Virtually letting go is the wrong way to say goodbye (Editorial)

If HR has to fire someone, face-to-face is best

In the 1983 movie The Survivors, Robin Williams portrays a man who feels betrayed by corporate America when he loses his job and is unable to find work. You know Williams’ character is in for a tough time right from the beginning when he’s called into an executive’s office and is fired by a parrot. When he asks the exec’s administrative assistant what’s going on, she pulls a gun on him to encourage his exit from the building.

Yes, terminating staff is unpleasant, but for HR professionals it unfortunately goes with the turf, and it’s something employers need to do properly. It’s tempting to have a parrot do the dirty work for you. It’s tempting to do it without having to face staff in person. A temptation RadioShack in the United States couldn’t resist.

At the end of August, 400 RadioShack employees opened their e-mails to find they were being let go immediately as part of planned job cuts. The e-mails read: “The workforce reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated.”

RadioShack defended its action by saying the company held a series of meetings, during which officials told employees that layoff notices would be delivered by e-mail, and that staff were invited to use the employee intranet site to ask questions before the e-mails went out.

Not good enough.

Frankly, I’d rather be fired by a parrot. At least someone took the time and made the effort to train the parrot to do the job. One can imagine an executive so stressed and wracked with guilt that he’d go the parrot route. And the exec’s admin admonished Williams’ character for being insensitive about the stress on the boss. (Okay that point gets somewhat lost with the gunplay.)

In the public eye, RadioShack’s e-mail termination plan shows no sensitivity. It may not be convenient or efficient, but the goodbye is best delivered by managers and HR staff.

One would hope that the “old days” of putting a pink slip in someone’s pay packet were over. Unfortunately, some firms have merely updated the method with technology. E-mails and text messages are rearing their heads as a way of breaking the bad news.

But it’s wise not to give into the technology temptation.

Defend themselves as they will, RadioShack has hurt its image as an employer. That hurts future hiring efforts, as well as turning off some shoppers. And who among these fired employees would be willing to return if things turn around? And how do the survivors feel about working at RadioShack now?

Employers put on their best face when they hire staff. The same attitude should exist when they are let go.

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