. Frankly, this situation does not seem to be about job performance although job performance is being cited. There is something about this person her boss does not like, and frankly she will probably never know what truly was the problem. She has very smartly re-done her resume, contacted recruiters, and started to network both socially and professionally. The last thing she should do is gain some references from people inside the company who are allies, and should do this at the appropriate time.

Situation three) this person has been found wanting by his boss, not enough to be terminated but enough to be expendable. The company is contracting and another reduction in force will come at some point. If this person was well regarded in this company he might try to transfer departments, but he is not well liked and has had confrontations with other departments, nor will his boss recommend him for another post inside the company; further, many of his old allied have left the company for various reasons. This person really has no choice, he must depart the company. What he does have is time; time to look for a new start or maybe continue his education at the current company’s expense. If the company is paying for his education, he might prove to be an unappealing target if the company has sunk $20,000.00 into his education and bought his masters! Will this save him, probably not, but it does make him a more unappealing target at least to high level personnel people!

So if you find yourself under the gun, here are some positive ways to handle the situation: if you are immediately in danger of losing your job and you think its unfair at least speak with a labor attorney. If you are well thought of inside your company consider a lateral move if you are eligible. If you are not able to move inside the company, recruit allies (you can trust) and get references. Become an unappealing target, have the company start buying your education, a masters, or an appealing professional certificate. Mostly importantly plan your next move, keep your resume up to date, network both socially and professionally, and contact recruiters.

Most of all good luck!
(situations have been altered to protect the parties involved)

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