Quitting Your Job Is Selfish: Engineering Your Layoff Is The Ethical Way To Go

Quitting your job is selfish. The better way to quit your job is to engineer your layoff by negotiating a severance. Everybody wins when you engineer your layoff as you find, hire, and train your replacement. If you quit your job and only give two weeks notice, you are likely leaving your employer in a bind.

When some people first hear that I engineered my layoff, they get up on their Clydesdales and say something like, “I would never do that. It sounds unethical.

I'm always surprised by this response in this day and age of zero job security. No longer are pensions common. No longer do employers keep their employees fat and happy for decades. It's a ruthless world out there thanks to globalization, technology, and cutthroat competition.

One could argue that if you're not doing everything possible to fight for yourself and your family's financial security, you're the one being unethical. That or just ignorant. Quitting your job is selfish compared to negotiating a severance. If you don't think so, then you lack awareness.

The only way that quitting your job is not selfish is if you were a terrible deadweight employee who was a cancer to your team. In such a scenario, quitting would be a godsend to your colleagues.

Let's go through in detail why it's always best to engineer your layoff instead. 

Why Quitting Your Job Is Selfish And Negotiating A Severance Is Better

* Leaving your colleagues and your manager in a bind. If you broadside your manager and colleagues by quitting, you're dumping all your work onto them. It often takes months to find a replacement, and months more to train your replacement to do a proper job. You create extra work for the colleagues you leave behind while also costing your company a tremendous amount of lost productivity.

* You hurt clients who depended on your services. If you are in a revenue-producing role, quitting your job one day means your clients can no longer count on you for advice or service. This is particularly disruptive if you've been their point person for years. Clients come to rely on people. By quitting, you're telling them you don't care about them, only yourself.

* You hurt your future job prospects. If you are so selfish as to quit on your colleagues and clients, you will have fewer supporters when you apply for a new job or want to start your own business. Nobody is going to write you a favorable recommendation letter when you didn't give them a chance to properly transition your work and coverage.

* You hurt your reputation. Nobody likes a quitter, especially if you quit your job to lounge around on the beach for months while your old colleagues and ex-clients still have to work. They will resent you for cashing out. Although today it's common to job hop every 1-3 years, repeatedly quitting your job creates distrust. Your managers will not want to invest time or money in you because they are afraid you will suddenly quit on them like you did at your previous firm.

* You hurt your finances. This one should be obvious. If you quit your job, you aren't eligible for a severance, ~26 weeks of unemployment benefits or more, subsidized COBRA healthcare, WARN Act pay, and job search help. If you successfully negotiate a severance, you'll have a financial runway that allows you to be pickier in doing something more meaningful with your life. You won't feel the pressure to take immediately any soul-sucking job because of your need for money.

Why Do People Quit Their Jobs And Not Negotiate A Severance?

The #1 reason why people quit their jobs is that they don't know better. They think they are powerless employees who have no chance at walking away with money in their pocket.

But given there are plenty of free blog posts and resources out there that teach you how to engineer your layoff, nobody can plead ignorance anymore. Which brings us to the second most common reason why people quit: selfishness.

If you are selfish, you don't care if you dump your work onto your colleagues. Not my problem, you say. Selfish people don't care about the well-being of the clients who've come to depend on them. Selfish people even compromise the well-being of their family because they're too afraid to negotiate a severance.

Being Considerate Is The Better Way To Leave

Pretend you are a landlord. Wouldn't you much prefer getting a six months heads up from your tenants saying they accepted a job in Amsterdam instead of a two weeks notice before Christmas? Of course you would, because you'd be able to more easily find replacement tenants and prepare your finances for a potential shortfall. But selfish people only think about what's best for them.

The final most common reason why people quit their jobs instead of engineering their layoff is due to fear. Weak people are afraid of confrontation, partly because they lack the communication skills necessary to create win-win scenarios. They'd rather quit or break up with someone by text message, rather than convey the news face-to-face. Heck, if they could ghost the other side, they probably would.

Managers also fear confrontation. This is why the news that someone is volunteering to be laid off is often well-received. By volunteering, you are helping the manager avoid the often difficult choice of who to let go in the event of personnel reductions.  You are also saving the job of the employee who might have been laid off had you not volunteered.

Be Thoughtful To Your Employer

Some of you may ask what if you're stuck in a toxic work environment you can't stand. In such a situation, it's even more important to attempt to engineer your layoff while concurrently looking for another job. There is literally nothing to lose if you want to leave your job anyway. You just need to do so in a respectful way.

You can tell yourself that negotiating a severance is beneath you, but you'd only be lying to yourself. The more you can help provide a smooth transition for those affected by your departure, the better everything will be after you've departed.

Don't let your pride get in the way of doing what's right for everyone. When you quit, you are simply transferring your pain onto someone else. Engineering your layoff is a win for you, your family, your ex-colleagues, and your previous employer.

Recommendation If You Want To Quit Your Job

I recommend everybody negotiate a severance if you want to leave a job you no longer enjoy. If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training.

When you are laid off, you can also be eligible for ~27 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during a transition period.

Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye, on how to negotiate a severance. I first published the book in 2012 and have recently expanded it to over 200 pages with new resources, strategies, and additional case studies thanks to tremendous reader feedback.

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29 thoughts on “Quitting Your Job Is Selfish: Engineering Your Layoff Is The Ethical Way To Go”

  1. Antonio Zoli

    The premise of being selfish by quitting a job in this article is asinine. And engineering a layoff? Really! Maybe that works for computer jockeys in Silicone Valley but not for average grunt Joes in manufacturing jobs anywhere else.
    At will employment is the law of the land. So how’s quitting a job selfish? Either party can terminate employment at will without cause or notice. What’s the difference between an employer terminating a worker, escorting them out the door, and leaving the other workers in the lurch or the worker quitting and walking off the job then and there and leaving the other workers in the lurch? None. Just the employer’s prerogative and control.

    1. The key is to try and put yourself in your manager’s and colleagues shoes. The more you can think of others, the more you will be liked and supported. It’s really the key to all relationships.

      Giving your colleagues and your manager time to plan for your replacement creates a lot of Goodwill. And as a result, you dramatically improve your chances of getting a severance package.

  2. Heard you on the Fire Drill podcast discuss how to engineer your layoff in order to obtain a severance. It seems like your advice is geared toward either executives, folks at the manager/director level, or individuals that have a special skill set, though. This, of course, would make sense. That said, I’m not hearing you point that out. Rather, it almost seems like you’re providing a one-size-fits-all approach.

    Let’s say you have an individual who has been with a company for 15-20 years and is a high performer. From what I heard from you, this person would probably be an ideal candidate to negotiate a severance. However, if this individual doesn’t have any special skill set, is in a non-revenue producing position, and can easily be replaced, how can he/she have any real leverage to obtain a severance? Also, I didn’t hear you mention anything related to the size of the company, the company’s financial situation, industry, etc. in regard to an individual’s ability to broker a buyout. These things all matter, correct?

    If you work for a small mom and pop company you’re in a much different situation than someone working for a Fortune 500 company. Also, someone working for a nonprofit would, in many cases, be dealing with a much different situation.

    I didn’t read your book, so maybe you go into detail there about different approaches based on different situations I describe above. However, at least from the podcast, I simply heard a general/broad stroke approach that, without context, could lead someone down the wrong path.

    Just my two cents. 

    1. Hi Danny – Yeah, it’s hard to get the full picture by just listening to the podcast where only about 10 minutes out of the 40 minutes was dedicated to this topic of severance negotiation. Let me know what you think after reading the book. I cover various severance negotiation examples from smaller firms to larger firms. It’s often easier to negotiate at smaller, more intimate firms actually.

      Many other posts here about severance negotiation e.g. How To Use The Family And Medical Leave Act To Negotiate A Severance

  3. Therefore, I will think that as investors we should do our part and buy the stocks of companies that offer pensions, job security, keep their employees fat and happy for decades, stay local, do not use technology, refuse to engage in cutthroat competition, and negotiate fat layoffs with those asking :)

    1. Brian McMan

      I’m honestly seeking to understand this “Impact Investing.” How does purchasing a tiny bit of ownership of a company who pays pensions encourage companies to pay pensions? Like why does you purchasing a sliver of ownership in a company matter?

      I understand that many individuals have high standards for companies that they own, but how does purchasing ownership promote their values?

      1. That’s not how the numbers work out. Let me explain:

        How many investors are there in America? Probably close to 100 million including retirement accounts. But let’s be extra conservative and only consider how many FI people there are in America, let’s say 100,000, say one out of 3000 people, (really Sam how many are there? You could write a column on it). These are people with typically over 1M net worth, so say they allocate just 1% ($10k) to “ethical investing”. We get one billion $, enough to buy an entire mid size company. Then…with the benefit of “ethical investing” now being recognized in this one ethical company, many more investors follow suit and voila! Pensions return, salaries increase, employees become fat and happy again, retention, great severance packages etc.

        Besides ethical investors don’t have to buy entire companies. If a company can raise just an additional 20% in capital from ethical investors, it will have a tremendous financing advantage over its “non-ethical” competitors. How are this company’s employees going to use this advantage? By being more productive? Or by being fat and happy? Which brings me to my second point..

        …that “ethical investing” is mostly a pipe dream. I think that if you did do this type of “ethical investing” you would have to kiss your returns goodbye and seriously hamstring FI dreams. Which brings up a more general point…

        To people who are net borrowers, and that is a majority of people (and more ominously a majority of voters), FI itself is unethical. So it’s good to be a little cautious and stay mobile. You never quite know when the pitchforks and torches will be taken out of the basement. That is one of my main reservations in owning real estate. It’s not that mobile, so you could become a sitting duck for the pitchforks… with rent controls, regulation etc. Real estate takes time to liquidate, so by the time you see the light of the torches it’s already too late. Which brings me to my final point…

        My original comment was mostly a joke to remind of the often invoked motto in these columns and comments whereby one is challenged to “place their money where their mouth is”.

  4. The last company I worked for, had 3 rounds of layoffs within 2 years. They’re also now in the news for planning to reduce a third of their workforce.

    I put my hand up for a severance in the last round when they were asking for volunteers and my boss rejected it. When I eventually quit, apparently I ruined his plans to let go of am underperforming employee – not in a nasty way, we left on pretty good terms, he was just letting me know. I suspect for it’s not that simple to get a severance in a lot of roles and industries.

    Also think it’s a bit of a contradiction noting the lack of loyalty companies provide employees, and then calling employees unethical in not doing the best for the company when they leave.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Did you utilize the strategies that I suggested in my book? It often takes some marination before the managers see the light.

      Your manager letting you know that you quitting handcuffed him to being stuck with an underperformer is her regret for NOT having had an open severance negotiation dialogue with you.

  5. “Some of you may ask what if you’re stuck in a toxic work environment you can’t stand. In such a situation, it’s even more important to attempt to engineer your layoff while concurrently looking for another job.”

    I’m in such a toxic work environment.

    How would I go about this?

  6. Not sure what’s next. Something with a lot less stress! Fortunately I saved and do own rental property. I really want to avoid going back into the corporate grind if I can. It’s exciting yet scarey.

  7. Here’s a recent perspective. I gave notice last month. It was not an easy choice but the time felt right and I had been thinking it through for over six months. My work-life balance was not where I wanted it to be and I was waiting until my bonus got paid out. It has been a little uncomfortable because people didn’t see it coming. Overall the team were disappointed but supportive and I’m staying for just over a month to assist with transition.

    I continue to remain focused and keep things moving along but I do know there will be challenges ahead for the new person.

    Overall it’s going well but I really don’t believe a ‘layoff’ was an option for me. I just couldn’t see that even being considered by the large company I work for…

    1. totally understand. I think most employees think this way, believing there is no way out except for quitting. But actually, large corporations have bigger severance packages And are more used to wearing people off so they have packages in place.

      Please read the several posts I linkedto at the bottom of the post. To quit and provide a one month heads up for transition is really nice for the employer. And at least you get one more month of salary without feeling too much pressure.

      What do you plan to do next?

  8. Interesting article, and I’d never consdered engineering my layoff until I read your posts on it over the last few years.
    Engineering a long layoff period sounds like it can help both you and the employer. But what if you already have a job to go to? Everyone I know who has ever left a job has left because they have a new job to go to, so resigning is the only option as they start their new job a few weeks later.
    Plus I think all of your financial benefits (other than severance) only apply to US citizens.
    Good article!

    1. Ben, it’s a great question. And one that can be answered with planning.

      Engineer in your layoff, while also setting up another job in the future is next level engineering. I don’t think anybody wakes up one day and feels they need to quit their job. It’s a slowly gnawing feeling that grows and grows inside you.

      I do discuss in my book how to double dip and earn a severance, while also earning another paycheck. And for those who are in more senior positions, there is also a triple dipping, where are you not only are in a severance, you own a new paycheck, and also earn deferred cash and stock compensation over the years.

      Finally, I dont recommend everyone engineer there lay off on a Friday, And go to work on a Monday. That is too sad. Instead, engineer your layoff on a Friday, get your severance, and negotiate your new starting job 1-3 months from now. If they really want you, they will accept.

  9. I agree with all the points you mentioned. When I was a manager it was so stressful when staff members quit with 2 weeks notice. It would take at least 3 months on average for things to get back to normal and often longer. Hiring replacements and training is a long and painful process.

  10. I’m still amazed more people don’t try to get some sort of severance when they decide to leave their company. I own a small business “20 employees” in the service industry. I have 6 employees who if they left, and asked, I would provide some sort of severance simply because of their contributions to my company.

    In my 20 years owning this company only 1 employee has asked. I gave that employee an extra month of pay. For his part he agreed to answer my phone calls if I had any questions regarding his job. I never called him and he got an extra 5k.

    What’s the worse case scenario asking for a severance? Your boss says no. Big deal

    Thanks, Bill

  11. Dood, el Farbe

    I’m frankly baffled that anyone would say that engineering your layoff with appropriate (to both parties) severance was “unethical”.

    For anyone who can accomplish an engineered layoff and severance… isn’t the fact that it happened good proof in and of itself that it WAS of benefit to the employer to do it that way?

    Ms. Weber above does list some interesting points I hadn’t really consciously thought of, but especially her notion of emotional fatigue rings some bells in my head.

  12. Oh dear, I think quitting my last job had all the implications of that. It didn’t hurt my finances but I did leave a bunch of people in a bind to retrain someone and replace me. It’s true that at the time I didn’t know better. I thought 2 weeks notice is all you would need and that’s kind of optional depending on the place! (I was very clueless.)

  13. Hillary Weber

    I appreciate you continuing to post on this topic, it has helped immensely this year at our house as we work through the sale of a company where the purchaser wants to keep as much employee capital on board. So many people wait too long (myself included) to make a move that they are basically too exhausted to ask for more money, not because they are inconsiderate but because they are just emotionally done with the job before they opt to resign or join a synergy list. When exhausted, the idea of asking for money from the place you want to leave equates to suggesting that you want to continue working there. Your posts have helped us realize that negotiating a severance is not asking to keep working at the company but is all about defining your finite value with the company, setting boundaries/runway and getting compensated for your time. Thanks!

  14. Journey2Prosperity

    “Quitting Your Job Is Selfish: Engineering Your Layoff Is The Ethical Way To Go”

    Wow. Some strong words there. I disagree. If you don’t like where your work, just quit and burn the bridge. No need to suck up and negotiate. You will find other ways to make money, and you will feel better about yourself.

    1. I have to admit. Watching a bridge burn can be fascinating over some popcorn.

      There is no better feeling than walking away from a job you wanted to leave anyway with money in your pocket.

    2. I’ve gotta disagree here. I don’t think there’s I still anything wrong with negotiating a severance with your employer. Nothing would make me happier right now than if my manager called me into his office to tell me I was being laid off, asked me to stay on three months to train a replacement, and would give me a lump sum payment of 25% my gross annual salary to be paid upon my departure.

      I don’t think there’s anything WRONG with quitting, but like working, you should quit smarter, not harder.

      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  15. FullTimeFinance

    I agree. The whole reason your given a severance is to ease your trasition out by having you stay longer. If you were to give 2 weeks notice usually that’s not enough time to train a replacement.

  16. Accidental FIRE

    To me it’s selfish to treat your employer poorly if they were good and fair to you. However if your employer was dishonest or a “bad player” to you then I don’t think it’s selfish to quit at all. It’s karma, and it’s probably what the employer deserves.

    1. I like this logic, but wouldn’t limit it to just your own good treatment. The economy has been strong for 7+ years so most people haven’t been burned by their current employer. Mine has been great to me, but they also laid off plenty of people like myself in 2009-10. They’ve treated me well because I make them money. If that changes and I become a drag (whether my fault or not), they wouldn’t think twice about letting me go.

  17. Sam, I actually think a lot of people just don’t realize that engineering a layoff is even a possibility. I saw it plenty when I owned my IT services company. No one ever asked for a severance (although we offered it sometimes). It just didn’t cross their mind.

    Fast forward to when I left my own company, I started to engineer my own layoff, but was leaving $$ on the table. Luckily I had some good counsel and I was able to negotiate much more than I was willing to walk away with. So, it definitely pays to keep smarter people around you at all times. :)

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