One fine day!!
Recently, I came across this organization which underwent a corporate restructuring. Well, at least that’s what they call it .With a few positions being eliminated, a few being moved here and there, a few promotions and transfers, it may qualify for a restructuring ,but definitely not on a very big scale. And there was this one particular firing which came as a surprise to many employees in the organization, including the one who was fired.
This employee was part of the organization for 19 years and was just a few months away from completing his 20 years and be a part of the prestigious wall of fame. He was holding a senior management position, working his way up from a ground level position and was so proud of being employed there. Every time new employees joined his department, he was an integral part of the onboarding program even till recently, especially at that part where the senior leaders were called in to impart wisdom on the culture and legacy of the organization.
Yet one fine day this happened! He was called for an early hour meeting with his manager and the HR and conveyed that his employment was terminated with immediate effect and was asked to leave the premises at the earliest. I totally understand that such kind of firings and terminations are an integral part of doing business. There may not be any legal implications too given the at-will nature of the employment contract and the company might have offered him a severance package and a two-weeks’ pay also (I don’t have much information on this part as all this happened in a highly confidential manner and the only thing I know for certain is the shocking nature of the firing announcement to the employee.)
Such kinds of firings with no or short notices are not uncommon and is considered as an essential sin in organizations. (And obviously HR becomes the face of such firings adding to our repertoire as bad asses.) As businesses evolve over time, positions become redundant, technologies become obsolete, people become incompetent and everybody has to embrace change in order to stay afloat. Organizations who don’t do these fail to survive.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean that this should be done in a complete ruthless manner, just by abiding to the policies. In the incident I mentioned, there was definitely no policy or contract violations, but what was broken was the employees’ trust and faith in the organization; of not just the one who got fired, but those of the survivors too. The employee who was fired had invested 19 years of his life for the organization and when he was let go, the organization should have done it in a more dignified manner, giving him more time to come to terms with that. Rising to a top position from bottom and surviving in such a competitive environment for 19 long years is not something small. Think of his intellectual, emotional and psychological commitment and contributions to the organization in terms of time, efforts, revenue and what not. It has been such a big part of his life and such a change shouldn’t have come to him as a shock on one fine morning, which could have been just another day at work.
This is where considering employees as people and not just as resources come into picture. Yeah.. the clichéd saying of focusing the human part in human resources! Any other resource in the organization can be discarded with so much of ease if they are no more required. But employees.. come on, we are dealing with real people here. If firing of a senior employee on performance grounds or redundancy and that of another employee on strong disciplinary reasons are done in the same manner, we don’t need an HR department to handle this. Just write down the policy and have the managers or admin do it just like another transactional activity. It’s needless to say that firing is such a sensitive issue and can have very bad repercussions if not handled properly. It can badly affect the morale of the existing employees, adding so many spices to the rumor mills and bad reputation all around and not to forget the sore alumni relationships. The HR wisdom or expertise is really required in these scenarios, to handle each situation on a case to case basis, adding a personal touch. We talk about being partners to business and adding value etc. etc and this won’t be possible unless we try to do these small but impactful things in a much better way. I said small but impactful because the firing was of just one employee in an organization of 20K employees, but the entire organization talked about it for days.
Firing is one of the most important phases of the employee life cycle and the relationship with the employee doesn’t end there. In this case, such a restructuring process wouldn’t have happened all of a sudden. A lot of thought processes and ground works would have been done for the same, giving HR and the management enough time to prepare for it and effectively communicate to the employee making the transition easier and better for both the parties. Sadly in this case it was not done in the right way. There is one mantra that I strongly believe in-
’ Every employee should be treated fairly and not just equally!’
The Ardent HR