In a recent post on this blog, “Words Fail Me, I’m a Manager,” David Whincup explored the use of euphemisms in the world of employment relations. This is the world where managers, finding it difficult to look employees in the eye, choose email, or better still, text messages to communicate difficult messages, using such choice wording as providing the unlucky staff with “an opportunity to start a new job search immediately” in place of stating that the employee’s employment is being terminated.
What ever happened to the good old days, I (metaphorically) hear some say, when employers could talk straight to their employees, call a spade what it is, look them in the eye and simply say “You are fired!” In reality, three things happened to those good old days: first, the law and the lawyers came along to require a proper process on pain of potentially significant compensation; second, really dire termination practices have increasingly attracted really dire press coverage; and third, they never really existed anyway – no sentient manager has ever been immune to the temptation to try to soften the blow for the employee or his own nervousness or anxiety about what he is doing.
All that said, it appears that (for some) those days are still here, with one celebrated example making its way round the media at the moment of a CEO of a particular high value global company who could not be accused of beating around the bush. Said CEO was on a conference call with reportedly 1000 of his staff. The purpose of the call, of course, to inspire and build motivation! So what better way, thought one of the company’s creative directors, to capture this seminal moment for posterity than to take photos of it.
What he hadn’t counted on was the CEO’s irritation at being photographed while on the call. The verbatim response: “Put down that camera right now! You’re fired! Out!”
There has been no reporting as to how the thousand others on the call felt about this interruption. We must hope not inspired, and probably not much motivated either (except in the sense of being motivated not to take photos of their boss). And whilst the CEO later apologised for his conduct, both to his listeners and to the employee in question (although only for the manner of the dismissal, not for the fact of it), it is difficult to see how such frankness could have given the company anything other than bad publicity and bad employee relations. The CEO admitted that what he had done was “unfair at a human level” to the employee in question, which is putting it mildly, but it remains to be seen what action that employee will take in response. One would hope that whatever the legal position (this was in the US where dismissal is less legally fraught), the CEO will have had the decency to reflect his own conduct in any severance terms offered.
We have brought you examples of two extremes in dealing with employment relations. They speak for themselves as examples of what not to do, without further need to spell out what went wrong. Whilst hiding behind teeth-grating euphemisms or faceless electronic communications is no way to manage the dismissal of your staff, neither of course is emulating Alan Sugar!