Whatever be the reason for firing, do it with dignity to make it less painful for both.
Imagine someone who has been working for the last four years in a company with all his commitment and dedication. Lately, he was feeling stagnated in his current work profile and was promised a senior role and move to another country. For this, he was interviewed internally through five rounds. His expectations were rising high, he already shared the news of this possibility with family, and they were hoping of a new exciting life ahead. However, he was recently told that he was no longer a fit for the position. What was worse was that his current position was to be frozen by the company because of internal restructuring which meant that he was soon to be out of job!
How would you feel if you were in his position? Especially if you had have a family to support? If you have to pay your loans? Asking people to leave has become a rather common sight. The reasons can be many. Changes in the global business environment, fierce competition, globalized trade, technology turbulence, switch to cheap labor and low-cost are some factors that have created new pressures of downsizing. Mergers and acquisitions and restructuring make certain positions redundant. A short term strategy then to improve profits is to reduce the costly workforce. On the other hand, there can be reasons related to employee’s performance and asking him to leave in those instances is only natural.
Whatever be the reasons, the emotional costs attached to such decisions are huge. Employees being separated can get anxious about their future, feel angry towards the company, and their pride and self-confidence can take a hit. The managers who have to deliver the bad news are uncomfortable and often do not know any better how to handle the process. And in that, they end up making some of the worst mistakes. One set of stakeholders on whom the impact of firing is often ignored is the employees who stay back in the company. Speculation about what is happening and who would go next can destroy the level of trust and productivity with the teams.
So what can companies do to in order to tackle the process of firing responsibly? First and foremost is honesty. Often the plans of firing and downsizing are kept confidential until the last minute. Employees find out that they are no longer needed when one day on reaching office, their access cards do not work, their computer logins stop, and they get the news with a 4-5 hour deadline to pack up their boxes and leave. No doubt, secrecy is an important aspect since there is a possibility of retaliation from the employees – they can sabotage, steal proprietary information, and so on. However, lack of proper communication is worse – not just for the affected employees but for the remaining team as well.
Clear communication about the rationale for the decision and having a dialogue where the employee voices his opinions, fears, and what he needs as support are an imperative. And for those who continue to work, keeping them informed about the long-term strategy of the company and the plans is also crucial. Or else, they might become demotivated and fearful.
Second is to offer help. If the company is going through a large-scale downsizing where the process is well-planned in advance, support the employees. This help could be in the development of alternative skills, finding other jobs, preparing a CV, practicing job interviews, or just psychological counselling. Some companies now take the service of outplacement agencies to address this need. One real-estate business owner from Columbia recently mentioned that he is going to have to fire the entire staff of his business since the company would be closing. Most of his employees are blue-collar workers with no formal education who had previously worked on contract jobs without stability or social security. Having experienced the emotional, political, economic, and sociological costs attached to firing decisions before, this time around he planned to help them set up an alternative small-business where he would provide the start-up expenses and help acquire customers.
Finally, respect people’s honor. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, is a well-known proponent of compassion in all business decisions. According to him, “people assume compassion mean not making hard decisions…and it is the exact opposite…the least compassionate thing you can do is to leave someone in a role they are no longer equipped to do.” This includes a proper timeline is set up for transitioning the employee out of the position or of the company and working out a development plan to support him.
Firing decisions will always remain difficult. A conscious effort towards honesty, help, and honor can make the process less painful both for the employees and employers.