If you have watched the 2011 movie Margin Call, you should remember the scene where Stanley Tucci's character gets a knock on door by an HR woman and brought into a conference room in front of the entire floor. Employees on the floor are all looking on and know exactly what's going on. In the conference room, Stanley Tucci was coldly laid off by two paper pushers ("after 19 plus years of service....") and immediately escorted by security out of the building.
The movie also depicts how this "incident" has a reverberating effect on all employees. I have always thought it was a dramatization of a movie script. I get that laid-off has become a common event in Corporate America surviving in the less than prosperous bigger environment. But for sure American corporations go about it in a more dignified and respectful manner as the sudden job loss is quite traumatic for the employee to process already.
Nevertheless, a recent event happened to one of my friends has totally changed my view and I am beyond flabbergasted how corporations have stooped so low treating employees.
My friend has 20+ years of experience in her field with a Master’s degree and all the certifications to impress. I'm flabbergasted not because of the fact she got laid off, but the way her company handled it.
The New Order of a "Public Lay-off"
She came to work as usual in the morning. Then a lady she's never seen before and in a "not so inside voice" came over telling her to go to HR and take her belongings. Mind you, she did not have an office, so essentially half of the floor, at the minimum, heard the exchange.
This type of "direct" approach my friend experienced usually is "reserved" for employee facing termination due to some criminal or serious breach of ethics conduct. Needless to say my friend was in a panic not knowing what she had done wrong.
After she got to the HR office, another HR woman started by saying "I need to inform you that today is your last day of work and I'm here to go over some paperwork with you." The HR woman went on to say the reporting managers of my friend were out of town not available in person. She then asked "Did you see this (laid-off) coming" and kept asking “Are you ok?"
I mean what kind of question is that?
Did You See It Coming?
Her company was acquired by a competitor last year. After the acquisition, the immediate impact was the laid-off of 1,000 employees. There were 3-4 more rounds of laid-off and many employees quit within the past 12 months. The senior management announced two weeks before that the department was “safe” from more layoffs. The company issued my friend a brand new iPhone 7 this year before assigning her to a high profile project. She was just four months away from being vested in pension and 401K (perhaps this is a factor?)
So no, nobody could have seen it coming, but I do see how clueless that company is with possible financial troubles.
Are You OK? What Do You Think?
Human Behavior 101:
People usually are “ok” until someone asks “Are you ok?”.
The more you ask "Are you ok?" to a person still processing the news of a job loss decided by somebody else, the more you are pushing that person into an emotional "bad place". And I thought HR is supposed to be proficiently trained to handle this type of situation.
After a bunch of paperwork and explanations how she needed to sign "The Release", my friend was taken into another conference room to an outplacement service person. Her ex-employer of course outsources the outplacement service. So she was forced to face yet another stranger while still sorting things out.
Are You OK? Again!
The outplacement service person also kept asking my friend "Are you ok?" (She and the HR must have gone to the same training class.) Then the outplacement person went on asking if my friend has anyone at home to share "this" with and that it is best not to share "this" with kids as kids tend to worry more than adults. My friend does not have kids and I think that person was just reciting a standard script.
So here was my friend trying to process everything thinking about how to move on, but instead she was forced to dwell in the "job loss room" right there AGAIN. Then my friend was escorted out the door by the outplacement person.
The Magic of Modern Communication
In Margin Call, Stanley Tucci at least was able to box up at his desk (albeit escorted by a security guard), but my friend was not allowed to go back to her desk. So she had to think really hard what she had left behind to request her ex-employer ship them back to her home.
The next day, my friend got a Linkedin message from an ex-coworker who’s moved out of state that she had heard what happened. It seems none of my friend's co-workers knew what happened and probably assumed my friend was terminated for cause.
In this situation, her quite "public" and abrupt "departure" has also reverberated far and beyond, similar to Margin Call.
How It Used to Be
The laid-off process I've witnessed usually starts with the employee getting a meeting invite regarding some vague subject, or a straight phone call by his/her manager. Then when the employee appears in the meeting room, he/she sees the manager and the HR person. The manager typically breaks the news and leaves before HR takes over. The outplacement service comes later through email or phone calls outside the corporation after the employee has some time to process.
One Hick “Fortune 500“ or Many?
If you think my friend's ex-employer is some hick mom-and-pop company, you would be wrong. We are talking about a Fortune 500 company that ironically keeps preaching “Respect” as part of its corporate culture.
Respect, Decency, Dignity
It is entirely unnecessary that corporations have to let employees go in such an undignified manner. Companies all seem eager to show that employees are just numbers and should be treated as such. If money is all CEO's care about, then here is a news flash:
Treating employees (even the outgoing ones) or anybody with respect, decency and dignity does not cost money.
Do you think how this whole thing played out has not traumatized my friend's co-workers affecting productivity and morale? Or does the company even care?
I believe this is also a reflection of increasing workers in Corporate America with lower quality of education, training and EQ which is a deep-rooted problem taking decades to materialize. This is a pretty big part of the reason why America has gradually lost its dominant position as the world leader.