A Buyout Offer Sounds Tempting but Risky

Posted July 20, 2018 5:57 p.m. EDT

Q: I work in a fairly competitive field in which jobs — good ones, anyway — can be hard to come by. I like mine, but my company has announced that it’s laying off workers. While this is terrible news, our union negotiated a buyout option: Essentially, one can volunteer to be laid off in exchange for better severance.

Trying to decide if I should take a buyout myself, I have mixed feelings. I feel passionate about the work, but my company has been undergoing changes I don’t necessarily love. Worse, I can’t stand my boss, and it’s hard for me to imagine that relationship getting any easier.

I’ve wanted to pursue a personal project for a long time, and taking a buyout — which would equal several months of pay — would allow me some time to do that. However, I’m worried that I won’t be able to find another job that’s as good as my current one when that money runs out. — New York

A: Layoffs are always stressful, but however this plays out, count yourself fortunate to have this sort of buyout option to consider. Not everyone does.

In some ways, you sound like a good candidate for taking the buyout. Consider the question through the lens of potential future regrets. Do you want to look back and realize that you put off that project so you could stay safely sheltered under the thumb of a boss you dislike? I doubt it.

There is no guarantee, of course, that your project will pan out. Or that you can claw your way back into the workforce later, if you need to do that.

But at least you’ll have given your idea a shot, and treated this moment as an opportunity. Same goes for a worker who has, say, been considering a career switch or other work-related change. Or, for that matter, someone who might simply want to find another job as quickly as possible and sock away whatever the buyout sum may be.

The unpleasant truth is that if you’re being offered a buyout today, and your company’s fortunes don’t improve, then the next step may be a standard layoff a year from now. That would present all the challenges you face now, with much less opportunity.

This doesn’t mean every worker should automatically go for the buyout option. If you’re closing in on retirement, or your need for steady income trumps your interest in a transitory lump sum, or you simply love your job or your company, it might be worth it to hope that enough others accept buyouts so that your position is protected.

But anybody who is offered a buyout ought to take that offer as a moment for serious reflection. Even if you don’t want to leave your job now, it is wise to think about what’s going to happen if your company’s fortunes don’t improve. Update your résumé and start considering what you’ll do if (or when) you lose your job.

And for those who do take the buyout: Unless you’re deliberately using the money for a purpose like starting retirement or vacationing before an already arranged job, resist the temptation to simply take it easy.

Yes, a nice chunk of money in exchange for not going to work is on one level delightful. It offers breathing room to consider and explore new options. But you don’t want to look back on your buyout moment and realize that you goofed off until it was time to scramble desperately for a new gig, and you never quite got around to that passion project.

If you take the buyout, make it count.

— Confronting a Naked Truth

Q: A gym has just opened in the building that I work in, and is available at no cost to tenants. My colleagues and I are delighted and use it regularly.

The locker room is small, and there is very little opportunity for privacy. After my morning workout, I shower and dress before work, as do others.

I wonder how to deal with the reality that now, as colleagues, we might be naked together. I am not personally uncomfortable with it, but others may be — either seeing their colleagues naked or being seen themselves. Also, I am the boss, which feels extra complicated.

Any suggestions for how to handle this? — Susan

A: Nobody in your office has to go to this gym — or any gym. A single visit would, from your description, establish the basic facts about the locker room and its limitations. From there, one could decide to make it a habit, find a different time to visit, join some other gym, work out at home or skip this activity altogether.

You’re right that individual feelings about these sorts of situations vary wildly: I’d rather change clothes in a truck stop bathroom stall than in a locker room with co-workers. But this is not a work space, nobody has to be there, and the parameters are evident.

Just keep work definitively out of this particular time and space, and go about your business with the same modesty anybody should exercise in a locker room of any size. The experience should be fine so long as nobody overcomplicates it. You’re smart to be aware, but don’t overcomplicate things yourself.