Patent Lather

Dial O For Opportunity

By Holly Celeste Fisk

AT&T offers laid-off employees a leg up.

Downsizing may be the dirty word of the '90s, but AT&T tried to ease the pain last March for some 4,000 workers who were offered a buyout package as part of AT&T's Force Management Program. The program, which started in January 1996, offers employees $10,000 each for retraining, relocation, or start-up capital for new businesses. About one in 10 employees took advantage of the offer.

To ensure that former employees know what they're getting into, AT&T offers courses on how to start a business. According to Burke Stinson of AT&T, 1,400 employees took the classes last year.

Barbara Mierisch was one employee who took the money and ran. Mierisch, 55, worked for AT&T for 35 years in various jobs before leaving to start her own marketing and public relations consulting business in West Orange, New Jersey, last February.

"There couldn't have been a more enlightened and concerned company," says Mierisch. "They had told people [to expect the layoffs] and made lots of resources available."

AT&T also provides career development courses, skills training and job hunting classes for employees. But Mierisch preferred to be her own boss: "I like the flexibility," she says. "You can manage your time better and do more of the things you really enjoy."

The point of the program, says Stinson, isn't so much to encourage entrepreneurship as to take care of employees. "Treat people shabbily," he says, "and you're going to have a morale problem for the people who remain."

The Force Management Program is expected to continue until December 1998.

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This article was originally published in the June 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Patent Lather.

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