Bad news, you just got one year’s severance

Sometimes bad news comes in the prettiest packages. One of the most common I see in the careers business is the generous severance payout. What seems like a gift from the highest graces too often turns out to be bad tidings in disguise.

The “severance vacation” — that fool’s gold of “time off” that turns a few well-deserved weeks into several empty seasons — has led too many professionals, executives, and high-performers to mistakenly act against their own best interests.

How can it be that something as seemingly non-controversial as a full year’s “money for nothing” can end up hurting you?

First off, the severance vacation can lead you into a false sense of security. “I’ve got enough cash put away so that I don’t have to worry for a while” or “I’m in good shape so I don’t need to look right away” are how we hear it from our clients here at TheLadders. This phony freedom from fear lulls you into believing that the future is far away. Instead of your sixth sense flashing warning signals and blaring the alarm siren, your pleasant-enough living situation inhibits you from securing your future cash flows and career prospects.

That serene sense of calm is harmful. When urgency is low, and the bank account is flush, it seems there’s always a good reason to spend another day contemplating instead of cold-calling. And more time spent on the sidelines leads to ever-worse habits and rustiness. You forget the more obscure industry buzzwords. All that sun leaves you a little slow on the uptake when it comes to the tough interviews. You get softer, you get happier, you get lazier.

That’s because the alternative — the job search — welcomes avoidance. The job search involves rejection, rejection involves pain, and pain is something most of us want to experience at the gym and not carry through our waking day.

The pain of the job search is the result of how unusual the job search is relative to the rest of our lives. A job search occurs perhaps twice a decade and involves meeting a lot of strangers so that they can assess you. That the assessment is in regards to your professional ability to meet their specific, narrow, corporate need, does nothing to alleviate your feeling of being a-foot-and-a-half short of puberty and still in braces at the junior high dance. It’s embarrassing.

It’s true, the job search is the most unusual, unnatural, unenjoyable part of our lives that is, nonetheless, unavoidable. (And avoid it, we try! If Dr. Seuss were still about, he could write a book about the job search entitled “Oh, the excuses you’ll make!”)

So how to handle the bad news that you got a year’s severance?

First, a layoff notice is actually an acceptance letter for your new job — and that job is at Your Job Search, LLC with you as the President and Chief Search Officer.

You’ll need to negotiate a start date. Give yourself an enjoyable, but manageable, severance vacation: one week if you’re antsy, two weeks if you’re bold, three weeks if you want to follow a flight of fancy.

Having a tight schedule for your severance vacation will make those days of leisure sweeter for their scarcity, and allow you to tough it out in a better class of airline, hotel, or amusement park. You need to take the break you deserve and recharge your batteries.

Because once you come back, your new job is full-time. You’ll need to approach it with a seriousness of purpose and dedication to success befitting a professional. And your new job has just one goal – getting yourself into a new seat at a new company getting paid in dollars, not promises or favors.

So don’t let good fortune ruin your luck. When the breaks go your way, bank your plenty rather than fritter it away, and make a timely transition into your new job-finding job.

It’s the best way to ensure that you’ll be collecting a year’s pay, and not a year of empty wandering.

Good luck with the job search this week!

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. interested says:

    What a great alternative view for those who have worked hard to make it and are ready for a sea change as we call it where I come from although it could be a tree change or any kind of change. Why work all your life to get rich if the money doesn’t buy you what you want? What is wrong with being a park ranger or scuba instructor with a big bank balance and years of executive training? Perhaps you will meet some of your old business partners and they will sneer at your pay and status but you can laugh at their coronaries and broken families.

  2. Interested says:

    Yours is the reality for a growing number of people who thought they had value in the society but find they get worth less with more experience in the role they have worked. For you it is really a time for change, break out of the old you and turn in a new direction, start a business if you want to stay in retail, or start a service company if you like the people interaction. Get a hard physical job if you want some motivation and perspective on your old job. Give it a few months and you will be amazed. If you think you are too old and fat for that then get used to being at the very bottom of the ladder.

  3. Oursnookie07 says:

    wow!  But I’m not surprised.  A few years ago I was terminated because I was out 2 dayswhen my daughter was hospitalized.  The company did not deserve you!  Something that will make you happy will come along. 

  4. Oursnookie07 says:

    Yes, it is very difficult to career change at this time.  There are plenty of applicants in whatever field it is so that career changers are not that desireable.  I am a teacher, and right now there are no jobs.  Part of what NY is cutting to save money.  More layoffs anticipated in June……….see, now if I had won the Megamillions, I would have opened my own school…….

  5. John Eaton says:

    Can SO relate to the message here. I (thankfully) had written a 6-month severance into my contract, so when I did get let go I could take a little time to breathe. That said, I quickly jumped into “income replacement” mode which was a blend of freelance consulting and aggressive networking to find full-time opportunities. Now (6 months later) the groundwork is paying off with interviews and a great foundation of cohorts and colleagues looking out for me. Never expected it to take this long…but no one does I suppose.

    I do take a “day off” here and there to recharge. But admittedly it would have been so much harder without the severance.

  6. NGB says:

    Your article “Bad news you’ve just got one year’s severance” is a great piece, as it motivates me to ask for your feedback on my approach to a recent layoff and generous severance.  Currently I’m using the time and money to start my own business. It’s been far from a vacation: I’m busier now and work more hours than I did when I was “employed.” The good news is I’m developing new skill sets that will in time increase the number of employment opportunities open to me. The bad news is that the investment required to start a business and time before realizing any profit from it makes me wonder whether I should be interviewing again for a “day job” and how prospective employers may view my choice.  New business ventures are always risky, and I feel like I am taking a risk to pursue a venture that I truly want to do and believe in quite strongly. The question remains whether it will be able to support me long term. What do you think? 

  7. William M Bell says:

    The severance thing is not always as it seems… I have had it from friends that the severance of 1 year is conditional upon not working… I.e. if they found a job in 6 weeks, that is all the severance they would get. I guess in that situation, the are three choices – negotiate a lump sum (probably less than the 1 year), wait out the year before starting the new job, or find a job as soon as possible – after a reasonable break… What would you recommend?
    Personally I would try to get a lump sum and get back into the game as soon as I could.

  8. CL1 says:

    Thanks for this article, Marc, and I also wish I had read this a year ago. But reading this now and the comments below, particularly by those who feel embarrassed, has lifted my mood and made me feel like I’m not alone. I chose to leave a good, high-paying job last year that was too stressful. I’d saved up enough money so that I didn’t feel a sense of financial urgency. The plan was to take off just a few months to pursue personal interests, and then move on to my job search. But I got lazy. I didn’t pursue my personal interests as much as I should have either; I just squandered time. And I didn’t search diligently because I didn’t feel a sense of urgency. I’ll be approaching the one year mark sooner than I had ever imagined. I’ve endured the mockery of my friends and disappointment of my family. Reflecting on the passage of time has created intense feelings of embarrassment and depression, which has only further sapped my motivation and confidence. 

    But again, seeing your article and the comments below has made me feel a lot better and given me energy to redouble my job search efforts, especially in articulating why it is that we avoid the process – it exposes us to the vulnerability of rejection over and over – no wonder some of us have trouble with it! Thanks again. 

  9. Jack says:

    Similar thing happened to me a couple of years back, when the economy was at its bleakest. Te only thing I would add is that if you’re fortunate enough to have career transition included in your package; USE IT!!!!!!

    I have been in IT for 20+ years and held very senior roles. I figured I knew my stuff. I’d changed jobs many times before. Big difference though; I had always been working. In some cases I was head hunted. Great spot to be in, but things were now VERY different.

    The process of critically looking at who I am and what I truly have to ofer was tough, but it really helped me get past the black hole resume pits. It helped me hone my networking skills. I’m a very social IT person, often mistaken as a Marketting guy, but I needed that help.

    I went in thinking i would at least get a proffesional view of my resume and I might pickup a tip or two; what I got was personal growth I never would have achieved on my own. Oh and not 1 but 3 job offers on the same day, 9 days before Christmas.

    Bottom line: ask for help and keep an open mind.

  10. MGF says:

    Wow was this timely for me! This is the first day of my 6 month “severance vacation”.  Thanks Marc! I am really dreading getting back into the jobs earch mode. So appreciate the straught talk!

  11. Jarofisher says:

    I love to read all these eloquent verses. Who are you people do you live in the real world.?or just try to outsmart each other. This is all pure fantasy…

  12. Rjb2190 says:

    One year severance would have been great, except in Nevada you are lucky first to get any severance pay. I worked for a company 15 years and was given one month’s pay which also included my vacation pay. First you should always have your resume up to date and never expect severance pay if you are unfortunate to lose your job in Nevada. It is good to read that others have received severance and have found work eventually. In Nevada we are not as fortunate due to a variety of economic issues here. There are always pros and cons working in a right to work state. In comparison when I worked in California I was given one month for every year worked and financially I was able to look for new opportunities while being fiscally responsible with my severance pay to insure a determined job search in a positive light.

  13. T_pawlisz says:

    I have double dipped every ime I have been given severnce. Boy it really helps you get ahead when you do that.

  14. Anonymous says:

    That’s smart TPaw!

  15. Darrin says:

    VERY good article and some VERY good comments that followed it. I found this article in my search on negotiating a “better” severance package. After 25 years of service, I have been given notice that I will soon be terminated (outsourced actually). It has been a trying time but for some reason, I’m optimistic. I’m not naive and actually somewhat of a pessimistic person, but I feel a strange comfort after all of it. I haven’t been happy at work for a LONG time and going to work solely to “collect a paycheck” is no way to live, imo.

    Now it’s time for a personal assessment and hopefully……an honest one. I’m not angry because I understand in Corporate America, greed is rampant. It has nothing to do with me and/or my performace. It’s all about bottom line, nothing more. Unfortunately, human capital is a term that has no meaning and I have always lived by the adage, you get what you pay for. Thank you.

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