If the phone rings don’t answer… it’s the axe lady

It’s Monday and it’s 2:30 in the afternoon. You have been in a strategic meeting since 8:30 a.m., have not gone to the washroom, have not had lunch and arrive back at your office exhausted, feeling like you need a shower and you wonder if you gave it your all. That evening you stay late putting together a list of names that will be cut from the payroll.

As you prepare the paperwork, you see faces dance inside of your head. It turns out that beneath the surface of the hard exterior lays the passion of a broken heart.

Arriving home, it’s late, nine or 10 in the evening. Your dog greets you anxiously, he wants his walk. As you think about the course of events, you wonder if there was anything else that you might have done that could have avoided the planned terminations from becoming reality. You say to yourself that an organization that is focused on remaining competitive will closely look at its personnel as an ongoing strategy, not when it is fashionable to do so.

The axe has finally fallen. Employees have begun receiving their pink slips. In terms of low morale, employees reportedly are worried whether they’ll fit into the new restructured company. Recruiters, however, are scurrying onto the employer’s turf and the employer could end up losing some valued employees. But what about the messenger? How are you coping?

It’s late Tuesday and you were going to do this first thing, but the day got away from you and you must deliver that message before the close of the day. You search for an empty box, take plastic bags from your drawer, prepare the room, put on your jacket and make that phone call. Sally, it’s Dr. Death in human resources, I want you to join me now in Room 222. You pick that number because it reminds you of the 222 that you will be taking after you complete your deed. The office sees you with your jacket and they whisper, she’s letting someone go. But you hold your head high and walk past, sick to your stomach. It never gets easier, just better executed from the last one.

As Sally arrives in Room 222, you try to make her as comfortable as possible, something like giving her a last meal before she goes to the gallows. Then you break right into it. She stares for a moment, and then says so and so in accounting does nothing all day and why is it that she is picked. You run through some short answers, keeping it professional at all times. You walk her out. The whole thing lasts no more than 15 minutes.

Sally leaves with a few choice words. Sally is upset; she does not realize nor even understand all that you put into trying to keep her. Sally does not see that when her name was picked, you clearly tried to move her into another area focusing on her skills. Sally does not see that you achieved getting her eight more weeks of termination pay. Sally does not see that you negotiated to have her attend outplacement-coaching sessions. Sally does not see that you have come in on a Saturday to help her clear out her personal belongings.

You cope by thinking about all the good things you did and remembering why you entered the complex world of employee relations.

Eileen Caruk is vice-president of The Stirling Group in Toronto.

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