A Thought on Termination of Employment

At the start of the post, I’ll be very honest with you – I do not yet feel as though I’ve made my way ’round the block fully. I still feel as though I’m a juvenile at the very beginning of my career. I have have seen tens of jobs in my lifetime, but I have not seen tens of jobs in which I would consider myself a “professional” or in a given career path.

This post is primarily intended to be an exploration of thought surrounding the departure of employees from employment – voluntary or not. No, I have not been relieved of my duties. This was merely something I’d been thinking about lately. Over the last two years, I’ve become very interested in the “human” parts that keep the machine of business running. I think this is one of the things that we overlook the human aspect of quite often.

A coworker and I used to muse about the way messages are delivered and how very often they feel almost robotic. Maybe I’m far too critical of how I present my words to others when delivering sensitive information. For those of you that know me, you’re  thinking that to be the polar opposite of my usual personality… you’re right). Very often I make jokes at others’ expense (with no malicious intent). That said, I am far more often the fodder for my own cannon-fire. This post isn’t talking about the “water cooler” conversations, though. In this post, I’m focused on the livelihood of employees, their positions during their employment, and the employees as they move through these (often awkward) phases.

When an employee self-terminates…

The term self-termination feels odd to me – I’ve only just become acquainted with it. A co-worker discovered the workflow for himself in Workday when he was… well, self-terminating. I distinctly recall getting a screenshot of it in Slack from him. It feels overly morbid to think of moving on to (hopefully) better things as being related to being terminated from employment. My best guess is that this is merely Human Resources wording things poorly (much like the idea of humans as resources instead of people). I digress.

In my opinion, leaving one job for another is usually fairly difficult. I tend to over-analyze every situation that I’ve ever placed myself in, but I’d still wager that there’s a fair amount of discussion that needs to happen. At the very least, there’s a potentially awkward conversation coming up with a superior who may or may not be prepared for the news. After this, there may be a formal process to be followed (such as the aforementioned self-termination) for HR to properly process a resignation. Following that, the superior will likely have a meeting and inform the team unless you get to it first.

It’s common to provide a two-week’s notice when leaving one job for another. This allows the business time to field your replacement (I’ve never once seen this happen ever). More importantly for those that remain with the employer: it’s the opportunity to get as any nuggets of information about open projects or the neat script you wrote sometime. Or, very likely, to hang out a few more times with a good work pal before those visits become far less often.

There are those that go above and beyond two-week’s notice and offer three or even a month. Once you reach the higher levels of management, I think I’ve even seen dates far into the future being the “termination” date. This all provides the business the opportunity to self-heal the loss of your input. It may allow the hiring of a replacement or a change in strategy. There’s a ton of different opportunities for the business which I think is commonplace and well understood. Hopefully, it provides the soon to be former employee an easy transition to a new role.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin.

When an employee is involuntarily terminated…

One of the problems with being fired is that, in most states, it can happen for almost any reason – documented or not. Yes – I know that I’m painting with broad strokes, but I’m not talking about violating company policies or harassing someone. I’m talking about poor performance, general misconduct (poor attitude, willfully disrespectful, etc.), and even just “right sizing” or general layoffs.

I have been fired from two jobs. In both circumstances, I showed up to work and finished my shifts as normal. In both circumstances, my superiors met me minutes before the end of my shift to fire me. One of the jobs was part time and, while it was certainly jarring, it was not difficult to replace the earnings. The other was completely unexpected and caught me entirely by surprise. This job was my primary source of income – I did not have secondary income at the time. Taking stock of where I am in life now, I lost a LOT of progress to my personal goals that I still have yet to recover.

I’ve seen it happen to coworkers, too. I’ve seen people absolutely rocked to the very core of their being after being terminated unexpectedly. There’s always a quiet, hurried conversation. There’s never enough time to pack a desk with dignity while everyone around the person flutters by, too afraid to talk while someone from HR stands nearby to make sure nothing goes missing. They’re escorted off the premises without the ability to say goodbye to any of the people they’ve grown to work with and call friends. I feel for those people – it’s embarrassing and damaging to morale.

Why is it like that? Why does it have to feel so wrong? Why can’t we do better? Before going too far down that path,  I should note that I’ve also (rarely) seen executives or high-ranking management receive a few week’s notice before their termination. In most of those times, the business announces that the person has decided to leave the company. I’d argue that the rule is simple: if someone tells you they’re leaving, they’re really leaving – if someone else tells you someone is leaving, they were probably not in on the decision to leave.

How can we do better? How would I do things differently?

It bothers me so very much how often we take for granted that the people we see day in and day out are people. There are problems that we don’t know about. There are stresses, both hidden and observable, that others must navigate outside of work. There are times when those problems bleed into the workplace and sometimes we chastise those people for allowing that to happen. I suppose my point is that we all need to remember that people are… well, human. We’re complex balls of emotion and anxiety that work around other complex balls of emotion and anxiety for 40+ hours of every week.

Here’s an example of how I would like to be treated if I had to fire myself from my current job:

I would make sure to get myself around lunch or after a meeting – I’d want to be able to have a casual conversation without being overheard. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to send an ominous meeting invitation without context. I’m going to have to fire someone – there’s no sense in adding day-long dread to the mix of emotions.

I would want to start the conversation and get to the point fairly quickly. The goal would be to deliver the news with sincerity, but not as a matter-of-fact. The matter-of-fact delivery makes it feel much more robotic. It’s highly efficient, but very difficult with regards to EQ. Specifically, I want to get to that point of why the decision was made quickly. This is so that I can immediately look past the bad parts and look back on work history and accomplishments.

It’s at this point that I want to have taken stock of what the employee did – I want to look back into the portfolio and list off some completed projects that had an impact to the business. I want to look at being a mentor and review how well the former-mentee has been doing after receiving guidance. I want to laugh about some casual fun times that we had together at a holiday or afternoon event. I want to recognize growth of the individual over their tenure of employment and congratulate them on a job well-done, even if that job hasn’t been as well-done recently (or there were budget cuts, etc., etc.).

After looking back at the good times, I want to send the person home… but before I do, I want to make them an offer to return for the next two weeks. If the business reasonably expects to be given two-week’s notice when an employee leaves, I would want to make sure that my employees receive the same courtesy  when I have to dismiss them. Here’s the caveat – I can’t let you work. I have to disable your account (hint: it’s already disabled).

This is what I want someone to do for the next two weeks: They’ll get a loaner laptop with a local account (no access to company resources). I want them to come in every day and we’ll help find their next role. I want to work on their resume with them so that we can get it up-to-date with all the skills and projects that they worked on. I want to let them use meeting rooms for phone interviews. At the end of the two weeks, I want them to have a really good head-start on finding a new role.

I know this is difficult. I want that person to understand that they are a human. As a fellow human, I have to deliver the news of termination as a matter of business – it’s not personal. That’s why I want to help ensure that they’re off to a good hunt in the job market before the end of their two-week’s. In return, I hope that they’ll be willing to answer any question or two that their former team might have for them. In the end, I hope to be providing the same courtesy that I would expect from my employees – two week’s notice before the final day.

In conclusion…

Moving from job to job is difficult – it doesn’t matter whether you’re moving on to better things willfully or have been caught off-guard by unfortunate circumstance. I just want to level the playing field for expectations in both scenarios.

I know, I know… when you’re fired you usually are paid for the next two-weeks (by law, I believe). My thought is just that it might offer the company and the individual some closure if we were to approach terminations with a little more empathy.

What do you think? Is this something that you think could happen?

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