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About a week ago, I learned that my company was going to have imminent layoffs (think 2-3 weeks) through a friend in HR.

It’s not a surgical thing but more of a cost slashing exercise. Hiring freeze and cutting ~500 positions. Across the board cuts for the office.

When I heard this, I reached out to my network of recruiters to see what might be available and I have 5 interviews next week. All come with a raise in base salary as I have been lazy about job hopping and I can probably negotiate the salary higher as that is the base. Even if I get none of them, I have two years of savings and live cheaply. Senior software engineers will land somewhere.

My co-worker is less experienced. He’s an intermediate who retrained from another career. As a result he is older, has a family, a house, a pile of medical bills for his sick wife, etc. He has mentioned a few times of getting into payday loans over it. I helped him set up a convoluted cash flow management system a couple months ago.

I don’t actually know who is going and who is staying regarding the layoffs, but I’m ready with my parachute. I want to inform my boss that if the cost cutting requirement hits us, she should cut me over this guy.

Problem is, I am not sure who knows about the layoffs. The company sequestered HR away at a secondary location to plan them. My friend obviously was not supposed to tell me (the communication was offsite in a way that nobody would know). I am not even sure my boss knows or whether she would just be required to list people to be whacked.

My current scheme would be to refer my boss to a recruiter friend, tell them why she is available, who would then reach out to her and note that in their outreach. I I’ll say I got such a note as well.

Second option is an anonymous email to 50 different people in the organization. Provide sufficient proof that I know the building and such, and let the gossip network spread the info.

If I had any evidence beyond my friends word, I would inform the local media.

In either case, I have my opening to say “protect Tom (not real name), not me.”

I don’t know if quitting now would solve the problem because it seems like a cut in existing costs, so if I am off the salary table, there may still need to be a cut.

I’m basically looking for any other strategies I might use.

My priorities:

  1. Making sure that the leak of information can’t be sent back to my HR friend (we don’t hang out at work or anything) or be blamed on my boss. I’ll fess up if required and say I overhead a conversation, but I’m not facing the CIA here. I haven’t done anything on company networks.
  2. Protecting Tom and helping him keep his job, at least until he can seamlessly transition to a new one.
  3. Ideally getting away with my severance check for being “laid off.” Free money!
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Feb 11 at 12:27
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    You assume that the two of you are interchangeable. Typically, you’re not. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Feb 11 at 18:30
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    This question - as so many - would profit from a tag stating the jurisdiction! - In Germany the best option would be to approach the workers' council (Betriebsrat), as they usually would have a say in who gets laid off. - If there isn't one, yet, get one started. Starting the election of one and being elected to one grants (at least temporary) immunity from being fired. – I'm with Monica Feb 12 at 11:55

11 Answers 11

248

I would prefer a simpler approach.

Ask for a 20 to 30% raise. Make sure HR is aware of your request.

That should be enough to get you on the list.

Also, I agree with Selbie. You should tell your friend about the incoming layoff. Better he prepares himself for the worse just in case. Nothing, you can do, can really guarantee 100% that your friend will be able to keep his job.

So if I were you, I wouldn't even try. After giving him a heads up about the highly probable layoff, I would just focus on my own needs. He's a fully grown adult. He's not even your partner or your own family member. And if you both get laid off, it doesn't really help either of you either.

Besides, as soon as you reach the stage of several in-person interviews a week, it's likely that your employer will begin to suspect that you're interviewing elsewhere anyway.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Feb 11 at 12:28
  • How exactly does asking for a raise guarantee OP to get on the list? If they weren't already on the list, their employer wants to keep them, so why not simply deny the raise and leave it at that? If OP were to resign themselves (over an alleged raise request that was denied), that's still cheaper than firing OP. There is no benefit to the company by putting OP on the list, so why would it be guaranteed for that to happen? – Flater Feb 12 at 18:19
  • @Flater, "Nothing, you can do, can really guarantee 100% that your friend will be able to keep his job." and I really don't think it's a good plan anyway. You shouldn't do it. That's what I ultimately said. Now, you may not like the sequence of what I said, but if I changed the sequence, it wouldn't be you complaining, it would be the OP complaining that I didn't even try to answer their original question in the first place. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 12 at 19:00
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    @Flater asking for a raise when a company is engaging cost-cutting measures (hiring freeze and layoffs) is definitely more likely to get you on the list; Stephen did only say "should be enough", not "guaranteed". If you're denied your raise, you're a larger risk for leaving the company -- the answer's going to be no when they're already looking to cut costs, why not lay off the guy who might just leave anyway and save the budget for people who are happy with their current salaries? – Doktor J Feb 12 at 21:12
  • @DoktorJ: "If you're denied your raise, you're a larger risk for leaving the company -- the answer's going to be no when they're already looking to cut costs, why not lay off the guy who might just leave anyway" ...because laying off someone costs more to the company than them quitting? Or is this a cultural difference between us that I'm not aware of, where in your culture an employer does not pay any severance or notice when firing a worker (in absence of exigent circumstances)? – Flater Feb 12 at 22:50
177

I want to volunteer instead of a co-worker

You can't.

During a layoff the people to be laid off are selected by a set of criteria that makes sense to the business in its current (difficult) situation and typically you have an ordered list of names.

You can certainly quit or volunteer once it's public knowledge, but you will only "save" the person that's on the last spot of the cut list. This will in all likelihood not be the person you are trying to protect. Chances are you're not going to save anyone, since layoff planning typically includes some amount of attrition, which is normal.

Companies use layoffs often to cut fat and get rid of poor performers or misfits. Generally they do NOT take volunteers, especially if the volunteer is a person they want to keep. Business needs to continue after the layoffs so the company wants to do this with the best possible set of people.

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    Attrition, collateral damage, there's always extra (and at times unexpected) cost with lay-offs indeed. – Mast Feb 10 at 10:08
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    There are times a company will take volunteers; but when they are willing to do that they generally begin by offering more generous than standard severance and/or early retirement packages and then only do involuntary layoffs if not enough volunteers can be found. With the OP's company doing layoff planning in secret this is probably off the table. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Feb 10 at 11:57
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    This is not necessarily true. In many situations the business knowledge is shared by only a small number of people. If one them leaves, you just can't fire the rest of them. – Sulthan Feb 10 at 14:28
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    This answer is inaccurate. Depending on your employer, asking to be added to the RIF list is totally a thing. – TehShrike Feb 10 at 19:53
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    You very frequently can. Just tell your boss that if you survive layoff you'll jump anyway. They'll cut you instead, as retaining someone who will leave makes no sense. The only time you can't is when you're already going to be laid off. Although protecting a particular person, unless you know you're in a role where one of you MUST be retained, is probably not possible. – Gabe Sechan Feb 11 at 2:45
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With ~500 people getting laid off it sounds like there is enough room for both of you on the cut list so I'm not quite sure there's a way to volunteer yourself in your colleague's stead.

Your real question boils down to:

How do I help my colleague avoid being laid off?

Quite frankly it's noble, but the answer is you're asking too little too late. Unless you're his supervisor then there is very little you can effectively do. Even if you were his supervisor, your hands may very well be tied behind your back anyways.

Right now is not the best time to burn bridges and paint a target on your back; you might need to use this job as a reference for a future job.

You can choose to give your colleague an anonymous tip about the layoff and let them handle it as they see fit but that could lead your colleague into a downward spiral.

You could and probably should ask your recruiters if they know of any openings which would suit your colleague's capacity.

If sacrificing your position would actually keep your colleague employed then you simply have to wait until the proverbial sh!t actually hits the fan because until that point you are the sh!t-flinger.


For the time being, this is all hearsay. I recommend reading my answer about an unrelated situation. https://workplace.stackexchange.com/a/111444/17532


If you truly want to expose this layoff ahead of schedule then consider this:

When a company such as Apple is working on a secret project, they will codename it different things to different people so that if a leak occurs they can narrow down who exposed the leak.

This very same practice may have been employed on your HR colleague: one person was told ~350 in 6 weeks, another ~400 next week, another was told ~500 in 3 months, and your colleague was told ~500 in 2-3 weeks.

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You definitely shouldn't hint that you know layoffs are coming. That puts your friend in HR in a precarious position and may endanger their job and future at the company.

However, there are other ways to "make yourself" the target of layoffs without letting on you know.

  1. Be public about the fact that you're interviewing
  2. Request a large raise / better working conditions (not too large to be comical, but large enough to make them seriously balk, say 20-25%) (Note: do not do this unless you can stomach staying if they agree to it)
  3. express other dissatisfaction with your job

Usually people who let this on are the first ones to be selected for layoff, all other things being equal. In the end there's no safe way of letting them know directly that you'd like to be in the layoff, so don't do it.

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    Even if they agree to your demand for a raise, you don't have to stay - in fact you might be able to use it to get a higher rate elsewhere. – Chris Cooper Feb 10 at 12:16
  • @ChrisCooper you don't have to, but I'd consider it a bad idea to ask unless you would stay for that. It could seriously sour your reputation at the company you just left then, and impact future references. – Magisch Feb 10 at 12:18
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    @Magisch unless they accept your demands on the spot, you can always say that since you made them the offer, new, better offers were made to you, and that the previous offer is off the table. At this moment they can try to ramp it, but it's unlikely for a company planning layoffs. If they ramp it to ridiculous amounts (doubling or better), I guess you have to stay though. – Andrei Feb 10 at 14:37
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    I disagree with Be public about the fact that you're interviewing. If you are about to leave anyway, why would they pay you a severance package? – dyesdyes Feb 10 at 15:37
  • If layoffs are coming, friends job is already in danger? – gerrit Feb 10 at 22:10
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I'd say, there is no straightforward way to achieve point number 2 (which is also the heading of your question).

Usually, when a medium-to-large scale layoffs happen, there are primarily one of the two approaches taken:

  • Either an entire business unit, department or office location is axed. This disregards the position, rank, achievements etc. When company wants to move out of a particular business stream / idea / domain - these approach is often noticed.
  • Or, the layoff list is prepared based on certain criteria - (not necessarily in the given order) performance, salary drawn, scope of work for a particular domain / position from company business standpoint etc.

So, you can't know for sure if only Tom is going to be on the list, or you both are, or none of you. In the case where you are excluded and Tom is on the list, chances are slim that the company will be willing to switch their decision on the list based on your request / approach. Most likely, you'll be added to the list, but Tom will not be removed from the list (which defies the whole purpose of your question).

If you really want to help Tom, help him in other ways - introduce him to the recruiters or inform him of open positions you know of and probably help them in their interview process (technical knowledge sharing etc), more importantly, enable him.

Remember the old saying: "If you give someone a fish, you have fed them for a day, if you teach them how to fish, you have fed them for lifetime."

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    I have heard of a company asking for "volunteers", for lack of a better word, for layoffs: folks willing to retire early or shorten an existing notice period. Unfortunately, there's no way for OP to know that will happen in this case. – BSMP Feb 10 at 9:33
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica Jesus wouldn't be speaking English either. – Erbureth says Reinstate Monica Feb 10 at 13:32
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    @ErburethsaysReinstateMonica That reminds me of the quote "If King James' English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me" – Michael J. Feb 10 at 18:16
  • @BSMP - It’s extremely common in the IT world – Donald Feb 11 at 5:56
  • The layoffs my company once went through were basically "every department axe 10%" and managers just "had to choose" (theoretically based on some metric, in actuality, based on...manager choice, with no malice, manager's had to make the hard painful decision) the people to go, in which case the OP's question might be appropriate... – rogerdpack Feb 11 at 20:01
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One place where I worked had the situation, and someone asked the question. The answer was "Everyone laid off gets a generous severance package. Anyone who quits gets nothing, and the same number of people will get laid off". I don't think that's unusual.

There were cases where a manager had to pick one or two out of five to be laid off. If you contacted them they were not supposed to pick you first but they might have. On the other hand the severance was generous, I found a better job quite quickly, so volunteering wouldn't necessarily have been appreciated.

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I had this exact same situation come up at a place I worked a few years back. I just went to my boss, told them I know layoffs are coming and that I volunteer to leave so my co-worker can remain stable.

That is it. No need to tell them how you know and if they ask just say that you heard it on the grapevine.

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  • I was just going to write that. With a company big enough that they can lay off 500 people, there's always enough material on the rumor mill. If your standing with your boss is good enough, you should be able to casually talk to him about that. "There's been talk of imminent staff cuts going around, and Tom is really worried such an event might ruin his life. Should our department get hit, please put me on the short list instead, I can survive that far easier than him." – WooShell Feb 11 at 11:53
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I read the other answers and for me they are missing one crucial point: Don't act on things that MIGHT happen.

Every action from your side will make it worse without the guarantee to make anything better:

First of all: You don't know if there really will be any layoffs within your department. And if there are then you don't know if there will be one, two or three people involved. And if there is only one person you cannot know that it will be your colleague.

Any actions that make you look "a good firing candidate" will do so even if none of the above is true: You might be fired without anyone planning to do so in before. And they may still decide to layoff your colleague...

So in the end you might end up layed off just to find out, that your department would not have been involved at all.

In the other hand: find out, whether your friend at HR is right or not or if there is any danger for your or your colleague will likely raise a red flag for information that is thought to be secret being distributed among employees: They will seek and find the reason for the leak and it will have consequences for your HR friend as well.

Wait until it is clear that something like that is going to happen and react then by volunteering... That is what I would do.

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Dismissing employees is not an easy task.

Having been involved in the process I can tell you there is no small amount of guilt in this. I'd have loved for one of those on my potential list to have come forward and let me know they had a parachute to catch them.

That being said you can only advise - getting on the list in the first place depends on things like the impact to the company if you left, how high your salary is and thus the size of the severance package, future projects you may not know about and the knowledge different people hold.

You can't get yourself to replace this person but letting your boss know you've got this parachute may help them decide to put you on the list...but it won't guarantee it.

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I know little about corporate politics so I don't know what to recommend to you but there is one thing I want to say: if you can and are willing to protect your friend, I think it is worth it. Don't self-sabotage if you don't have to but I think this is a question of morality. Like other people are saying, be pragmatic. Maybe there truly is nothing you can do. But I feel like eternal ladder climbing is not as important as helping out someone who needs help. No career advancement, to me, is worth not helping someone out. You are in a position of privilege and I think it is the duty of those in privilege to help if they can.

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I may get downvotes due the cynical view I present. However, as you have solid backup options lined up and your job function is quite in demand in the marketplace, I advise you to work as hard as you can with prospective employers to secure a written offer, and then simply provide standard notice to your current employer as normal.

As MonkeyZeus points out, you dont want to make yourself to be an easy target during this time, and anything can happen between now and when the layoffs take place. This can include your termination without any severance pay. Tom should have been preparing for possible layoffs. Being in tune with what is happening in the rest of the company is good, as well as having backup options so income is not strictly dependent on any one employer. It should be expected for one to stand on one's own feet and not expect a colleague to cover when covering may be irrational choice because again, spilling the beans here may result in your early termination.

In addition to being terminated for cause early, the fact you disclosed what may be sensitive business decision may cause lack of trust in future employers. They may think you may have difficulty keeping business secrets such as acquisition targets, customer lists, patents etc, and such concern would be entirely reasonable.

If there were to be layoffs at my company, I would not reasonably expect a colleague to take the hit when doing so may jeopardize their own job and result in termination for cause especially if you live in an at will state.

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  • I would wait with the notice till you know what conditions the layoff has. – eckes Feb 11 at 12:09
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    I'm not sure this answers anything. I mean, the OP isn't worried about themselves, and was pretty clear that they've got lots of options as well as a very large safety net. Their post is: how do I help my friend out? This post barely mentions the friend aside from a 'They should have been preparing for possible layoffs' (that they likely don't know are coming.) – Kevin Feb 11 at 15:26
  • Interesting. I wonder if another option would be for them to move to their new employ and try and "bring their friend with them" as it were...since they're theoretically moving to a new place that's hiring... – rogerdpack Feb 11 at 20:02
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    I absolutely think this answers the question. The original question belies some codependence in trying to be overly protective of a friend who should be in charge of themselves. This is the advice I would give, which is basically don't do anything drastic or abnormal at all. A lot of times when people try to be "noble" they end up doing more harm than good. In fact, the advice given elsewhere (to tell the friend about layoffs) is a great example of how OP could really hurt him - if OP told him, he got fired for spreading it further, and layoffs weren't even going to cut him. – HFBrowning Feb 12 at 0:56
  • @HFBrowning exactly. Sometimes the best help you can give someone is to allow them to help themselves. Let him be his own advocate as his self interest in his continued employment is certainly a greater motivator than anything the OP does or says – Anthony Feb 12 at 4:01

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