Hiring and firing with respect

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“I get no respect.” If that’s how you feel your employees are treating you, it’s possible they’re just reflecting the attitude you’re showing them, according to Ruth Hagg, author of a series of management books.

“Respect is a two-way street,” says the Sandusky, Ohio-based writer of Hiring and Firing: Book Three, the third volume in a four-part series titled Taming Your Inner Supervisor.

Hagg, a former supervisor who got into writing after analyzing her own management style, says respect for one’s workers starts with the hiring process.

Respect, she says, becomes most important when it’s time to lay off an employee and “you’re delivering news that could affect their financial and emotional wellbeing.”

If not done with compassion and respect, Hagg says, a layoff can hurt a company’s bottom line and cause permanent damage to its reputation.

Such was the case when electronics retailer RadioShack Corp. of Fort Worth, decided to e-mail dismissal notices to more than 400 of its employees in a mass layoff on August 29 this year, said Hagg. The dismissals, portrayed as “calloused” in several publications, were later called “cyberfiring.”

The company received a public relations black eye when reports began appearing in the media that sacked employees received a terse e-mail from management that read: “The workplace reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately, your position is one of those that has been eliminated.”

“It’s bad enough to be laid off, but to be told off in an e-mail worsens the situation,” said Hagg.

Characterizing the RadioShack’s dismissal method as “a rookie mistake”, Hagg said the fiasco also demoralized the rest of the employees and could discourage future hires.

Wendy Dominguez, manager of corporate media relations for RadioShack, however, said the company engaged in a long process of information dissemination and meetings with employees about the impending layoffs.

A timeline of events, provided by Dominguez to IT World Canada, indicated that on August 10, the company released a press statement about a planned reduction targeted for “early September”. Julian Day, RadioShack CEO, e-mailed employees assuring them they would be treated with “dignity and respect” throughout the process.

Four information meetings were held on August 17, to tell employees the layoff date was set for August 29. Workers were told they would receive a “personalized e-mail” notifying them that they had to attend a face-to-face meeting with their senior leader.

On August 29, the e-mail messages were sent out.

RadioShack said workers who were let go were given time to say good-bye to co-workers and an opportunity to sign up for a time to come back for remaining personal items.

Dominguez said the company thought sending an e-mail would be the most appropriate method to deal with a mass layoff situation. “We believed that individual, personal e-mail notification would be the most private means of letting affected employees know they were to meet with their senior leader.”

Hagg, however, noted that corporate dismissals were often an unsavoury moment for the person being fired as well as the individual giving the discharge notice. She suspects reluctance to meet this situation head on could have something to do with choosing e-mail as a method for informing the employees.

In her book, Hagg says supervisors and managers often fall into into three distinct cateogories: the sensitive, the belligerent, and the regal.

Sensitive supervisors are those who hate giving orders or making tough decisions because they fear hurting other people’s feelings. “These are people who reprimand employees for being late but do it while smiling. People end up not taking them seriously.”

She said belligerent types are persons who are threatening and whose immediate reaction to a problem is anger. “They shout first and ask questions later.”

Regal supervisors want to be the centre of attention and demand that everything be approved by them.

Hagg found herself to be a sensitive boss when she started her first supervisory job at age 23 at the planetarium department of the University of Michigan. The problem worsened when she started her own firm with a partner who could be characterized as belligerent. Employees were threatened into paralysis by one boss and tended to be lazy with the other.

So what’s the solution? “The best [kind of boss] is one who recognizes his problem and fixes it,” said Hagg.

Unfortunately, she said, people can rarely change their personality. “Often, the best [they] can do is to learn to control their basic personal traits.”

For regal supervisors, Hagg’s book suggests a series of exercises that get them to start thinking of other people instead of focusing on themselves.

Belligerent bosses are taught to hold off making rash decisions or comments until they have weighed matters in a cooler frame of mind.

Sensitive types are encouraged to be more assertive. For instance, this type of supervisor should learn to confront an erring employee authoritatively. The confrontation should be done as close as possible to the time the offense was committed.

Rancour and confusion during downsizing can be lessened, according to Hagg, by getting employees involved in the process and decision-making. She suggests the following:

• Make sure employees are adequately informed and updated about the situation;

• Notify the entire company of the financial problem and offer workers alternatives such as early retirement, voluntary layoffs, reduced hours or re-assignment;

• Offer support for those facing layoff such as education and retraining programs or employment and emotional counseling.

Hagg cites the recent downsizing at Ford Motor Co. as an ideal layoff practice. “The employees were informed ahead of time and they were given a chance to decide on what move to make.”

“Companies should cultivate strong relationships with their workers, even when the times are good. When a layoff is imminent, managers can meet their employees face-to-face and explain the situation with compassion and respect,” she said.

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