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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Getting Fired Badly Adds to The Indignity



Unfortunately, almost all executives, especially those in advertising and marketing, will be fired at least once in their career.  To some, it may become a badge of honor, but at the time it happens it is always awful.

(As a recruiter, I have to laugh – these days, no one gets fired.  They get laid off.  Same difference.)

No matter what you call it, it is a terrible experience. And the reasons don't matter - it doesn’t matter if its because your company lost an account, business is bad, there was a reorganization or even if it is for poor performance (which is all too often a lame excuse and has nothing to do with the truth).  It is a terrible blow to anyone’s ego and self-worth. Having to claim unemployment is humiliating for most people despite the fact that these days one can apply on-line.   

Many company’s policies regarding severance, unused vacation, health insurance only make matters worse and having to negotiate for these items only reinforces negative feelings. And terminations are often handled impersonally and with little or no compassion or regard to the employee.

Some people charged with handling terminations have become callous and jaded – they forget that they are dealing with people.  It is essential that they show empathy and compassion and sympathy. Every person who is terminated has his or her own set of problems.  Some are broke and will worry about paying bills; some have health issues with themselves or a family member and will be concerned about paying medical bills; others will have their own unique set of circumstances.  Even when there are mass layoffs, the person doing the deed needs to do it in a way that acknowledges the employees unique issues.

Frankly, when I was in advertising,  when employees who worked directly for me needed to be terminated, I insisted on doing it myself rather than allowing HR do it. (I would provide the reasons and do a short-form detail of arrangements – severance, etc.  Then I would send them to HR for more details.)  I always felt that if someone worked for me, the least I could do was to fire them myself.  I have always thought that while having HR do it was certainly easier on me, it was a cowardly thing to do.  I felt that I owed it to anyone who reported to me.

Over the years, I have heard too many stories of mass layoffs where the supervisor of the person being let go was never told that their subordinate was being terminated.  I find that dreadful.  And it leaves the supervisor feeling slighted as well.

I remember when Lintas lost Burger King and had to let go of dozens of people.  As I recall, they lost the account on a Monday and did the terminations on Wednesday, most employees being asked to leave the building immediately as if they had done something wrong.  As I remember it, the terminations were handled by HR and there was actually a line in front of the director’s office.  The people on the line knew what they were waiting for. How inhumane and impersonal.

The worse I ever heard was an 18 year tenured senior vice president at a top ten agency who had no warning and had been in an internal client meeting which lasted all day.  She was walking back to her office with her client.  When she arrived at her office, there was a stranger sitting at her desk.  He informed her (and her client) that he was there to escort her to HR and then would escort her out of the building.  He had already confiscated her computer and put (what he thought) were her possessions in boxes and they would be sent to her; he would not allow her to take her personal laptop.  It would be delivered withe her personal items,  She felt like she had committed a criminal act. A stranger actually fired her in front of her client.  How incredibly cruel.  Before leaving the building, she used her cell to call the president, and to his credit, he was appalled and stopped the humiliation and allowed her back to her office. Good thing she had her cell with her.

What an awful way to handle an eighteen year employee. 

This story points out is twofold.  The people in charge of termination have no real sense of their affect on the people who are being let go. And it also shows that management doesn't necessarily know how terminations are handled.  And it is just as important for people to go out with dignity as it is for them to come in with fanfare.


22 comments:

  1. There is only one real satisfaction in getting fired. That is when the person or persons responsible for firing you are then summarily fired themselves. It is like the Godfather where the Hit Man is Hit to cover up the evidence.

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    1. Absolutely agree. Especially if they fired people badly and then it happens to them. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. I once sat in on one of these "terminations" and was horrified as I watched the HR person smiling during the proceeding. #onwards+upwards.

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  3. Excellent observations, Paul, as always.

    I would also posit that, in general, during large-scale terminations resulting from an account loss, agency management fails to consider the morale of the "survivors."

    I recall a point in my past when 30-40% of the agency's staff was let go after a particularly devastating account loss. The sheer number of empty offices/cubicles induced a "ghost town" feel to the place. Somehow, I mustered the courage to suggest to my boss's boss that there ought to be an agency-wide meeting – chaired by the president – to instill confidence in the remaining staff. Much to my surprise, the meeting actually happened the very next day.

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    1. Good communication always works. It is something often overlooked.

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    2. Good communication always works. It is something often overlooked.

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  4. Is there no sense that people should be helped in transition by a company paid psychiatrist? Has it become so robotic that robots are added with each new account and deleted when an agency loses an account? Have we become so plug & play that there is no more sense of self? Ugh

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  5. Here's the bottom line to everything here according to my 86 year-old Mother, who said to me 50 years ago, "Show me who your friends are and I'll tell you what you are." Birds-of-a-feather and all that.

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    1. Your mother is qise. I always say to candidates who tell me these kinds of stories, "Why would you want to work with people like thst?" Unfortunately, too many people think that they have no other choice.

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  6. "Like thst"? Reading Shakespeare again Paul?

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  7. Hi Paul,

    It's been a long time. I was job eliminated along with 25 others in July. What really pissed me off about it, I had to fly to Detroit for a client meeting @ 10am. HR and my boss called me @ 8:30am to give me the news and asked that I not go to the client meeting.

    Unbelievable that they knew they were going to do it that morning and still had me fly to Detroit (from NY) to only turn around and fly home. Nothing quite like getting the news in a shabby Holiday Inn Express hotel room. HR said they had no choice, since they like to lay off large numbers at a certain time of day! Instead of going to their local office to turn in my computer, I went to the airport and booked a return flight that cost them $500 more. It turned out not to be such a bad day either. I got upgraded to first class (which never happens to me) and got served bloody marys on the way home.

    Thanks Paul for taking a stance and writing your blogs/articles.

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    1. Aweful, just aweful. Thanks for sharing. Next week I am doing a post on the ten worst firings and I think I will include this one!

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  9. A comment from the HR Director who typically handles terminations of employment with the manager present; I understand the impact for all the potential reasons you stated. Before I will conduct such a meeting, I meet with the manager. I make it clear how serious this is, describe how the meeting will proceed, and the impact on the employee no matter what the reason. I typically have the manager deliver the "termination of employment statement" with a brief reason and then I take over from there with important information the employee needs to know about final pay, benefits etc. I then ask the manager to leave so that I can provide some emotional support to the employee if they need it. What I won't allow is a prolonged discussion/argument about justification for the termination or an escalation in emotions. If that appears to be the intent of either the manager or the employee, I end the meeting after the message of termination is delivered and ask the manager to leave. I've been very successful in 25 year career.

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    1. I appreciate that you are concerned about emotional support.

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  10. It's great that you speak to the "elephant" in the room when terminations happen. In cases when there are wide-spread layoffs, the "deed" is delegated where the individuals may not be competent enough address it appropriately. In my own personal experience, after 40 years years of service (and sacrifice) it was handled in by a end-of-day email meeting notice from my boss to meet in the morning. When I arrived, my immediate manager, an HR manager and the Sr. VP of the dept. were in the room when I received the news. My manager gave me the "scripted business reasons" and that my badge would be deactivated and that I would be locked out of my computer by noon and I had the choice of cleaning out my office now or come in on Saturday...the HR manager gave me the "package" and rattled off a litany of "benefits", reminding me to take the information home and if I had any questions that I could contact her... the Sr. VP gave me the "sorry buddy, good luck" comments. Final "stupid" comment came from the HR manager was for me to be sensitive to my team (12) and not to upset them...(code for don't talk to anybody) REALLY??? The only "dignified" part of this process was the option to clean out my office on the weekend where there were no prying eyes or probing questions. Thanks for taking the stance to start a dialog about "exit" practices of certain companies. At the very least, hopefully a few HR execs will know what not to do if the "trigger" is pulled on an employee.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your awful story. What makes me sad is that HR has no consideration for anybody out-going. Telling you not to talk to your group is actually pretty disgusting.

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  11. I once Freelanced at a large global agency who was currently going through a merger with a smaller but still large local agency in London. I sat there as a contractor watching, while the HR "assistant" aka intern walked through the cubicles asking that person to follow them, only for them to be escorted back to pack their belongings immediately. This happened for over a week, without warning or even a group email from the directors.
    Sad thing is I was on contract and stayed for another 3 months' after while it took the new staff to settle in. There was people who had was dismissed that had worked there for over 15 years and was the agency backbone.
    The ad game has become inhumane and savage. Conflicting as we are the one's who's suppose to be the king of communicating and getting into peoples hearts.

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    1. I suspect some attorney told them to do it quickly forgetting that they are dealing with people. Also forgetting that the agency has a reputation.

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