Ask Shaun: Should I Fight the Layoff?

by Shaun Kieran

Shaun-

To make a long story short, I’ve worked 11 years for a local Credit Union that’s “merged” with (been taken over by) a larger, statewide group of CU’s 18 months ago. It’s the only job I’ve ever had. I started as a teller, and now I manage the office that does collections and billings. At first we were assured our jobs were safe, but that was then, and now a new regional director has arrived and it’s obvious he’s looking for redundancy, consolidation, and cutting. After a month, the serious rumor is that our department will be dissolved and I’m gone – along with everyone who works with me. There’s a slim, outside chance I’ll be asked to take a job at the other end of the state, 300 miles away.

I’ve lived in this city all my life, my three kids are happy in this school system, and my wife works near our home, part time so she can be home as much as possible. Should I accept it and move on? Should I try to fight for my job? Will I regret it if I don’t?  What’s the best approach to thinking about this?

Frank R.

Frank-

I’ll begin by saying I honestly couldn’t tell you for sure, but this is a good example of a point I often make: any situation like this has some elements beyond your control – some you couldn’t possibly ever know – and other elements are yours: your skills, your confidence, your temperament, the state of your marriage, and what’s true about the effect this has on the “script” you have for yourself.

I try hard not to sound too “shrinky,” at this blog, but this is a situation when it helps to actually know yourself fairly well. Many feel the only way to go is to fight: advocate for yourself, tell them they’re wrong, and show them why in quantifiable terms.

Some people have the temperament and energy to do that effectively, not become obsessed, not embarrass themselves, and either succeed, or not be devastated if they don’t succeed.  But, obviously, it’s also possible to twist yourself into knots trying to do something that was never a realistic outcome.

Having done this work for so many years, I’m struck by how many people have told me, after the fact, that they’d had an immediate gut feeling the first split second the new information hit them – and then either did or didn’t listen to it. But virtually 100% of the time the gut feeling was right.

Some people want to fight, need to fight, are good at fighting, and therefore do have a higher probability of success – but no guarantee.

Other people have no stomach for fighting, dislike the disruption it creates, only do it because they’re afraid not to, don’t like who they become while fighting, don’t do it well anyway, and regret the time wasted. That doesn’t make them cowards, and doesn’t mean they don’t fight well on behalf of others.

Most of us are in-between, and hopefully have learned some things, gained some wisdom, and gotten better at picking our battles as we’ve gotten older.

This recession has created a lot of moments like yours, adding to the “normal” changes that were par for the course during the best of times. You and your wife need to talk. Your kids will be fine if Mom and Dad are on the same page. If that other job becomes a live option you can turn it into a family adventure. 

Which actually is the way to look at your situation if you choose stay where you are anyway.  After you grieve the loss, be grateful for the stability your Credit Union job provided for the time it did, then recognize that you won’t starve, your family has its eyes on you, character and perseverance still matter, keep learning, and  – I sound like Pollyanna – it’s all going to be OK.

Shaun

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth Robinson

I don’t know what your definition of “fight” is, but have you considered a middle ground? Go up the management chain, mention the rumor, state in no uncertain terms that you want to continue working for Big Company and your preference is to keep the ties you have in this location. Let them know you’re willing to move to another position. Maybe suggest some that you are fit for. Maybe even have a resume already prepared oriented towards those positions that you can give them.

It might be that nothing you can say will make a difference, but people don’t always know these things if you don’t tell them, especially if they’re new to the company.

Shaun

Hi Beth-

You’re absolutely right, and I realize now that my editing for brevity meant that I oversimplified and didn’t quite accurately convey the true choices. At work, “fight” doesn’t mean get unpleasant, let alone nasty – it means making one’s case to the decision makers on your own behalf. Your example of “middle ground” is precisely what I meant by “fighting:” advocate for yourself by connecting your skills and abilities to what the organization needs, demonstrating your net positive impact on the organization’s bottom line, and offering to be flexible.

Plus, I agree that you can’t truly be sure of what will happen if you don’t try.

My focus with this blog is real human beings in real, human workplaces, and my small point is that most people really do know the likelihood of success before they begin, if they’re honest. They know their workplace -and they know themselves. Some workplace cultures are open to self-advocacy, even encourage it – so that’s when making your case for yourself is definitely worth the shot.

Other workplaces – which may be perfectly fine places to work – simply aren’t open and available to personal advocacy. Decisions are made far away, then announced. Frank didn’t know a single person by name he could possibly network his way to, and he cringed at the thought of doing it.

By the way, it’s actually been over a year now (Frank was happy to allow me to use his situation for the current “Ask Shaun” format) so I’m also up-to-speed with the situation in real time.

Frank’s modest little Credit Union is lucky to still exist at all, and virtually all of its administrative services were simply merged into the existing infrastructure of the regional “group” 300 miles away. Frank was right that it was a done deal, and he refers to the skeleton crew that remained in the building as “shellshocked” survivors.

Frank knew he couldn’t handle the prospect of sudden unemployment in today’s economy. He took that position at the other end of the state – but his family didn’t go with him. He rented a one bedroom apartment for nine months and flew or drove home every chance he got.

Obviously, he didn’t love it – and neither did his family. So when an opportunity back home came open at, ironically, a local branch of a large national bank (you’ve probably heard of,) he jumped on it – demonstrating yet again that it’s easier to get another job while employed full-time rather than from total unemployment.

Describing Frank as “happy” would be a stretch, since the gargantuan size of his new employer is the opposite of what Frank wants, but now he’s also going to school for a Master’s degree that will open up teaching as a possibility. Frank is clear to himself where he needs to be.

Thanks for commenting, Beth.

Shaun

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