AOL’s recent announcement about their voluntary separation packages brings back the question of whether or not the acceptance of a voluntary package is a good thing or not in this economy? First of all, let’s be real about why companies offer voluntary packages. The reason is to soften the blow of what is coming and to go ahead and flush out those who have already been looking for a job, have a job in hand, or just don’t want to be there. This way there isn’t the keeping of someone who already has a job in hand and removing someone who wants to be a part of the company. There are many pros and cons to this approach and I have been a part of creating and administering these programs successfully. Where they fall down is when the offer is not accepted by enough people and the alternative is that there is still a forced reduction that comes after the voluntary period has passed. That in turn leaves those who didn’t accept the package, who get laid off later, with a smaller package, upset and not being long-term goodwill ambassadors of the company. In this economy, I would be leery of a voluntary program receiving enough acceptances to make a voluntary program successful.
Now comes the questions of whether or not one should take a voluntary package or not, and what message does that send to the hiring market if you do take the money and run?
Well, that all depends on how taking the package fits in your overall plan and your career story. Certainly if you have something else lined up, have a plan in place for change and you are just in waiting mode, then taking the package and moving on is fine. That fits in any career story. However, if you are just thinking “this place sucks” or “I gotta get out of here before the ship sinks” or “I just have to take care of me”, then you might want to think twice about how that fits into a positive career story. There was a time when that was fine, like in1999 during the dot com bust. We all had to talk to the candidates who took their voluntary packages or their severances and sailed around the world. It was in vogue, you know. You could get away with a “me” attitude and while the other side of the table may have questioned your loyalty, self-interests, etc. the hiring market was such that this became a nuance that was overlooked. But in today’s market where a hiring manager wears the weight of having already put people on the street and doing all they can to keep people employed, when she/he sees someone who thinks cavalierly or doesn’t value the fact that they had a good job, it can leave a sour taste in their mouth. What hiring managers and recruiters want to see are people who love their work, value and appreciate their jobs, care for their companies and who better and grow themselves in their performance and careers.
So, it might make all the sense to take a voluntary package without having another job, if there is a good reason that you can honestly portray and that others will understand and empathize with. But, if you have any doubts on how you might feel about your reasoning, as if it is was presented to you by a candidate, then you might want to take a real hard look at yourself before you make the voluntary jump.