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How We Handle Severance In Cases Of Mutual Separation

Apr 25, 2023 3 min readOpen
Photo of Carolyn Kopprasch
Carolyn Kopprasch

Chief of Staff @ Buffer

We’ve always aimed to chart our own course at Buffer for how we approach traditional business practices, and severance is no different. Recently, we’ve adjusted our severance policy to apply in more situations. We’ve introduced the concept of “mutual separations” for the cases when a teammate and their manager both feel that the teammate’s chapter at Buffer has come to an end. We strive to be generous to these teammates who have spent a portion of their careers and lives with us at Buffer.

In this post, we’ll detail our severance policy, the concept of mutual separations, and our adjustments over the last year.

Buffer’s severance policy

Involuntary departures are the traditional cases for severance. This term captures any instance of teammates being let go or laid off. Our regular severance policy for involuntary departures of teammates who’ve been on the team for at least 90 days is:  

6 weeks of base salary + 2 weeks for each full year past the first year at Buffer, with a maximum of 12 weeks total.

For example, if someone had been on the Buffer team for three years, they would be eligible for six weeks of severance pay, plus four additional weeks (2 years * 2 weeks each), so they would receive ten weeks of severance pay.

Teammates also keep any equipment Buffer purchased, including their computers.

What are mutual separations?

A few years ago, we began using the concept of “mutual separation.” Mutual separations are different from traditional involuntary departures, which happen because of layoffs, a role elimination, or if a teammate is not performing at the level needed for their role. In a mutual separation, both the teammate and their manager feel that the role is no longer a good fit, and the best-case scenario is a planned, amicable departure.

When that happens, the teammate and manager work together and come to an agreement about the timeline for the teammate’s last day. Otherwise, the teammate may choose to wait until they have another job lined up and then only give two weeks’ notice (or less), or the manager may choose to let the teammate go. Compared to these alternatives, mutual separations are usually easier on everyone involved. Mutual separations also often feel much more human; the transition is more organized, and the process is less emotionally taxing, which has many benefits to the remaining team.

By paying full severance in these cases, we hope to invite and incentivize teammates to feel comfortable starting these conversations about their future without concern that they will miss out on severance if that conversation feels a little bit too much like a resignation.

With all of this in mind, we decided to give full severance to teammates who leave due to mutual separation. It feels like the best way to honor their time spent building Buffer alongside us and to make the transition as easy as possible for everyone.

How the mutual separation policy has worked out so far

Since introducing the concept of mutual separations at Buffer, we have seen more departures happening this way. For example, in 2022, 19 percent of our departures were mutual (3 out of 16).

We still have some folks move on purely voluntarily, but now we also see teammates open up the conversation earlier when they can feel that they are no longer a great fit for the role needed. This feels healthy to us, and we want to continue to enable teammates and managers to consider this option when it feels right.

Not all resignations fall into this category; it is not an exact science. Ultimately it’s up to the manager (with support from leadership and/or the People team) to determine what falls into this category. Generally, we will consider a mutual separation when a teammate has a history of good performance, and either a role change is necessary that takes the role in a direction that’s at odds with the teammate’s skills or interests or the teammate’s performance is no longer meeting the needs of the role and team.

We are hoping that this shift to giving severance to folks separating from Buffer mutually encourages and allows teammate departures— a hard but natural event in a company’s lifecycle —to be mutual, organized, amicable, and ultimately in everyone’s best interest.

We’d love to hear what you think of this policy at Buffer, send us a tweet anytime to share your thoughts!

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