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Terminations - Shot at Point Blank!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rajit Nair

There are only 1411 or less tigers in India (watch the clipping. Unpardonable poaching for their beautiful skins brought this species to the verge of extinction. As all our holy books proclaim, God made man to protect other living beings, we need to join hands to save them. Let’s act together!

From those massacres to corporate employee firings are under scrutiny this time. Call it lay off or end of service or separation, in the end, all serves the same purpose.

BBC’s ‘the Pointy Man's Business Pointers’ is hilarious but guides modern workplaces to success, one point elaborated at a time. Here is the funny sequence on firing an employee.

Employee terminations would be the outcome of a previous hiring mistake or an offshoot of some management blunders, which led to the downfall of the company, or an error in the manpower planning or sometimes even bad ego of the supervisor or the employee. If none of the above, then definitely, poor performance by the employees also results in terminations.

In smaller organizations, news of firing creates havoc among the employees, especially, if blue-collars dominate the company’s workforce. In Dubai, during the recession days, the construction workers felt terrible pressure when the HR representative visits their labor camp to announce the ‘hit list’ and that too on a daily basis. Everyday, 100s of employees, especially construction workers were laid down and the ‘firing ceremony’ reminds you of the agony of those four-legged livestock in a slaughterhouse.

As the company had decided to fire, then why should HR follow any best practice? This is the vicious thinking of companies these days. Don’t you think it’s wrong and we’re not in the age of Hitler? Since termination is a very sensitive issue and it affects human lives, (especially, when it comes to blue collar expatriates and their families,) it should be handled in a civilized manner. I wonder, why those HR practitioners in these companies, most of them holding MBA’s in HR and that too from elite B Schools in India or abroad, handling these separations like those heartless hunters, poaching tigers?

Such bad treatment happened even before the recession days and that too in those so-called ‘most favored’ or ‘employee friendly’ environments. If such companies dare to publish the unedited exit interview forms or the exited employees go public with their narrations, then the public image of those ‘award winners’ would get badly hit.

A Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a recycling plant in GCC was once served the termination notice, while he was climbing the stairs to his office. The business owner verbally conveyed him to pack his belongings and clear the office within 10 minutes. Even though the COO was under-performing, still terminating an executive of his stature should have been handled with much more professionalism. To add to the insult, someone from HR was instructed to stay at COO’s office to make sure he ‘collects’ only his valuables and not company’s property.

The big boss of a garment factory decided the fate of an HR professional not due to her performance. The big boss felt that the ‘HR lady’ was purposely avoiding the female CEO in the company foyer and elevator. The CEO got annoyed and felt that the young lady is not giving the main boss ‘importance’ and ‘admiration’ which the other employees at least pretends. CEO started complaining about the employee’s attitude to the employee’s direct supervisor and many silly reasons were cited to serve the termination notice. The termination notice signed by the big boss was delivered to the employee that left her guessing for the rest of her life, the reasons behind this termination.

In another instance, a fresher was forced to submit resignation (similar to termination) in a most humiliating manner in one of the service delivery companies in the GCC. The employee was under-performing and did not make any conscious effort to improve even after couple of counseling sessions. Even though termination was the only solution for the management, it was difficult as the appointment was a ‘forced one’ or rather this employee was hired to ‘please’ a business tycoon. The company management planned the exit through a series of ‘offensive’ and mortifying episodes and systematically made the employee frustrated so that she would submit her resignation. The tactics included completely alienating the employee from work, assigning her with menial tasks and the like. But the employee either did not understand the ‘plot’ or pretended that it is not meant for her, stayed and continued to ‘pester’ the management. But the poor soul succumbed to the pressure, when the management relocated her desk twice in a week to different corners in the floor! Finally, she submitted her resignation. HR was made a spectator because of the direct intervention of management.

Some employees are very smart, as they prefer the termination route rather than the resignation mode (in GCC, if terminated, (reasons other than felony or criminal acts), employees are entitled for their end-of-service benefits (other conditions do apply based on the labor law of the land). To achieve this objective, employees try all ‘tactics’ like sick leave abuse, tardiness, late submission of assignments and the like. If the HR department is genuine and not ‘decorated’ with unqualified HR professionals (the only background being that her/his uncle has some exposure in HR), then such ‘smart’ employees should be handled professionally.

We all agree that terminations are very painful events and always will be assigned to the HR in companies to handle the situation. Some employees may overreact when they are told to leave. Some may take it as vindictive against the person serving the notice and may spread rumors and some may be frigid and accept the verdict. We need qualified, trained and mature HR professionals to handle the separations (be it a resignation or termination) in a professional and humane manner. It should be noted that the person leaving the company, whatever reasons it be, terminated or resigned, that person served the company till that very moment and was part of the company’s team, so s/he deserves some decent treatment. Unprofessional companies apply tactics like withholding or delaying employee’s end of service benefits and that reflects the culture of the decision maker and not the company. In the long run, this practice will be ‘incorporated’ into the process and all employees are ‘vulnerable’ to pass through a similar discomfiture.

Exit interviews should be done by the HR, so that the separated employee be given a fair platform to comment or recommend or react on the company or his/her colleagues or supervisors or the facilities. The HR should show some courage and should not shy off from this practice fearing negative comments.

Decision to terminate usually (7 out of 10 times) comes from a reaction as against a well-thought decision with a genuine reason. The paradox is that the 360-degree change in treatment by the management and even the colleagues towards the employee who is ‘marked’ for termination or an employee who is serving the notice period needs a psychology expert’s intervention.

Please keep visiting (every week) for more on the series “Fearless or Shameless”.

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