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Air heads



So I know I’m not the most up to date of souls when it comes to all things popular culture.  I’ve never seen the Sound of Music, I have a one man campaign to never EVER watch Titanic and whilst I’ve got Avatar waiting to be watched, I have no overwhelming desire to do so.  That said, over the holiday period I did watch “Up in the air” mainly I think because it contained George Clooney and Mrs HRD was having a moment.

What I didn’t realise as I sat down to watch the film was that the plot or sub plot, or in between plot (as in the thing that it wasn’t really about, but was about)….if you follow my drift…..was  HR management. Now I’m making an assumption that most people have watched the film and know the story, but then again….looking at some of you I’m thinking the last film you watched was maybe Rollerball or in your case…..yes you…no, not you….behind…yes….in your case I’m not sure you actually know what a film is.

Anyway, George Clooney flies around America laying people off as some sort of outside sub contracted redundancy making machine. And I was agog. So maybe this is my naivety, maybe I’m living in some hermetically sealed bubble, but the fact that anyone would actually do that astounds me. (NOTE: OK, so I know this is a film, but people actually seem to offer this service).

I’ve not, to date, been made redundant but I have, sadly, had to be present when a lot of people have been told that they are losing their jobs.  I have a very simple approach: If you are the person that would be responsible for telling that individual that they would be getting a pay rise, you are also the person responsible for telling them they are losing their job. For me it is a matter of common decency. In the past I’ve had managers tell me that it should be HR’s job, my response, “so when someone in my team is made redundant, who tells them?” And of course it is, and should be, me.

I’m not sure whether this idea of outsourcing is a new idea, an old idea, a niche idea or a growing trend. Whatever it is, I advise against it.  People will bang on about the reputational impact but I think it is simpler than that.  Whatever happens, the people who are leaving your company are that, they are people. As such they deserve to be treated with honesty and respect and if you don’t have the balls to look them in the eye and tell them the bad news yourself, then quite simply, you’re pond life.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Sukh Pabial permalink
    01/11/2011 09:26

    I was made redundant from my last company and your last line sums up my time there “As such they deserve to be treated with honesty and respect and if you don’t have the balls to look them in the eye and tell them the bad news yourself, then quite simply, you’re pond life.”

    We weren’t a big company, only 50, and half of us were being let go. The CEO decided on our collective last day, he was going to come over and say goodbye to us individually. He probably knew 10 individual’s names. The rest was – “I don’t know who you are, thank you for your contributions, I wish you well”. His intent was clear, but he was completely blind to the irony of his actions. You’re absolutely right, we do deserve to be treated with honesty and respect. We never heard from him in the whole process and this was his parting message to us.

    I was more than glad to not be part of the company any more. And, from what I hear, since they let us go, they’ve only had to let more go.

  2. BJH permalink
    01/11/2011 10:47

    Hear, Hear!

    I’ve sat on both sides of the fence. My role has been made redundant a number of times, but only twice has it resulted in my leaving the company. On both of these occassions the timing couldn’t have been worse and put me in genuine fear of extreme financial hardship. Fortunately my fears were not realised.

    I’ve also had to deliver the news to my people in my own team and totally agree with your comments. I knew that it was dreadful news to give, and the only way I could deliver it was to ensure I treated each person with dignity and respect, which I hope I managed. (Having reflected on that statement, I hope I did that all the time.)

    Like you, I abhor business managers who expect HR to deliver all their bad news for them, but want to deliver all the good news themselves. The responsibility of management works both ways and if you haven’t got the “balls” to deal with the challenges, you shouldn’t be a manager, IMHO!

  3. MrAirmiles permalink
    01/11/2011 11:42

    I watched the movie on the plane as I flew from Houston to London. For a moment I identified myself with George (good looks, all the miles, fflyer cards, etcc) – it’s not as fun as it looks, believe me!

    3 days later my whole team in London were gathered in a room at the office, for a video conference with our GM and Team Leads in the US.
    Eventually the dreaded slide with everyone’s roles came up, showing x1 or x2 as applicable, followed by the same version of that slide for Jan 1st 2011, which listed the same roles as x0 (zero)!

    I know San Francisco & Houston to London are long flights…but still…people aren’t rat labs that you can just put inside a glass box, turn on the gas, and watch them die in the name of science! Strong words, I know, but that’s what it felt like at the time!

    Deja vú?

  4. 01/11/2011 12:02

    I am thoroughly disappointed with every manager who has a problem to face his people in the bad times. It is one of the attributes of being a leader for God’s sake. They will come out to give awards and talk success, but will let other people to deal with the bad news. What is worse, there is this horrible chain reaction where no one wants to be the bad news messenger and folks who need to be told about their redundancy are left on their own with no information whatsoever for as long as it is possible. They hear some rumour and have no choice but try and fill the gaps. Their wife’s are asking them every day “So?” and they have nothing to say back. Then it takes only very little before family is affected and one person starts disrespecting the other.
    Great post Theo. Thank you

  5. 01/11/2011 13:25

    I’m sick of managers, who are employees themselves, bleating about how hard it is to tell someone directly that they are redundant fired, or no longer required. Too often do they stress about how it affects them, and say so to the unfortunate redundee (is that a word?).

    The person being let-go is not helped by hearing how hard it is for the manager, so it is the duty of the boss to man (or woman) up and get it done professionally. If they can’t do this properly, they’re not fit to manage people.

  6. 01/11/2011 14:37

    PS. I wrote a wee article on this topic myself.

  7. Corporate Daycare permalink
    01/11/2011 14:58

    As HR, I see our role as not only ensuring that all the legal Ts are crossed and Is are dotted, but also to ensure that the manager – the person responible for someone being let go – “gets” the impact of what they are about to do.

    A manager once asked me how I ever got used to firing/letting people go…I responded that I don’t fire/ let people go…managers do, I just assist with the process. The look of realization was priceless.

  8. Ralph Bassfeld permalink
    01/11/2011 17:24

    As a manager I’ve had to impart bad news, but happily no redundancies. Some colleagues were required to let go of more than half their team and some nearly broke emotionally at the weight of this task. HR assisted the managers, but never took over their role in deciding who to let go or informing the unfortunates. As it should be.

    The movie is good viewing for managers and shows them different situations/reactions they may encounter when letting people go. How professionally do you think Clooney accomplished his tasks?

  9. david permalink
    01/11/2011 17:47

    It’s a tragedy of life that there is often little sanction (or retribution) for poor people managers…..Especially as those who could sanction them are either the cause or worse collude with poor behaviour – the real mudgrubbing spawn of the pond.

    But I’m always struck by the lack of peer pressure (or support) in such cases. A much bigger ask maybe but possibly the most effective solution.

    P.S. as an employee you know whether or not your boss is up to the job by the feedback, honesty and respect they give you. If they fail to treat you properly through redundancy (or other difficult times) then you probably knew what to expect from them….. pond life.

  10. 01/11/2011 19:01

    I can think of six different companies where I’ve been involved in making redundancies. In each case the managers took responsibility for the conversations with their employees (not just because it was insisted upon but in most cases, because they knew it was the right thing to do), but HR gave them support and guidance, and always managed the process. Somewhat depressingly, this is probably one of the areas where HR’s contribution is the most valued by the business – making redundancies or terminating an employee’s employment for any other reason is tricky and full of potential pitfalls – so we are invaluable in ensuring compliance, and propping up the managers, giving them tools – not to mention moral support.

    I haven’t seen the film, but now it’s on my list to watch! No idea if there really are people who do this job – but I’ve no doubt if someone offers the service, there will be people out there who want it!

  11. 01/11/2011 20:55

    Focussed very much on redundancy – but as a future topic, be interested in your views on wider change management. So often I’ve seen external project managers hired to drive through a change project, by companies who have had the resource, bandwidth, skillset (ANO crap!) to drive it through – but they want to see any bad feeling from the changes depart WITH the interim, rather than remain attached to a longer term member of staff. I can see both views and have never quite settled the internal debate.

  12. 01/11/2011 23:40

    During this year’s ‘Apprentice’ someone tweeted that Lord Sugar should step onto the boardroom table, dance a little jig, and then point at the person being fired and shout ‘You’re cunted’.

    I wonder if this strategy, or a modified version of the same, might be a new approach for the problem you raise.

  13. 01/12/2011 09:42

    @Sukh Pabial – Eurgh…..I hope they learned from that, but I fear they probably didn’t….

    @BJH – Dignity and respect…..absolutely.

    @MrAirmiles – When I heard about this, it made my skin crawl. That was nothing to do with the cost of a flight, it was complete spineless behaviour. Thanks for sharing.

    @HRbeginner – Great points, I agree.

    @Stephen O’Donnell – Indeed, I’ve heard a couple of times, “this is as hard for me as it is for you”……uhhh no it isn’t…. I actually brief managers now to use only neutral language, it may seem harsh but it is better in the end.

    @Corporate Daycare – You have to love those penny drop moments…..

    @Ralph Bassfield – The movie is not very realistic from a UK point of view because you would normally have more than one meeting with the person. The US system is, as I understand it, very different.

    @david – Brilliant points…..

    @Jacqui Cookson – True and I think it is also an areas where HR can, sadly, gain credibility by showing how they can support managers not just through procedure, but through coaching and support.

    @James Mayes – I’ll have a think about that…the disposable consultant…..

    @fernandomando – Probably not….although I would pay to see Lord Sugar do that….before being carted off by the friendly men in white coats…..

  14. 01/12/2011 16:42

    I’ve never had to make anyone redundant. But I too will never watch The Titanic. Or ET for that matter.

  15. 01/18/2011 08:32

    @DougShaw – I’m with you.


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