Saturday, November 19, 2011

Financial Controller Is Trying to Control Too Many Variables At Once

Dear Tazi-Kat:

I am a Controller with a very large firm, and I have been put in a very difficult position. I need some advice fast, so I ask that you please put my letter at the head of your advice queue. My company is running out of money - fast - due to the fact that our receivables are not being paid by our clients. We have cut our staff to the bone, and yet I can see that further cuts will be needed to stay afloat, regardless of what the company is telling the employees. Knowing this, I have been quietly interviewing with other companies.

The other day, the Vice-President of Finance called me into his office with some grave news and a difficult proposition: The company is on the verge of bankruptcy and running out of liquid assets with which to meet payroll. With the upcoming holidays, we are hoping that our clients will now have the extra money to pay their accounts current, but there are no guarantees. Because I have been with the company for so long (I started out as an Intern my senior year of college), the V.P. gave me a choice: I could accept a layoff now - with no company severance, just my unemployment benefits - or I could continue to work for no pay, with the hope that the company will right itself in about six months, at which time I will be "rewarded" for my "loyalty". Again, there are no guarantees; and the company could just as easily be out of business by that time.

I have checked my options, and I could collect unemployment so long as I was not on the company payroll (i.e. volunteering) and actively looking for another job - but if another job was offered that paid at least what I am making now, I would have to accept it or risk losing my benefits. I have asked for and been granted time to think about it; I must give my answer the Monday after Thanksgiving.

I was prepared to accept my company's offer, figuring I have nothing to lose, when another job offer came through. The problem is that the position pays much less than I expected it would and several thousand dollars less than I am currently making. I have tried negotiating for more money, but they will not budge - it is a hiring manager's market right now. I have done the math, and even with the minimum annual raise of 3% as a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), it would take me almost 10 years just to work my way back up to my current salary.

My wife and children have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and I would feel awful telling them that we would have to make some serious changes to it if I accept this job offer. On the other hand, if I don't take it I may find myself unemployed for an unknown stretch of time in the very near future, which would mean even more drastic changes to our way of living. I worked my way up from nothing, Tazi-Kat, so I a can adjust; but I am not certain that my wife and kids will. If it was just me, I would know what to do; but I have my family to consider. Should I go with the bird in hand, or hope to catch the two in the bush?

Losing Control

Dear Losing Control:

It appears to me that you have three options:

1) Stay where you are and hope that the sinking ship rights itself

2) Accept the job offer that pays less but offers some form of long-term financial security (i.e. a paying job)

3) Refuse both, accept unemployment, and continue to seek employment elsewhere.

I suggest that you not consider the "wants" of your family, just their needs. How much money does it cost to pay your rent/mortgage, education costs, food, adequate clothing (not a closet full of top designer wear), utilities, etc. Does the job you are currently being offered pay enough to cover these expenses, with at least 10% left over for emergencies? If the answer is yes, I would advise that you take the job; even if it is a just-for-now situation and you continue to look for higher pay elsewhere. Just be forewarned: just as housing prices have dropped and will most likely not return to their former levels, many companies have had to do the same with employee wages.

If the job offered does not cover your monthly expenses, things get a little trickier. Before making a decision, you need honest answers to the following questions: How long could your family live off of unemployment benefits? Do you have health coverage through a source other than your current employer? Would you lose that coverage if you accepted your current employer's offer to work for no pay? How solid is the company's thinking that the financial outlook will be improved enough to put you back on the payroll in six months? And most importantly, if you agreed to your current employer's offer, would you be allowed to schedule and attend job interviews during the work day?

It is inadvisable that you put all of your eggs in your current company's basket, so should you decide not to accept the job offer on the table, I would suggest a negotiation with your current company that would allow you to keep your health insurance as "severance" and to continue your job search in return for your "volunteer" efforts. I would also suggest complete financial transparency with your wife about the situation at hand, before you have to write to me about the problems keeping secrets has caused.

-- Tazi-Kat

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