Dignity is Free

When it comes to employment, there is a limit to what you can do to someone within the confines of your authority which, if you are a manager, the limit is usually firing someone. For this reason, I consider this the nuclear option because once you have pressed that button, your power over this person is pretty much spent. Once you have told someone “I am terminating your employment,” or “today is going to be your last day,” or whatever, you are out of options. There is really little more you can do with this person that doesn’t involve Building Security or the Police. Once you push that big red button and tell someone that they are fired, you can’t really threaten them. You just lost your stick. This is important, and something to remember because chances are you still need to escort them from the building but what do you do if they start acting like a big crazy fool ? Put a note in their file? Suspend them for 3 days? Sure, you can call security and have them escorted out, but that often escalates the situation. You can call the Po-Po, but that can still take a few minutes for them to arrive, and even that doesn’t guarantee a nice, quiet, orderly exit. Having your former employee yell “don’t tase me, bro!” by the coffee bar isn’t ideal.

I bring this up because it seems that as managers we sometimes forget that treating someone with dignity and respect is free. It might take a little more time, but letting someone take the situation in and absorb what has just happened, then digest it can actually save time in the long run. Letting someone vent, while not on anyone’s list of favorite things, is free. And while it is absolutely a good idea to walk them out, making a conscious, and obvious, effort to help them maintain their dignity as much as possible is gold. Take a minute and put yourself in this person’s shoes: you have just lost your job, maybe your livelihood. Your pride has been knocked back, and now you may have to go and tell your spouse and kids, your friends, whatever. Maybe you saw it coming, maybe you didn’t, but here you are now, and the HR guy is telling you that you two are about to do the perp walk out of the building.

So how do you make this a little easier for everyone (and maybe even avoid a scene)? Start that whole thing off with a little conversation. Something like: “look, I know this is tough news. As you probably are aware, I am going to walk out with you, but I want to help you maintain as much dignity as possible. To that end we are going to do…” and then you just tell them the next steps – maybe it is going by their desk to collect their things, maybe it is stopping by their desk to get keys, wallet, purse – and then packing everything else for them to come by and get after hours. Whatever the plan is, you have one in advance, and it is conveyed so that it is designed with the sole purpose of helping them maintain as much dignity as possible. For instance, if company policy is to only let them gather whatever is necessary to leave right then, you may say: “I know this is tough news, but as I am sure you know I am going to walk out with you. I want to help you maintain as much dignity as possible, so when you are ready, you and I are going to walk out together. As far as anyone is concerned, we are two co-workers walking together. Then I am going to come back, pack up your personal belongings and either ship them to you, or you can arrange a time to come by and get them after hours from security. Is there anything you need right away from your desk, like keys, or a purse? If so, I can call someone to stop by and grab those real quick.” Or, if the procedure is to let them stop by and clear their desk, you might say: “look, I know this is tough news. As you probably are aware, I am going to walk out with you, but I want to help you maintain as much dignity as possible. To that end we are going to stop by your desk so you can have a chance to gather your personal effects. Everyone in your area has been pulled into a meeting, so we will have some privacy.” The point I am trying to convey in each situation is empathy, as much kindness as I can show to someone who has just been fired, and give them a chance to walk out with their heads held high. I have found that this small act of kindness is usually met with a level of appreciation and thus a smoother exit.

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