How to Prepare Oneself for a Termination Convo

Kaitlyn Peterson
6 min readJul 31, 2023

Layoffs, now trending!

Whether you’ve seen the writing on a wall or you unexpectedly get the “Quick Sync” cal invite (sans context, just a quick chat between u & ur boss 🫠) that makes your heart sink, a layoff conversation always has level of sting.

But there are a few things you can do before, during, and after the meeting to make a shitty situation a bit calmer for yourself.

Earlier this year, I had several conversations with trusted HR experts in my network which I found particularly helpful in keeping a tranquil brainspace while I navigated workplace-related uncertainty myself. Through conversations with non-HR peers, I realized not everyone has the resources or network to mentally prepare as I had. So, here are a few things I learned during those convos in hopes of democratizing this info for others.

Note: this is geared towards creatives. And certainly isn’t cookie cutter for every person’s situation, but hopefully there are a couple nuggets to make your transition smoother (if a layoff should happen…but I hope it does not and you remain happily employed for as long as you’d like!).

1. Pre “Quick Sync” Meeting

Before a suspicious meeting, see if you can schedule a meeting with your company’s HR person beforehand. If you’re nervous about the meeting, HR likely knows about the termination and may be able to provide a little context around the meeting (and their reaction may help you determine if this is a false alarm or not).

I think I’d say something like “Hi XX, I noticed this meeting pop up on my calendar and would like to sync with you quickly on how to handle the conversation.”

And then in the meeting, I might say something like, “My hypothesis for this meeting is a conversation about being let go tomorrow and I wanted to talk to you about it first” and then pause to gauge HR’s reaction.

2. During “Quick Sync” Meeting

Palms may be a little sweaty as you await the real context of today’s meeting. Perhaps your boss just wants to ask for your favorite bagel rec in Manhattan and then you can go about your merry little way (while questioning why you’re working in a psychologically unsafe culture that makes you think a random meeting = ur fired!).

But if your intuition is right and this is, in fact, 👻 the meeting 👻, chances are you’re on Zoom and can read from a lil script you wrote beforehand that’s conveniently next to the video of your boss delivering 👻 the news 👻.

Here’s my script. But make it your own! Add some fun adjectives. Remove a line. Change the whole thing to title caps (would recommend not doing this if it’ll make you yell the lines. Goal is to stay cool, calm, collected, AND assertive). Here goes:

While I understand you need to make difficult decisions on behalf of the company, [boss name], this is one I do not agree with. My contributions to [company name] and its team members are self evident — I’ve delivered [ways you’ve positively contributed to the company] over the [ur tenure], while upholding the [company name] values defined by leadership.

I have received consistently positive feedback from both yourself, my peers, and my reports each review cycle (only keep a line like this if ’tis true 👼).

I’d like to agree on a proper severance package that hopefully makes me feel a little bit more content with what is happening here. I need to take some time and consult my legal counsel first. And I’ll get back to you on a severance package that is fair.

I’d like a meeting to be set up with [HR person] today to discuss further details as well.

Why “HR person”? Apparently that’s who typically handles severance negotiations at a company. It could also be your legal counsel. Whomever the case, hopefully they have some empathy and deep budget pockets 🤞.

Key Points:
1. If your manager is telling you the severance terms, don’t agree to them on the spot. Depending on state, you have some time to seek advice, mull over, negotiate your offered terms before signing anything.
2. Whether or not your “legal counsel” is an actual lawyer or the dog sleeping at your feet, imply you do have someone legit you can talk to before agreeing to anything.

3. After “Quick Sync” Meeting

It’s time to negotiate! There are many things you can (and should!) ask for. As a very wise person once said, if you don’t ask the answer is always 🙅 NO 🙅!!

HOWEVER, one HR friend did share this perspective (note: I am paraphrasing but chose to retain the zing for entertainment purposes):

Some CEOs make very public promises to employees that are just not feasible. We in talent are always having to walk them back. So while it feels like whatever they say is the gospel, they are actually showboating idiots who don’t always base their promises on what is realistic. Welcome to being a white man.

Yowzers!

I think the above is helpful in setting realistic expectations. But I still believe it’s worth asking because you never know (and can feel some peace knowing you’ve tried your best, too).

Things you could ask for:

  1. Longer severance. Offered 2 weeks? Try asking for a month perhaps. Offered a few months? How ‘bout tack on one additional month or three. Think through your tenure and the positive financial impact you’ve had on the company as ways to determine desired severance length and rationale for asking.
  2. Move your termination date back. If a company lets you go on the last day of the month, that means your healthcare is over. If you can find some reason why they should have it, say, on some day the following week, you’ll have an additional month of healthcare while you figure your shit out.
  3. Longer health insurance or COBRA coverage. Also if you don’t know what COBRA is, it’s a continuation of your original health insurance — sometimes companies will cover a month of it or so. But after, you’d be paying your health insurance out of pocket (which is quite expensive!).
  4. Laptop. The company/refurbish value for your machine is 3 years. So if it’s a year or two old, tell them you’d like to keep it. You could also note that you’re fine to use it after it’s wiped and that you have no intention of using it to damage the company.
  5. Design programs. Figma, Adobe Creative Suite, etc. Ask if you can keep your membership or access to those programs for a few more months. As a creative, you need to update your portfolio, so having those tools will help you find your next role quicker.
  6. PTO payout. If you live in New York, companies are required to pay out PTO unless they’ve stipulated in your offer letter or employee handbook that that particular company does not pay for unused vacation days. If you had upcoming PTO that had already been approved, you could ask them to pay out those days (though they’re not legally required to if they did put Lorem ipsum we won’t pay ya for unused vacation in their handbook).
  7. Bridging pay. Severance often comes as one lump sum. However, I’ve heard this can affect your taxes in a more severe way (not sure exact $$s or to what effect) but you could request the company to pays out your severance on the normal pay schedule over coming months. And apparently this keeps your income from being taxed like your normal paycheck.

Hopefully something in this list helps you get a little extra sumpin’ more than what you were initially offered. But a company may not budge on any of it! But at least you’ll know you tried.

🫶

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Kaitlyn Peterson

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