One of my first jobs as a career consultant made a real
impact on me. My client was a 30-year-old up-and-comer, and his company
had relocated his young family to Colorado. He sold his home in Dallas,
and bought a new home here. A few short weeks later, the company closed
their Denver office and terminated him without severance or outplacement
assistance, essentially abandoning him in a strange city. I knew then
that this was going to be a tough business.
It's common for companies to give someone a glowing performance
appraisal, award a performance bonus, and then fire the person out of the
blue within the next few monthssometimes within a matter of daysciting
difficulties with the boss and performance problems as the reason.
It's not uncommon for companies to terminate salesmen, managers,
and executives by telephone while they're traveling on business, or the
day after they return from vacation. Nor is it uncommon to fire people right
before or after Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year'sor on one's
birthday or anniversary.
On a daily basis, corporations give short shrift to the business of planning
and managing layoffs and terminations. It concerns me, because in this era of
workplace violence, I believe we must learn to be more careful in order to
protect ourselves and our employees from separations that might turn violent.
Here is a laundry list of twelve eye-opening events I've seen in my capacity
as outplacement consultant:
We'd like to think that corporate America does a good job of
planning layoffs and terminations, but my experience is different. Unfortunately,
many companies still treat these crisis transitions as ho-hum events, and thereby
endanger themselves and others at work. We can help prevent workplace violence by
carefully planning for outplacement.
- An outplacement counselor (not from our firm) called a candidate to begin
with him before the company had announced the termination, thereby terminating
the person by accident.
- A mining company called us at 10:00 a.m. and asked us to stop by that
same afternoon to provide a one-hour outplacement program to
someone they expected to be very hostile.
- A defense contractor planned to announce a large layoff, and the MIS
department mistakenly de-programmed the security system too soon. As the
employees reported for work, they could tell whether theyd been fired
or not simply by inserting their cardkey into the card reader. That card
reader drew quite a loud, angry crowd.
- A long-tenured retail employee expected to return to work from disability
leave the following day. But before she could return, her boss called her on
the phone to lay her off.
- The HR Director for one of the countrys largest hospitals just told
me someone in his organization recently conducted a termination by fax.
- An outplacement candidate didnt have to wait for the 5:00 meeting with
her boss to be terminated. At 9:00 a.m. she looked at his calendar, and it said,
- An insurance company terminated a trusted 64-year-old employee with 15 years
of service in the coffee shop at Dennys. Both her boss and the human
resources manager delivered the bad news in public. As a final insult, they
forbid her from returning to the office to say goodby to friends.
- During a downturn in the oil business, a total stranger showed up to
fire a high-performing Division Manager for an oilfield service company.
The stranger said, Pack your things and get out. We dont need
you around here anymore.
- A defense manufacturer terminated a 15-year engineer who was recovering
from hip-replacement surgery. The company didnt take the trouble to
find out that the engineers wife was dying of cancer and the couple was
contemplating divorce. In the meantime, the family had exhausted all their
savings to treat the cancerthe only money they had left was pocket
- A chemical company called me in the morning to attend an emergency
termination in the afternoon. When I arrived, the District Manager said the
employee was psychotic, and he had dreamed the departing employee had come back
to the company with a gun and sprayed bullets around the place. The manager
laughed, and then went in to conduct the termination.
- When a bank outplaced a highly-disturbed and potentially violent worker,
they were so worried about the employees safety they hired a security
company to tail the individual after his termination. Yet the manager who
retained us kept his phone on voicemail, wouldnt return our phone calls,
and wouldnt come out of meetings to talk to us when we reached his secretary.
- Eager to add staff quickly, a dental supply company mistakenly hired a
psychotic who owned a gun collection. The day of the termination, under the
protection of armed police, we conducted the termination, and I explained the
importance of thorough interviewing, background and reference checking, and
pre-employment testing in keeping potentially violent criminals out of the
workplace. I offered to explain more about testing later, but the company did
not return phone calls.
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