I feel more like an Alumni than someone who just go fired”! – Terminated employee at the conclusion of the termination meeting.
Terminating an employee, or group of employees as the case may be, is not a pleasant experience for either party. It’s even a little less pleasant when termination(s) isn’t based on poor performance but rather a decline in business. Recently I had the opportunity to work with an organization in the unfortunate position of having lost a major client and subsequently having to downsize a significant segment of their workforce. Throughout the process I tried to impress upon them solid people philosophies to guide their activities and decisions.
We care about you as an individual.
Too often companies are fearful of litigation and they consequently conduct the process “by the book” and without empathy. This organization did a number of things throughout the process that made the transition easier for the employees and were not fearful of keeping it “human”. So what were those differences? The employer was very transparent throughout, even sharing financials with those impacted so that they could better understand why the business decision was being made. The employer provided fair (not lavish) severance options and continued all benefits for the notice period. The employer hired outside consultants (HR pros) to provide transitional job search strategy training at no cost to the employees. The Operations Director even went so far as to hand write his phone number and email address, with a commitment to help out employees if they needed. The message was clear and sincere, “If you need help, call me, I’ll do whatever I can”.
This isn’t a personal decision, this is a business decision.
Companies are often tempted to take advantage of their circumstances and weed out “problem” employees when downsizing. This is a fallacy as employees can see the situation for what it is. It is also a legal jeopardy. When terminating because of loss of business there must be reasonable rationale to terminating. Typically, there are two means to the downsizing decision: either terminate based on the premise of “last in, first out” (seniority) or terminate according to what skillsets you need to continue to operate. In this instance, the company inventoried what skillsets it would need to continue to service its existing clients and then fairly rated all employees against those skillsets, ultimately coming up with a list of who would stay and who would be terminated. And, then they shared this rationale with those being terminated. Interestingly enough, those terminated were not surprised that they had been chosen once the comparative exercise was explained to them. In fact, all of them agreed with not just the process but that the company had made the right decisions.
At the end of the day success in this instance arose from the company consciously putting a human face to what is so often only a business transaction. They were courageous; they were transparent and refused to hide behind legalese or feared outcomes. They did more than simply spew that the workplace was a “family” they actually treated their employees as family; being truthful, fair and concerned. Finally, you can bet that those employees who were not terminated took notice of this approach and “survivor syndrome” and negativity were not an outcome!
Tanya Sieliakus, BA, AdDHRM, CHRP
VP, Consulting Services