Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

01 Jul 2014, 23:42 p.m.

You Can (Sometimes) Negotiate When Being Laid Off

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2014 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Some of the details escape me now, but people may still find use in the tale of how I succeeded in negotiating a counterproposal when I got laid off several years ago.

Once upon a time, I was working as a project manager. The owners of the firm laid off some people, and then laid off more. The next time that I saw them sitting in the conference room looking unhappy for an entire Friday, I knew what would probably happen next.

One of them came out to ask for me. I came in and sat down. One of them started off with a sentence very much like, "So you know that we haven't been doing so well lately."

"Am I being laid off?" I asked.

They said yes.

"I have a counterproposal," I said.

They were surprised.

I explained that I was at that moment managing projects that would -- if managed properly -- have three billable deliverables finished within the next six weeks. If they laid me off immediately, they would not have nearly enough management bandwidth to ensure on-time completion. They needed the cash, so they really wanted to hit those deadlines.

So I offered to work at half my salary for the next six weeks and do my damndest to hit those deadlines.

They had to think about it, so I went back to my desk and started packing up my stuff. Slowly. My colleagues consoled me. More colleagues went into that room and came out and started putting their personal misc into boxes.

And then they left, and one of the owners took me aside and basically said yes, so I started unpacking.

On Tuesday, I think, I sat down with one of the owners briefly to talk him through the numbers. I showed him how much it would cost to pay out my vacation as a lump sum versus keeping me on for those several days, and one other variation I don't remember. I believe they chose the lumpsum option for some accounting reason.

I got two of the three projects done on time. I got a little more time and money and healthcare coverage before I had to figure out the next thing. And I got some experience negotiating, not just at the start of a job, but at the end of it.