This was a week of Evil Employees. Though periodically I am convinced that my own team members are spawns of Satan, during this particular week the errant souls were not part of Team ilegirl.
To date I have not experienced the Gone Postal scene during a termination meeting. At the four terminations in which I have participated, the employees preserved some dignity and left the building quietly. On two of those occasions, I walked the employee to the door and wished them good fortune; one occasion concluded with a friendly embrace, and all others with at least a handshake. One broke into tears, and without shame I also succumbed to emotion.
A manager never wishes to dismiss anyone. We are, despite rumours to the contrary, human. We understand that a job is a person’s means of survival. It is not pleasant to exercise the authority we have to control a person’s livelihood; termination is not a step undertaken without good forethought and repeated attempts to salvage the situation.
The reaction of the employee to a firing varies widely. Sadness, cheerful acceptance, stoicism: these are the ideal. The rare sort dissolve into fits of uncontrollable bitterness; such was the case with one gentleman this week. So bitterly did he receive the news that, despite the repeated warnings he had received during his short tenure with the company, he threatened to file suit, and spewed all sorts of hatefulness toward the manager, the manager’s boss, the HR representative, the vast and unfair world beyond the walls. After being escorted from the building he continued to harass his now-former manager with emails and unsolicited telephone calls, to an extent which warranted discussion of obtaining a restraining order.
The second situation arose out of a kindness extended to subordinates. Some late-night work was required, and the leader in this situation felt the injustice of requiring the entire team to remain very late on a weekend night so released them from the obligation to stay and remained to complete the work alone. On the following workday, an employee in a position of authority convinced the subordinates that this dismissal was an affront, and manipulated them into complaining about this situation to Human Resources. Of course, HR found no merit to the complaint (as there was none).
How as managers can we handle these types of situations without losing our innate compassion yet retaining authority and personal dignity?
In the first case, realistically the expectation can be that HR takes control of the situation once the employee shows the first signs of erratic or abusive behavior. This could require calling the police to assist in removing the employee from the premises, as the protection of the remaining employees should be our primary concern. Extracting ourselves from the situation quickly and quietly is the sole means of retaining our own composure in such a situation.
Likewise, in the second case the wrongly-accused manager has an obligation to protect the remaining employees by reporting the harassing behavior of the puppet-master to executive management, and require the instigator to explain these actions. It needs to be made particularly clear that any repetition of such behaviors will warrant discipline – including termination.
By remaining aware of how the troublesome employee poisons the environment for others, we are being compassionate. Isn’t it after all a part of our job to ensure that the workplace is conducive to productive work? And as humans, we have the emotional capacity to understand that those who are fearful at work due to arrogant, unpredictable or mean-spirited coworkers are themselves unable to reach their full potential; we need to enable an environment which allows people to grow and move, or else we as an organization wither and die too.
In this economy there are numerous talented people who are in the unfortunate position of being unemployed; how many would be pleased to work for a company that is wildly successful, embraces diversity, and encourages its salaried employees to work no more than the standard 40-hour week? No, there is no excuse for retaining the bloated baggage of a bygone era such as vitriolic or manipulative people.