When companies hire people they go out of their way to be nice. In my experience, in order to attract people, companies do all kinds of nice things – they wave vacation rules, give sign on bonuses, at senior levels they hire administrative assistants and lots more. But what about when an employee leaves?
If an employee resigns, companies expect the courtesy of two weeks’ notice – which is customary, but is rarely mandatory. But when an employee is terminated, it appears that most agencies forget all about the courtesies extended on the way in and bend over backwards to be insensitive and uncaring.
My hat is off to Jerry Della Femina for the inspiration of this blog post. In his classic book, “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor,” Jerry wrote about the “floor of forgotten men”. Years ago, when someone was let go, the agency would do them the courtesy of providing an office to use for a period of time. It was generally not their old office, but it was space somewhere within the agency. People would use those offices, often with a phone and someone to answer it. They could even pretend they still worked at the company. It was a nice transition out. Inevitably, after a few weeks the former employee would stop coming in.
It was a nice courtesy. And it just doesn’t happen anymore except for the most senior of executives.
I find it an insult that an employee, especially one who has worked at a company for a long period of time, once let go, is often told to clear out his or her belongings and be out of the building by the end of the day or sooner. I have heard many stories about someone from “office services” literally standing over an employee while they pack their office (nice service, huh?). That same office person then literally escorts the employee out of the building. In a worst case scenario, those employees, who the day before were trusted and valued, are escorted out of the building by a guard.
I know of one case where an account management supervisor who had been with an agency over ten years came back to her office after a client meeting only to find that an offices service person was sitting at her desk to escort her out of the premises. There was only one problem. Human Resources had not been able to fire her because she was in a client meeting. And, to make matters worse, when she went to her office, she was accompanied by her client. She was actually told, in front of her client, that she could not pack her belongings and that someone would do it for her and send them to her the next day. The conversation, as told to me, went something like this:
Employee: "Who are you, what are you doing in my office?"
Office Service: : "What do you mean, who am I?"
E: "What are you doing at my desk?"
OS: "It is no longer your desk. I am here to escort you out."
E: "What are you talking about?"
OS: "You have been terminated."
E: "You must be mistaken. Get away from my desk."
OS: "It is no longer your desk. They didn't tell you?"
Client: "I cannot believe this."
She went to her immediate supervisor, who also did not know. They even confiscated her laptop, which was personal, thinking that it belonged to the company; it was later returned, but they had erased her hard drive.
It is true. It happened. And it is humiliating.
The theory about terminated employees and escorting them out (incidentally it does not just happen in advertising, but everywhere) is that it is better for morale if the person is immediately gone. I am not sure about the morale issue, but I know that it sure is lousy public relations.
One thing I do know is that for employees who continue to work at a company after other employees have been “disappeared”, empty offices are an even worse sight and are a constant reminder of bad times. It certainly is not good for morale. And it is terrible public relations. The employee, who just a day ago was a loyal and verbal proponent of the company, suddenly is telling all his or her friends how horrible they were treated. Ultimately, it can make people not want to work at .the company.
I do not believe that this policy is the result of top management. In fact, I am not sure that most CEOs and COOs are even aware that their company does this. In the instance mentioned above, the president of the agency apologized and told her that it was not their policy to do this and he would make sure that it would not happen to anyone else. I hope so.
I hope that all companies will reconsider the unkind policy of throwing former employees out. Aside from the fact that it will undo all the good will that has built up during that employee’s tenure, it is just plain cold. And it isn’t what the business should be about. Advertising is a really nice business. But occasionally people in it forget what it is like to be kind and courteous.
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