I wonder how many of us think about getting fired, it sure does cross the mind at some point in our complex career journey. Have you ever thought about how you should be treated if it ever happens to You?
Let me not scare you, so let’s start with others, if someone you know well was fired what would you ask or tell them? Did they do something wrong? Did they get severance pay? Do they have a new job in hand? Would they need some financial assistance (that’s is if you are the generous kind or if they already don’t owe you money)?
Will you ever ask if they were treated well during the process? Often, we are interested in the material transaction rather than humane actions. Off course there are exceptions to these, I am excluding those outliers today as its not convenient to my argument. The organisations we work for are no different. They too are interested in completing the transaction of termination, more than anything else.
When we want to ‘fire’ somebody, once we get past the obvious question of why, one needs to spend more time on the HOW. This HOW is unfortunately more tilted towards the organisation rather than the employees involved. Let me tell you why…
In my early days of managerial training one of the modules was about termination. We were put through a series of role-plays on how to fire people in different scenarios such as discipline, integrity, performance, sexual harassment and so on. There was a separate process and technique to master in each of these situations. I learnt that it was important to ensure the employee resigns rather than be seen as fired. That way we could be safe from legal implications. So, thereafter every time we were faced with any of the situations warranting a separation we would always be thinking about how to corner the employee to resign. Our bosses and HR would be only keen to know that we got the resignation in writing from the departing employee. Not much has changed in the philosophy/process of firing since those days.
A decade or so later I was faced with the prospect of laying off 40 odd people. Though we were a large organisation, the skills were not transferable and we couldn’t transfer them to another department. I was principally against firing, but I was new to the organization (now I am acting holier than thou). It wasn’t performance, it wasn’t the fault of these employees, it was a global directive we had to follow as the strategy had changed.
Business, Finance, Legal and HR guys came together for a hastily convened meeting and this is what got discussed:
- Who will lead the communication to the affected employees? What would be the content of the message?
- What was the total compensation of the employees being made redundant?
- What would be the timelines by which we should complete the separation?
- What would we convey to the rest of the organisation about this exercise?
- Do any of the employees facing the axe have a legal background, or do they have relatives who are lawyers or are they connected to any bureaucrats or politicians? Would we face adverse publicity?
- Could we set up a daily reporting format? Who will send the progress report to our global bosses?
As you can see, there was nothing at all in this discussion about “how will we help the employees who are going through this separation”.
You can’t blame the team who were discussing this situation. We all are wired to think of protecting the organisation interest, as that’s how we are trained in leadership and other functional roles. I am yet to come across any orientation module called “Separation with Empathy “. Firing on behalf of the organisation itself is a pretty stressful job, so thinking about our colleagues who are going through this obviously comes next or last unless any of those affected is an affectionate colleague, friend, relative.
The challenge for people who are in influential roles in organisations is to spend more time on the “how” of separation. In an active media and social media world bad PR is a given, so instead of protecting that can we at a professional and organisation level support and counsel the people who must go through this separation? I guess it’s easy to say this at a later date when the heat around me is no longer the same, when you are in midst of it acting at the behest of the organisation you are only thinking of how to get over the entire process as per the organisation mandate than to drag it further by accommodating the departing colleagues.
The only time we will start to think differently perhaps is when the affected party is us.
Layoffs are necessary transactions today, the employee for obvious reasons comes after the ‘organisation’ in terms of priority. Usage of emotions in this exercise is harmful to the organisation!
So, is there a way we can get people in power to behave better to uphold the dignity and self-esteem of the departing employees?
The sadist in me has a view…
I hope all of us get fired at least once in our career for us to behave with empathy when we reach the totem pole!
Ruthlessness is the key while you deal with terminations?