Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pink slip is icumen in. Things you can do in the meantime.

I saw something online the other day - don't know where, don't know when - that listed a set of tips for those who are afraid that they'll be laid off.

In the current environment, it's certainly reasonable and prudent in many industries to operate on the assumption that you might lose your job. (The bucks stop here.) So, a little planning is in order. But most of the tips on the list I saw, while sensible, were either so obvious - 'don't buy a new car unless you absolutely have to' (well, duh) or not the sorts of things that mere mortals can do without a bit of lead time - 'make sure you enough cash on hand to cover 3-6 months worth of expenses' (an excellent rule of thumb, but probably too late to start working on if you learn that the hammer will be coming down, say, in the next two weeks).

One of the tips was one that most people probably wouldn't think of, and I do want to mention it here. If you have one of those Flexible Spending Accounts, which lets you pay child-care, deductibles, drugs (prescriptions and non), and glasses with pre-tax dollars, you do stand to lose whatever's in it once you're laid off. With luck, you'll have a couple of weeks grace period in which to buy everyone in the family glasses and stock up on a years supply of vitamins and Thera-Flu but you could get stuck. And it's hard to think of anything more galling than losing YOUR MONEY after getting laid off. So, if you have an FSA and think you'll be losing your job, you might want to casually check with HR on what they're policy is in terms of when you go officially off the payroll and, thus, lose your rights to FSA. As I noted, you may well have a few week grace period, but if not - and you think there may be a bullet with your name on it -get thee to the optician and corner drug store. The only downside is you don't get laid off and have to pay some of your expenses off with post-tax dollars now that you've burnt through your FSA.

In any case, the article did get me thinking about some job-related pre-lay-off tips that those who fear that they might get laid off soon might want to attend to:

  • Start working on your résumé. Yes, you'll certainly have time to polish it up after you're laid off, but you don't want to be staring at a blank screen the day after you've been pink slipped and all you really want to do is get back into bed (or just sit there fantasizing about a meteor hitting your former CEO).
  • Take all personal files off of your corporate PC. Even if it's just someone's Aunt Ella's recipe for divinity, you may want to make it some day. (Hey, you'll have more time.) So bring in a thumb drive and copy over anything that's personal, then erase it. It's not likely that anyone is going to really take the time to nose through your files once you're gone, but you never know. And while some companies will let you hang around for a bit after they hand you your pink slip, some will almost force you out of your office at gunpoint and frogmarch you to your car without letting you touch your PC out of fear that you'll kill all kinds of important stuff and set off the malware you've built for just this situation.
  • Get work samples. This may not make sense in all cases - materials may be confidential, you might be stealing intellectual property that you don't own, who wants to look at your whiz-bang spreadsheet, etc. - but in some fields, you'll want to do a little show and tell. If you're in marketing, make sure you have the collateral and advertising you've worked on - paper copy, or better yet, pdf's. Even if the material is available on the public web site, you might not be able to get access to it after you've been laid off (especially if you don't have a business-sounding e-mail address). So grab it while you can. Market research. Business plans. Strategy presentations. Really thoughtful memo. MAKE COPIES. Redact anything that's confidential or would be covered under a non-compete - if and when you show it to a prospective employer you'll look like a pro, not a weasel. Maybe you only end up with the outline, maybe you never show it to anyone else, but you never know when something can come in handy.
  • Get everyone's contact information. You'll certainly see your real friends again - and if they're real, you probably already have their address and phone number - but there are other "work friends" that you'll want to stay in touch with for networking (and/or commiseration) purposes. Not to mention contact information for supervisors and others who, while they may not fall into the friend category, will be useful to have. Make sure you have, at minimum, their home e-mail address. (Obviously, you don't want to go around signaling that you think you're a sitting duck, so you might want to start this with your group or team. When I worked at Genuity, knowing that there were lay-offs coming and that our group was likely to be impacted, someone on my team just went ahead and did this for our team of 20-some product marketers. She put everything in an Excel spreadsheet and sent it around to everyone in the group.)
  • Get yourself a home e-mail address. If you've been relying on your work e-mail for everything - and I know that there are a few of you out there - get yourself an e-mail address to call your own. Cost: nothing. Do this. And, since you'll be using this to contact potential employers and networking contacts, resist the temptation to go for something cutesie ("MaisysMom"), offputting ("Beerguzzler"), or seething ("LaidoffPissedoff"). Your e-mail address should be some combination of your real name, probably with a number tacked on if you have a John Johnson sort of name. If you just must have a more personally meaningful address, get a second one that's professional.
  • Make a copy of any personal contact information on your work e-mail contact list. Especially if you don't have a personal e-mail address, you'll want to make sure that you have the e-mail addresses and other personal contact information that you've got at work. (You'll probably remember the e-mail scheme for the survivors you want to stay in touch with -most companies fall into one of several enforced e-mail name patters - but if you have contacts in client, vendor, or partner organizations that you might want to stay in touch with, make sure you have them.
  • Print off your calendar. If your life is online at work, print out your calendar ad infinitum if you need to, or you could end up forgetting that dental appointment or birthday party.
  • Do a little housecleaning. If you've accumulated seventeen pairs of shoes, 300 cup of soup packets, and six umbrellas - and they're all taking up way too much space in your file cabinets - take some of this stuff home or toss it out. Whether you get laid off or not, you'll be much happier when you open that file drawer and no longer see the broken umbrella, jar full of expired Excedrin, or the too-high heels you're never going to put on your foot again in a million years.

I guarantee that doing some or all of the above will be helpful whether you get laid off or not. But if you do lose your job, you'll be that much better prepared to leave without getting yourself into a hyper-emotional, frenetic run-around, and you'll be much better prepared to get on with the rest of your life.

(Pink slip is icumen in. Loud sing the cuckoo.)

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