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Societe Generale’s Stylish Send-off: Baguette and Cheese for the Departing

Societe Generale, one of France’s leading banks, has announced a plan to streamline its workforce by 900 positions. But trying to soften the blow and add a bit of French panache to the affair, the bank is going to offer those retrenched as a part of their layoffs a severance as chic as unique: a “Baguette and Cheese Severance Package.”

“It’s not downsizing; it’s about downsizing with dignity, grace, and a bit of Camembert,” said Jean-Luc Fromage, the human resources director of the bank. “We know that getting laid off can be painful, so we thought, why not make it a little more Parisian and a lot less painful?”

The severance—internally referred to as “Le Package”—includes a selection of fine French cheeses, a fresh baguette out of the oven, and a bottle of Bordeaux wine—all to go in a chic tote bag designed by the Societe Generale. In addition, they are to provide a recipe booklet, severance “à la française,” and severance suggestions on how the severed workers might best enjoy their severance.

The bold move had economic analysts scratching their heads. Some praised the bank for being creative, while others doubted that it probably wouldn’t end up being practical enough to have some heads turn. “It’s certainly a novel idea,” said financial analyst Pierre Profit. “I just don’t know how far a baguette will pay that rent. But still, who could be sad with cheese in the picture?”

The reaction among the bank’s employees has been mixed. For the idea, some would welcome it as proof that it tests the culture of French and even the commitment of the bank to inculcate some kind of “joie de vivre” to its clients in times of adversity. Others were less positive.

“I’d rather have my job than a piece of brie,” said an employee who is unwilling to be named for fear of his cheese being taken away.

To some of the critical feedback, Societe Generale also seems to have hinted: the addition of a small, onion-themed watercolor painting to “Le Package,” alongside the beret and the striped shirt, to really drive home the Frenchness of the severance offering. While the banking industry may watch closely, it could just set a new trend in how companies do business with downsizing by laying off, proving that some culture can go a long way in helping its parting employees feel a little less stung. “At the end of the day, it’s more than walking out of a job,” Fromage likes to say. “It’s walking out with a little bit of France on your palate.”

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