Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Termination Log

I work in a place where if someone is fired, no one is really supposed to talk about it. Management isn’t really supposed to tell their staff members even why someone was fired. It’s almost like you are supposed to pretend it didn’t happen and just carry on.

I understand the reasoning for this approach. It keeps the crew from having a bad reaction when the news is released onto the sales floor.

Coworkers often develop camaraderie; I think anyone would get upset seeing their friend get fired. People can perceive their friend’s job loss to be unfair, even when it is not.

Discouraging a discussion stifles people’s urges to express their unhappiness with the management’s decision, and prevents creating a scene in the workplace. No customer wants to shop in a place where the staff is emotionally enraged with their management.

However, I think it would be a far better tool for strengthening your team if there were a completely open discussion about why people are released from the company.

If the rules governing expected job performance are reasonably clear, and the behaviors that will result in discharge are universally understood, there should be no reason to keep the details of the termination a secret.

I am obviously assuming people are not being fired for unfair reasons, in which case secrecy would be prudent on the management’s part. This is another reason pasting a layer of secrecy over a firing is not helpful for a healthy workplace--it makes people suspicious. Maybe that person was fired without just cause, and that is why it’s being hushed up.

No one likes to feel like they shouldn’t talk about an event that is significant for them (a friend or coworker being fired); sometimes in a scenario like this, unfortunately that is exactly how they are made to feel.

It also makes people feel like they are not trusted. Somehow, they are being told they shouldn’t know about why someone was fired; it doesn’t seem right.

If we opened the discussion surrounding job loss, each dismissal could serve as a reality-based example for the remaining employees regarding the consequences of …whatever it was, probably stealing or harassing someone or something stupid. Or maybe they were a wonderful person who was just not doing a very good job.

Whatever the reason, people would be better able to relate to what are otherwise just imaginable results of hypothetical workplace scenarios. An impending threat on their job is given a backbone and put into perspective. They can relate to it, because it happened to their friend--or someone they at least knew.

The company should print up a bio of the person who was fired and their history with the company, with a photo. It would be sort of like a little obituary.

They would type up a little synopsis, and at the end it would say, “This person was fired because of X, Y and Z. Here is what everyone is expected to do so they will never be fired for X, Y and Z.”

They could put all of the little obituaries in a binder in the break room for the staff to read through during their free time. It would be optional background information people could read through if they wanted to know more about why an employee was fired.

Keeping the binder in the break room would ensure that even if an employee got fired up about a particular obituary, chances are they will at least be on a break; they would have a chance to get any potential outburst out of their system before they have to return to work and handle customers or face their boss.

Employees would obviously benefit from the transparency also, as they would be in a better position to identify patters in termination that they perceived as unfair. People could more easily realize that a particular workplace isn’t a good fit, and work on finding a more desirable environment for themselves.

All the secretive nonsense breeds nasty rumor-making, too. Before you know it, an unfortunate workplace event becomes confused by conspiracy theory and retellings of “he-said-she-said.”

I say, let everything sit out in the open for people to talk about. The truth will set your workplace free.

1 comment:

  1. I agree about openly discussing the "who, where, what & why" regarding someone being let go. We've had a few people let go from where I work and getting the details about "why" is like pulling teeth. My main concern for knowing is so that I myself don't repeat whatever it was that got that person fired, because I want to keep my job. Knowing what brought their termination about would help me avoid that situation but for some reason, most of the time rumors fly about why someone's gone and it leaves an unsettled feeling in the workplace. Where I work we don't deal directly w/the public but in your case, it's all the more important to air things out because you all have multiple daily interactions w/the public and having a tense-free atmosphere would only benefit the employees, the customers and the company.