How to negotiate smartly

If a severed salary or a pink slip seems imminent, don’t despair. A bit of planning and a lot of savvy talking could help reduce the damage—or see you out on your terms.

Rakesh Rai | Print Edition: April 2, 2009

Your job is at risk these days. Your hierarchy, responsibility and salary level don’t matter. Anyone can be sacked on a day’s notice and almost everyone has or is likely to face either a salary cut or an increment freeze. Therefore, it is critical for you to protect your job and make it the number one priority at your workplace. “With almost 40% of companies reporting redeployment of human resources, large-scale alignment in organisational structure may be expected,” says Sandeep Chaudhary, leader (performance and rewards practice), Hewitt Consulting.

Randhir Roy, 27
Randhir Roy, 27
Last profile: Sales Executive
Rebound strategy: Decided to take up freelance assignments and wait for the right opportunity. He offered to work on a commission basis and was soon hired by a happy client.
"Look for opportunities in the same field that you were working in. If that doesn’t work out, try and explore other areas where you have at least some kind of experience."
Before we tell you how to become more valuable within your organisation, you should know whose job is at a greater risk. The normal course of action for managements is to first fire employees who have been among the last to join. However, some firms are opting for the opposite logic. “For some, this is the right time to get younger talent as their compensations are not high,” says Kris Lakshmikanth, MD & CEO, Headhunters India.

Similarly, salary cuts are likely to be inflicted first on those who have been hired at huge hikes in the past few years, are rated as underperformers, and whose work has become redundant or is limited to the current downturn.

“Last year, there was a significant drop in the number of employees rated as ‘outstanding’ and ‘above average’,” says Chaudhary. Adds Vishal Chibber, head (human resources), Kelly Services: “There is still a market for top performers while those with performance-related issues will continue to be under the scanner.”

Try to become indispensable

The first step to be perceived as a ‘retainable employee’ is to sort out all the workplace-related issues— fast. Start with little things such as showing up at work before time and volunteering for extra responsibilities. To further recession-proof your career, acquire additional skills. Don’t be afraid to take on a new project even if you don’t know anything about it. Such actions convince the managements that you are willing to learn and are open to exploring new opportunities.

No matter what your designation, it is crucial for you to understand your firm’s business. Learn how to anticipate changes in the industry. “You may be a low-level manager and not dealing directly with customers, but you still need to know the big picture, what makes your business work, where the revenues comes from, and how you can impact the bottom line,” says human resources consultant Navdeep Arora. Setting a Google alert for your company can be a good start, but also interact with the various departments, especially with the sales and service staff.

“In these challenging times, one cannot dictate terms; one has to be flexible,” says Naresh Malhan, MD, Manpower India. He adds that, “across the board, employees should tone up their efficiencies and move from single-skill to multiskill competencies”. So, make sure that you learn the art of multitasking to increase your productivity. Remember, every time an organisation sacks people, it becomes necessary for everybody else to take on extra work.

In some cases, where sacking is almost inevitable, it may be a better idea to suggest a salary cut and shift to part-time work. Such decisions make it easier for managements to agree to your choice, and also let you look for another job while earning a part of your earlier salary. This is what Varun Garg, who works for a production house that makes TV promos, did. After he was asked to leave, Garg, who has an editing machine at home, told his manager that he could work from home for a small, but regular, stipend. The company agreed. His pay was reduced to 40% of the original, but he was technically retained as an employee. However, he could take up freelance assignments. In fact, the sales department regularly passes on low-value clients to him to help him make up for the salary loss.

Take more risks, don’t relax. Think innovatively to help your firm deal with the economic crisis. Make sure, your employer thinks of you as an enthusiastic, valuable member of the team. Although instinct will force you to ‘hoard credits’, don’t miss a chance to ‘share credit’ with others. Such acts of goodwill can provide a high bulletproof value. “Assume that you are hiring someone to do your job. Can you picture your perfect replacement? What would he/she be like? Now, be that person,” says S.P. Tripathy, director at executive search firm El Dorado Consulting.

You can also become the person that your company needs. For instance, Ali Riaz (name changed), a corporate lawyer realised that his firm had decided to reduce the number of partners. So, instead of staying in Delhi, which had the highest number of partners, he agreed to shift to Chennai and set up an office there. The move yielded him three advantages: his firm had to start operations in Chennai due to the clients’ demands, his salary wasn’t cut since this was a promotion of sorts, and his expenses came down as the cost of living in Chennai is cheaper than in Delhi.

However, these are difficult times. So, don’t take anything for granted. Update your resume regularly and keep in touch with colleagues. If you feel the firm may lay off people, find a job and leave. “One has to be cautious about suffering from survivor’s guilt, the feeling that you might be the next on the firing list,” says Rajesh A.R., V-P, TeamLease. This also helps negotiate a better severance compared to those who are forced to leave later.

The lay-off pay-off
Employers don’t have to give a severance pay, but do so as a gesture of goodwill. Play on that.
Plan in advance: Review your resources and expenses to determine your financial needs. Create a list of benefits you want to negotiate.
Read before signing: Get the deal read by a lawyer if possible.
Deal with the boss: Talk to someone who has the authority to tell HR what to do. That could be your boss, head of your division or even the CEO.
Take help: Some companies hire a firm to find you a new job. Some even offer training. Take advantage of these offers.
Avoid non-compete clauses: These reduce the number of companies that you could work for.

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