Learnings from an evil boss
Working in the HR arena is tough! Especially in bad times. Who likes sitting across the desk from someone explaining to them that as of now your livelihood has been taken away. (I have only met person ((and catbert)) in my career who actually enjoyed it)
We are hearing lots of stories about redundancies at the moment, I was talking with one of my colleagues today about this and how we (the collective “we”) handle it. We must remember there is almost a whole generation in the workforce who have never seen a downturn. Sales people who have never seen an environment where budgets just weren’t to be found, HR people who have never had the “I’m sorry, there is just no job for you here anymore… through no fault of yours”, or candidates who have never had to find a job in a candidate rich market.. phew.
Thus the people delivering the bad news, may have never experienced the bad news before (or had to deliver it before) and may find it difficult to engender sufficient empathy to perform such a task adequately.
Poor handling of such events actually pushed me into this industry! Originally I wanted to be an HR professional. Why? because of the way a company handled my father and his redundancy. My father had worked for a company for 34 years (give or take), until in the early 90’s it was time to rationalise etc (during what one prime minister of Australia called the “Recession we had to have”) and his job was deemed redundant. How was it handled? Poorly from what I remember. Now what I remember may be a little inaccurate as it is seen through an emotional teenagers eyes. However, there was little council, little warning, little payout, little explanation, and less support. It was one of the rare times I saw my father in a very emotional state. The sole bread winner, having spent his entire working life at this establishment, only to get discarded like yesterday’s newspaper. His identity had been taken from him in my view.
My fear is that the marriage of these two points, could mean that, in these most difficult times, the handling of redundancies may not have improved.
In one of my first jobs, as a console operator at a petrol station, my boss decided to teach me a lesson. Why? I still don’t know, but the lesson was learned.
My boss at this time treated me like he was going to fire me. ALL day.. the entire 6 hour shift I had anyway. At the end of the day, he started the you’re fired conversation… I was really scared, stammering and stumbling over my words, really struggling through the conversation.
He then stopped, and grinned. “Have you ever been fired before?” he asked
“Nope” I responded nervously. “Well now you know what it feels like!” “so now before you decide to take this option with someone you know how it feels and how to respect the people you will be doing it too.” Powerful huh! This was almost 20 years ago. You know what, although harsh, and bordering on harassment, I’ve never forgotten it or the feeling.
For those of us who may have to sit in on discussions around redundancies, have the actual conversations, as well as those of us who now are charged with finding them new work, please keep a few things in mind.
Ensure you have thought of everything to prevent having to do this. Just because everyone else is, is not a good enough excuse.
Bring your empathy. Be human, and be aware that these business decisions will have real personal effects on the people hearing the news. It may not be personal to you, it will be for them… guaranteed!
Bring your respect, and give them dignity. Take your time in telling them, spell it out clearly and concisely (Don’t get in an argument though).
Expect to feel bad. That’s OK. The conversations are about them, not you. If people cry, allow them to. Give them space and time, silence is OK. Do not feel the need to fill a silent void with words.
Bring some options for them. Outplacement, agency names, something. Think about the people and what they may need before the discussion.
Be prepared for criticism and finger pointing, but again, there is no need to buy into arguments, the decision has been made.
And of course have everything organised, current and covered off BEFORE the meeting.. triple check it.
Bottom line… REMEMBER you are dealing with people (with lives, responsibilities, and dreams), not employees, not numbers, not inventory.
I read an article a little while ago which stated that
“More than 40 per cent of the Australian workforce has been made redundant at least once in their careers and for most (70 per cent) it was extremely stressful….”
The stress mentioned will be for a number of reasons, the loss of income, the loss of identity, the loss of self confidence due to the stigma attached to a redundancy.
Redundancies are not just a clear out of dead wood anymore. Good/Great people are being laid off too. IT IS A REALITY. We have a responsibility to ensure that people being made redundant know this, and as Employers, we need not to look at people who have been made redundant, actively challenge the idea that only the “Dead wood”, would be culled first. Hard business decisions are needing to be made everywhere.
OK, these are tough conversations to have, you have every right to feel uncomfortable and nervous about having them. If you are the person delivering the message…. Please remember these discussions aren’t about you, they are about the person you are talking to. Give them the respect and dignity they deserve by present for them and not just a messenger.
I am not a religious person, however the term “Do unto others…” rings true to me.