See a layoff through, or see yourself out?

See a layoff through, or see yourself out?
(Jamie Grill / Getty Images)

Question: My company has decided to close several of our branch offices this year. I’m an IT manager; my job and half of my team’s jobs will be eliminated when our office closes in the fall.

We’ve been offered severance, and some folks have been offered retention bonuses to stay until the bitter end. I’m having a tough time reconciling the conflicting messages of “We really want you to stay!” and “But only until the office closes down.”

On one hand, I want to stick around and help my team deal with this change and transition their projects smoothly to the home office; on the other hand, why stick around where I have no future?


How on Earth do I motivate my staff (and myself) to keep doing a good job if I stay, or not feel guilty if I bail ASAP?

Answer: Easy part first: Unless you signed some kind of agreement to stick around for some specified period, you owe your employer nothing more than a professional departure. The employer knows this, too — hence the retention bonuses.

But if you’re considering slapping your badge on HR’s desk and marching out, severance check in hand, there are practical reasons to reconsider. For one thing, landing a new job takes time, and it’s easier done while you’re still employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment periods in 2016 lasted an average of 26 weeks, with about 40% of unemployed workers going jobless for 15 weeks or more.

Of course, depending on your geographical region, industry and reputation, you may already have recruiters blowing up your LinkedIn inbox with offers. Even then, it might make sense to take advantage of your lengthy transition period to fully explore those opportunities. If you’re in line for a retention bonus, receive a great job offer and can defer the start date until you can collect the bonus, so much the better.

But if money isn’t incentive enough, here’s a strategic angle: Guiding a team through a tough transition is a rare opportunity to develop and demonstrate the kind of leadership that adds heft to a résumé.

So how to guide and motivate your anxious staff? If your employer is not offering outplacement help — résumé reviews, interview coaching, guidance on unemployment benefits — lobby management or HR for that support.


You can also do more good than you realize with a simple “How are you doing?”

Talk with your team members about their plans. Put out feelers on their behalf as well as your own. Organize weekly brown-bag lunches — not mutinous kaffeeklatsches, but a place to share leads and build one another up. Acknowledging and providing space to face anxieties about what comes next can help keep those fears from spilling over and derailing the transition. And while there might not be employment stats on this, helping others succeed is an emotional bonus in itself.

Pro tip: The Labor Department offers coordinated support services to employers and workers facing large-scale layoffs and plant closures through its Rapid Response program. Laid-off individuals can also find support services through the Worker ReEmployment program at

Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. She writes a column for the Washington Post.