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What If I’m ‘Toast’ In The Morning? Negotiating Your Way Through Job Insecurity

Job security isn’t what it used to be. While many companies have gone through several cycles of down-sizing – or ‘right-sizing’ to be more politically correct – there is no way to be certain that just because you have survived thus far, your job will be there in the morning.

Since “job security” became an oxymoron in the English lexicon, many are feeling as if they have little control over their economic futures. Doing your homework and researching your options, and exploring your personal and professional goals will help you regain a sense of having some say in your destiny.

Negotiating the minefield of the current job market requires clear vision, self-confidence, and good preparation. You need to have a good sense of the alternatives available to you — or in the parlance of negotiators — your BATNA, your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement – must be assessed before you are informed of your employer’s creative strategies for increasing the company’s bottom line profits at the expense of your annual income.

Perhaps the ugliest “offer” folks are facing in a variety of industries is an “opportunity” to stay in their present jobs but for lower pay. What, for example, would you do if your employer demanded that you take a 25 percent cut in pay if you wanted to keep your job? The day this is question is posed, is not the day to begin thinking about your alternatives or wishing you’d monitored your job security when you still believed you had some.

Just as in any negotiation, preparation is the key to success.

The first step in preparing for your future now, even if you are in the middle or end of the career game, are the same questions you presumably asked yourself when you were young, inexperienced, and thought the world was your oyster. And if you didn’t do it then, get introspective now by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I in my current job? What rewards does it offer that make it attractive to me?
  • If I had my choice, how would I spend my time? Is there a way a hobby or other interest could yield financial and other rewards that look good compared to my present job situation?

If you have thought about the questions suggested above, you will have a better sense of the trade-offs you need to consider in deciding whether to accept a pay cut. Your strategy should be based on your assessment of the overall situation.

If this pay cut has a specific duration you may feel the short-term pain is justified by the likelihood of long-term gain For example, if your original pay will be restored once the corporation makes a profit or achieves other benchmarks, and if you feel that is likely to happen within a reasonable time, a pay cut now may be an acceptable choice. You may also ‘resurrect’ your pay through own efforts such as increased productivity, bringing about a particular deal, or finding other ways to save the company money.

A pay cut may also be less painful if you can get your company to agree to such compensation as flexible work hours, a more attractive set of choices in such areas as health insurance, retirement plans, vacation options, or similar compensation elements.

At the same time you are exploring options within your company, you need to refer back to your BATNA, one or more alternatives that may become more attractive when the financial rewards for working at your current job are reduced. You need to find out what kinds of resources are available for supporting you if your current job ends. Is the company offering any cash incentives for leaving? In addition, you ought to find out how your health insurance coverage – and any other company-subsidized insurance – could be impacted by a change in your employment.

If a layoff is what is going to happen, you need to make sure it is structured so that you are eligible for unemployment compensation. Since this costs your company money in most instances; perhaps they can offer you an incentive to convince you to leave your job rather than be treated as a firing. If such incentives exist, there may be ways to protect yourself – get a more attractive severance package or negotiate other continuing benefits so that you and your employer part company more even-handedly.

You should be in a constant state of readiness for a job change. Learn what you can about the job market in your profession – both in your local market and in other places to which you could move. Being a ‘techie’ in Silicon Valley is far less saleable than having technical skills to offer where they are scarce. If you maintain a constant state of preparedness for tough times, you will be better able to cope with the decision-making involved when offered a choice between less pay or no job. Thus you need to keep your eye on the job market both within your current field and your current geographic area – as well as other fields and locales.

Since an increasing number of people change the direction of their careers during their working life, remember it is a normal thing to do and does not carry a stigma. As long as you know there’s butter to soften the blow, being toast may not be such a bad thing.


Steven P. Cohen

Steven P. Cohen, President of The Negotiation Skills Company in Pride's Crossing, MA is a graduate of Columbia Law School and Brandeis University. Mr. Cohen received formal training in Negotiation, Advanced Negotiation, and Mediation at Harvard Law School where he was appointed a member of the Alumni Advisory Board of… MORE >

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