“How much should my husband ask to be ‘retained’ by his company for six months longer than he would like to stay on?”

Questions: My husband’s employer is being bought by a larger company, and many employees will be losing their jobs. Because my husband is 62, eligible for Social Security, and receiving a substantial pension from another company, he volunteered to be downsized, hoping he would get the severance being offered. His employer said, “No.”

Soon afterward, my husband told his manager that he would then retire shortly before the merger of the two companies, as he had no interest in going through the process of learning all new procedures, policies and protocols. To our surprise, his manager was told by his own boss to ask my husband, “How much will it take to get you to remain in your job an extra six months?”

Are there guidelines for how much he should ask for to stay on the extra six months? Perhaps a percentage of his annual salary? Perhaps the severance amount he would have received if he had been downsized? Is there some accepted yardstick? He’s always been considered a very valuable employee.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Answer: Like the value of anything else in life, the value of a thing depends entirely on the perspective of the purchaser. A thimbleful of water is not worth much, but it is worth the world to a thirsty person in a desert.

In my experience, the most common treatment given a person in your husband’s shoes is what your intuition already told you: the severance he would have received had he been downsized, to be paid to him at the end of the six-month retention period. That would probably be the easiest to negotiate, as well, as all it really means is that your husband is put into the category of those to be downsized, but simply delaying his downsizing for six months.

If you believe your husband is particularly valuable to his employer – perhaps we should use the word uniquely valuable due to some special skill, relation or knowledge – you might consider asking for more than the standard severance amount, perhaps three months of salary more than that. I say this because special value is worth a special premium.

Please note that asking for any additional “retention” should be introduced accompanied by a rationale. As I always say in my negotiation seminars, “Numbers are easy to argue with, but reasons require real thinking.” That’s a fundament lesson of workplace negotiating.

How about this, all of which is probably true: “I have always wanted to retire, spend precious time with my wife, and kids and grandkids. We have already started thinking of that wonderful chapter of life called retirement, and have even started making plans. That being said, I understand and respect that you may want me to put retirement off, and delay my dreams, and stay on for your own needs, plans and hopes. How about this “trade”: I stay on for six extra months, and at the end the company pays me (a) the amount I would have received for severance, and (b) a check for three months salary. Alternatively, just make it one check for six months. That would give me what I think I deserve for putting my hopes and plans on hold.” It may not exactly fit your own facts and circumstances, and may not be what you had hoped, but it is my best suggestion given the facts, events and circumstances you’ve presented.

In any event, I hope this is helpful. Best of luck in your negotiating, and you have my best wishes for the “sweet retirement” you’ve earned.

Best, Al Sklover

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© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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