Workplace experts walk Moneyish through making a graceful exit and landing on your feet
How do you know when it’s time to go?
Leaving a job – especially one where you are comfortable – can be a terrifying and traumatic experience. In fact, getting fired or retiring are both in the top 10 most stressful life events on the Holmes And Rahe Stress Scale, and changing careers lands in the top 20.
But financial security shouldn’t come at the cost of stagnating in your position. “If you can’t see yourself moving forward, or you don’t have a plan set up with your boss for advancement, that is a big red flag that it might be time to take off,” said MaryJo Fitzgerald. Corporate Affairs Manager at Glassdoor. “And not getting a regular pay increase will also cause employees to leave.”
Let’s say you’re ready to go – but you’ve just been promoted or received a raise. Does jumping ship make you look like a jerk? It might, but that doesn’t mean you should pass up the opportunity of a lifetime.
Kerry Chou, from the human resources nonprofit WorldatWork, told Moneyish he once left a new position that had even relocated him across the country because he was miserable. When a better offer came up, he jumped at it.
“Did I burn a bridge? I absolutely did. But you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this a bridge that I want to cross back over in future?’’ he said. “Just be on the up-and-up. Give your two weeks’ notice, and tell your boss, ‘I just can’t pass this up. This is right in line with where I want to go.’”
Most employers will understand, even if they’re miffed for a bit. “They have to expect that their most talented employees are going to be headhunted if they’re not offering enough compensation or opportunities for advancement,” Chou said.
But don’t make this a habit, or you’re going to get a bad, self-serving reputation. “If your goal was to get promoted to up your current level of pay just to be more marketable for the next job, that’s going to hurt your personal brand,” Chou said. “Employers in the industry will get to know about you, and they won’t want to hire you.”
And many buyout packages are getting stingier. WorldatWork reported that the number of places giving two weeks’ pay for every year at the company dropped from 21% in 2011 to 16% in 2014. So the next buyout offer that your company makes could be the best deal you’re gonna get. Should you pass it up, or hang in there?
Moneyish spoke with workplace and human resources experts for tips on when to walk, when to stay – and how to say good-bye.
- Consider where you are in your career. “If you’re close to retirement or are ready for a new opportunity, accepting a company’s buyout can be a smart decision,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.com. But someone who’s still new to the company with opportunities to advance should stick around. Their buyout package is unlikely to be more generous than layoff severance, anyway.
- Have an escape plan. “If you have not thought about a buyout before you get the papers, you are way too late,” warned journalist Bruce Horovitz, who worked at USA Today for 20 years before taking a 2015 buyout. He’d sensed his job was in trouble when pensions were cut in 2008, so he doubled his mortgage payments, increased his 401(k) contributions, and was in good shape at buyout time. “You want to ask yourself, ‘Can I do this financially? Will I still have health coverage? And would my boss hire me again with the skills I have now?’ If you can’t answer yes to all three, I don’t recommend taking a buyout yet,” he said.
- Get a lawyer. You need a legal expert to read the fine print and make sure you’re getting a fair deal. Is there a non-compete clause that could hurt your job hunt? Will the company continue health coverage for a period? Can you come back to work or freelance for the company again?
- Negotiate your exit. You can still sometimes get a better deal. “If a company is waving buyouts, it’s because they need people to leave, so that’s a rare moment when perhaps they will budge on small things – like giving an extra month of health insurance, or a few extra weeks of compensation,” said Horovitz. “It costs you nothing to ask.”
- Play the field. If you still plan to work, this is a great opportunity to change careers. Former reporter Horovitz made a second career as a media consultant for brands like Taco Bell and Under Armour. “A buyout can force you to learn you have capabilities you had no idea you had,” he said. Meet with a headhunter or job counselor, and cast a wide net with your skills set.
- Mind the retirement gap. A buyout can be a great bridge to retirement if you’re already in your late 50s or early 60s, but remember that your Social Security will be 25% less if you start benefits at age 62 than if you wait until full retirement age at 66. You can withdraw money from your 401(k) and IRAs starting at age 59 ½ without penalty, however.
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