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When given working notice upon termination Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Question: Mark, I am angry! My company ''terminated'' my employment yesterday - no reason given other than a departmental realignment, even though I was doing my job well. It's bad enough I have to go looking for work now, but my employer has given me ''working notice'' and says I need to stay on the job for another two months before I receive my full severance package. Is this normal? I wish I could walk out of here today and just get it over with. I feel humiliated enough without having to face my peers every day and continue doing my job. What would you do?
Terry G., Truro, Nova Scotia

Dear Terry,

Ugh...the working Notice arrangement! Have you ever heard the term ''dead man walking?'' In prison it refers to a person who has been sentenced to death and is ambling their way to meet their final fate - a rather gruesome image, though not entirely inappropriate here. On the job it can mean an employee who has been notified that they are being downsized, but instead of being given two weeks notice or even being escorted off the employer's premises immediately (with severance pay ''in lieu'' of notice), the affected staff member is being asked to stay on for a fixed period of time before their official ''end date'' arrives.

Why do employers sometimes do this? Typically it's not to harass you or cause you more embarrassment than you're already going through. Generally they'd do so to further some business aim. Like when a manufacturing plant is being shut down over a six month period, say, and management wants certain staff to stay on until the last person shuts off the lights and chains the doors shut on their way out, or if you're in the middle of a very important project or deal and your departure could jeopardize the outcome.

There are legal questions involved regarding your rights and obligations during the working notice period, and I would advise you to seek advice from an employment lawyer before signing your severance agreement; and definitely before doing anything rash, such as bolting right away or sabotaging your employer in some way. Believe you me, the anger, frustration and fear you may be experiencing due to the arrangement they've offered you are nothing compared to how wretched you'd feel if your employer nullified your severance package (that is, if they refused to pay you anything but the statutory minimums) because they feel you've breached your contract with them.

How then do you behave during your remaining months there? For the most part - like you usually would. Do your job professionally. Try to maintain positive relations with your colleagues and managers. Don't go around poisoning the work environment by slagging the employer or acting disloyal. I'll tell you why: it's because very soon you will need to network with these same colleagues in terms of finding new work, and you will require positive references from your boss and possibly others at your current place of employment.

Then again, you do need to look after yourself first and foremost, given that you're about to embark on a job search. This means you might try to negotiate in your severance offer some time off, or some daytime freedom, to start looking for new work. This way you can meet with recruiters, go to job interviews, and make some calls, etc., so that you aren't starting from scratch two months from now. (Hint: if you're reasonable about this, you might not get your pay docked for these extra-curricular activities).

Here are some more tips to consider:

- While you're still there, put together as complete a portfolio of your previous work as you're able to scrounge. Future employers may want to see evidence of your accomplishments. (Note: leave behind the stuff that's proprietary or that could be viewed as company property.)

- Continue to show up at a reasonable time and put in a decent day's work - but it's not like you can be expected to knock yourself out like you used to. However, to protect your reputation, ask management for a letter of reference immediately (consider making it part of your severance package counter-offer).

- Spend some time networking with people in the organization you wish you'd had a chance to meet previously. You never know how you might be able to mutually assist each other after the fact.

- Keep in mind that you must be pretty important for your employer to keep you on like this, so let yourself feel good about this. Then, mention it in your future job interviews as a sign of how much you were valued.

By keeping your nose clean and your reputation intact during your notice period, you can actually come out ahead. After all, you'll continue to get paid, you'll accumulate more achievements to brag about, plus you'll hopefully have some time to start networking and pursuing your job hunt. Sure you're likely to have to bite your tongue some days, but you'll appreciate that you did so later this year when you're ensconced in that great new job you've secured.

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