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I'm a software developer with experience primarily in web development. The project I was working on at my company has finished recently. So HR told me that there are 3 different open positions on another team and asked me if I could move to one of them.

Sadly even though these positions (devops, avionics) are still software development positions, none of them are any compatible with my skillset. I told them that they wouldn't hire me to these positions if I was applying externally, and I also wouldn't apply to them if I was looking for work.

Now if the company decides to let me go, law requires them to pay a high severance because I worked there for a long time. If they send me to one of these positions even though I'm not qualified, they would still pay my salary but I wouldn't be able to produce anything useful for a very long time.

So I thought I could offer them, to pay only a certain smaller percentage of my severance and than I could resign. That way law doesn't require them to pay anything because I would be quitting on my own will.

Do you think this approach is reasonable? If not, what could be an alternative?

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    why don't you want the other positions? they are willing to pay for you learning, and you could broaden your scope. the answer influences you negotiation options
    – Benjamin
    Feb 17, 2023 at 19:53
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    @Benjamin: This. Unless you actively want to avoid learning about the other areas, take the free education. The company trusts that you're with retaining, even if you don't, or they'd invite you to resign instead.
    – keshlam
    Feb 17, 2023 at 21:10
  • What region of the world do you work in? Keep in mind multi-Billion dollar companies in your sector are shrinking their workforce by thousands. Your local economy and world economy are not healthy.
    – Donald
    Feb 18, 2023 at 19:35
  • /with/worth/ in my previous comment. Sigh. I really am coming to hate the phone keyboard.
    – keshlam
    Feb 22, 2023 at 2:30
  • In addition, when a potential new employer asks you why you're leaving, "They asked me to learn skills outside my current set, but I didn't want to" is not a good look. Feb 22, 2023 at 13:23

4 Answers 4

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As others have said - you can always negotiate.

However, I'm going to add a tangential perspective here:

You've said that if you were applying externally that you wouldn't get the roles offered because you aren't qualified and that the company would be paying you your salary for not producing anything of significant value.

Putting aside the severance cost, that suggests something to me:

The Company sees that keeping you employed with them has more value to them than letting you go.

That is to say, it is better to keep you in the company, on the likelihood that in the future there will be a Project where your skillset is better suited, even if in the short-term that means paying you more than you produce (relatively speaking) - than let you go and loose your expertise permanently.

Have you considered this perspective from the Company? A very famous example of something like this was when the BBC hired the team that became Monty Python - they didn't have any real requirement for them at the time, but they saw value in them as individuals and so reasoned that if they hired them, they would eventually produce something of value. Little did they know that they would go on to produce IMO the most paradigm shifting Comedy series of all time.

Of course, you might not feel comfortable with this - and that's fine - in some ways it could be better to leave amicably and leave the door open, than to get frustrated and let your reputation suffer.

TL;DR - consider the company thinks that keeping you with them is likely to give them more value in the long run.

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    Unless you (OP) is only a few years from retire, having skills in something like avionics is going to be a plus. It's challenging discipline and so working in it proves you are smart, even to companies that don't need the skillset. I would negotiate on how much trainign you are going to get moving to the new position. Feb 18, 2023 at 15:46
  • I have heard instances where an embedded engineer is put to a web project, not even knowing how to debug code running in the web browser. These people get frustrated and quit after a couple months, finding a proper position, in the meantime they get paid but it's much less than the severance. If they contribute even a little in the meantime, it's win win for the company.
    – uylmz
    Feb 24, 2023 at 17:01
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What you are faced with is not unusual. If they make an offer and you reject it you risk the severance.

Step one start looking for a job outside the company. You will either be in a position you don't want, or be unemployed.

Step 2 try to negotiate. One issue is that if many employees are in a similar situation, the cost of the severance option will be very expensive. They may go with a discounted payment to save some money. They also may not want to negotiate because they may have to do the same for everyone once the word gets out.

You could also look for other internal transfers and get the manager of one of the other projects to push for a quick transfer. I have done this in the past because you can join quickly with minimal initialization costs.

If they won't negotiate, you could take the offered job and work until you find another position.

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    if many employees are in a similar situation We are only 2 people in this team. My coworker knows a little more about the other positions, so he has a better chance to transfer.
    – uylmz
    Feb 17, 2023 at 17:22
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Yes, you can certainly negotiate this.

You may first want to read up on the legal background in your local environment. There are typically clear definitions of fired (for cause), laid off, resignation, etc. In some countries there are "in-betweens", for example in Germany there is an "Aufloesungsvertrag" which ends the legal relation my mutual agreement.

There tend to be consequences to this: for example if you resign in the US you are not entitled to any type of unemployment payment. Make sure you understand the landscape and the consequences and identify the ones that are important to you or not. At this point it's also a good idea to take a good look at your employee handbook and determine what all the related company policies are.

That should give you a target to shoot for: What legal arrangement do you want and how much severance or assistance us acceptable to you. Now it's also time for plan B: what will you do if they say "no". This has direct consequences to your negotiation approach: if you are considering staying for a while, you need to be a bit more careful. If you have decided to leave anyway, you can play more hardball.

If you are not reasonably comfortable with this type of negotiation, I recommend getting some professional help or looking at a few tutorials. Negotiating is a skill like every other even some basic practice can help a lot.

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I think to negotiate, you'd have to explain to them why paying you to go now is in their interests - especially if you might resign later anyway, with no severance payable.

Purposes of severance

The point of severance is to promote the security of your job and wage, and to cover transition costs if the company tells you to go (potentially at a time when you do not wish to go, and have nothing else lined up).

For the employer, the payability of severance is also another way of expressing the value of retaining existing staff in their financial calculus.

Particularly in software, retaining people who understand a long span of development history, and who have the capability to navigate a large and complicated codebase and understand all the main concepts there, is extremely valuable. A computerised system typically becomes a "dead hand" once all original development staff have departed.

A readiness to react to faults, an ability to control the organisation and influence it rationally to avoid disruption to systems, or an ability to periodically reproduce knowledge and convey "institutional memory" to new staff, may be an extremely valuable resource for the company even if it requires next to no work (in terms of time or subjective effort) from the worker.

The loss of this knowledge capital would be a hidden cost for your employer, but severance helps to make it real for those in the company who know the price of everything, but who have little operational understanding to factor the value of retained knowledge. It effectively makes the hit of your departure a double-whammy for the employer, but it at least means one of the whammies is quantified and foreseen (instead of none of them being quantified and foreseen, which would make it especially likely that the management will behave dysfunctionally and maladminister the corporation in relation to its best interests in terms of staff retention).

There are also other functions which severance performs for the employer, unrelated to the issue at hand, such as deterring premature departures of staff when reorganisations or redundancies are suspected to be afoot.

The reason I rehearse all this is to demonstrate why demanding even a partial severance may be seen as unreasonable.

They are not forcing you to go on their schedule (or at all), so there is no justification for expecting your transition costs to another job to be covered.

And if you leave voluntarily, you are imposing the hidden cost of your departure - a departure which the severance exists to deter the employer from imposing on themselves too lightly.

And the prospect of you losing the protection of your severance, by abandoning the job on your own initiative, is exactly a lock-in the employer wants to wield over you!

You have approached the matter as if the employer really wants you to go, but are frightened of a large severance. On the contrary, the existence of such a large severance in the first place is a sign that they don't usually want people like you to go - and the law is structured in a way that predominantly requires them to induce your consent to stay, and gild your cage (rather than putting you in leg-irons, for example).

On this logic, why would they pay you even a single penny to leave, when the whole logic is to stop you leaving?

There would perhaps be an argument that they were seeking to get rid of you, free of severance cost, if they redeployed you to toilet-cleaning duty.

But it doesn't sound like they are redeploying you to a role that a reasonable worker would find immediately objectionable - it's not a penal duty, or a duty where you'd be hassled for immediate results despite being inexperienced.

If you really want to leave, you can start interviewing, and take your time knowing you're in a solid job in the meantime.

Negotiation

However, your employer's representatives don't necessarily have to share all the above analysis - either because it doesn't apply in your case, or because they have only a dim grasp of the policy issues at stake.

If you really are set on leaving, then my suggestion would be to reiterate that you think your internal options are a poor fit for your skills and experience, and probe their appetite for buying out your job security in this instance.

Avoid, obviously, suggesting that you intend to leave under all circumstances (which would potentially eliminate your bargaining power), and avoid any whiff of extortion (such as threatening to leave after they've sunk costs on near-term training costs, or otherwise assuming an entitlement to severance when resigning).

If there are near-term training costs, they will be acutely aware of this, and acutely aware of the prospect of incurring these then facing your unconditional resignation.

Instead suggest that you really see this as a redundancy situation and that you're unclear how happy you will be with any of the offered internal redeployments. The impression you want to give is that your future performance might be sullen and perfunctory, lacking enthusiasm because of misfitting, but short of ill-will or downright non-performance.

By casting the obstacle to your leaving as being your own job security, and by avoiding any suggestion that you will fail to perform if they decide they'd prefer to retain you, you're talking turkey with them and offering real alternatives for them to consider.

Also, crucially, the choice must be cast as between them either retaining you, or exploring the possibility of them severing you for less than the usual amount. It mustn't be cast as you offering to resign for more than the usual amount of zero!

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