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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing humanity in the workplace. I’m Susan White, a national HR consultant. With me is JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, a dynamic HR consulting firm, and author of “JoyPowered®” and “The JoyPowered® Family.”
JoDee, today our topic is about firing.
That doesn’t sound JoyPowered®.
No, yeah, well, let’s call it something else. We could call it “involuntary terminations,” or maybe even better, “parting ways in a humane way.”
In preparation for today’s podcast, we asked our listeners about their experiences, either as managers who have had to release staff or as staff members who got the bad news themselves. Thanks to all of you who shared your personal insights and experiences, as it helped us build today’s show. JoDee, I imagine given your career, you’ve had to help separate employees. Can you give us some context, maybe, when you’ve had to do that?
Yeah, you know, I worked for…most of my career, I worked for two different organizations. And, interestingly, they had very different philosophies on this. And I think…you know, I grew up in the public accounting world, and it used to be, back in the 80s, that it was very common for public accounting firms to hire swarms of new college graduates and then weed out the ones who didn’t work out, as well as the…it was a lot of turnover in that industry, too. And so early in my career, I was used to – even before I was the one who was terminating people – used to seeing a lot of people who got…or observing or watching my peers being let go from the organization. But the philosophy in both firms I worked with, though, was always very empathetic, I think, and helping people find positions and…and placing them. But then I went to work for another organization who was still very empathetic in that, but they tended to hang on to people for a long time, and I saw a different side of that, where at times, people, I think, should have been…
Oh my gosh.
…how did you say it? Parted ways in a humane way. And they tend to hung on for a little bit longer. So I actually, in my book, “JoyPowered®,” have a whole chapter on this topic, about the importance of helping people move on when they’re not in the right place. So it actually…I joked about it not sounding JoyPowered®, but I actually think it’s a very important topic to help your organization be more JoyPowered®.
Now, that’s great. And I also do believe that there are times where people are…get in a role and they aren’t happy or they’re not experiencing any joy, and maybe then we…helping them part ways is the humane thing to do. Well, I’ll tell you my background, I started with a bank back in the 1980s. And the one thing that was common about people we were hiring is they went to the bank because they thought it was a secure job.
And that certainly changed over the decades that I worked with the organization. When I first started in HR, back in the…gosh, it would have been mid 80s probably, I…I got involved in…I was in HR and I needed to help managers figure out what to do if they had a staff member who was having attendance issues or tardiness issues, or perhaps they just weren’t performing at the level that they needed to. Every once in a while somebody would break a policy, you know, a company policy, and then we’d sometimes have take very swift action. But we never got involved in having to lay employees off. I can remember back in the late 80s, the HR director came to me and said, “Susan, we’re going to need to put together a severance policy.” I said how do you spell severance? Knew nothing about it. So after that, though, I continued working in the world of banking, and of course, we got very good at consolidating and merging and acquiring different organizations, and that’s where I had an opportunity to learn about layoffs and WARN Act and making sure that our RIFs were done not only in a way that should we ever be challenged by somebody, but that we were trying to do it in a…in a caring way, just as the CPA firms you’d worked for. So understanding what is not working. And before we jump into separating an employee, let’s talk a little bit, JoDee, about maybe as we guide managers on what to think about when they’ve got a staff member who they think they’re going to need to part ways with, what are some some pieces of advice that you might have? Like, where do you start when someone says to you, I need to get rid of somebody on my team?
So there’s two questions that I…I didn’t make up myself. They came from the book “Good to Great,” which, you know, is an old…an old book written in the 80s. And I’ve used these two questions with people many, many times to ask them…really, I guess your question was, maybe when they they were ready to cut them. This question might be more about when people come to me and say they feel like they need to cut or they can’t decide if they should cut or not. But “Good to Great” suggests you ask them two questions. Would you be disappointed if they left on their own? And would you rehire them again in the same position? And your answer to those two questions, I think, is very telling. If your answer to both of those are no, it is time to move on. If your question to those are yes, then what do you need to do to make it work out? How can you coach them? How can you move them to a different role? How can you best utilize their strengths in the organization? So those are the two questions I like to start with right off.
I like that. It’s kind of a mini performance assessment. Is this somebody that we need to keep or is it really time to let them…let them go?
Well, when I get that phone call from a manager, an owner of a business, and they say, you know what, I need to let somebody go, here’s what happened. The first thing I always ask is, now, is this a new problem or has it been going on for a long time? If it’s been going on for a long time, what’s different this time?
And is it immediate? Or is it urgent? I think that’s really important to think about, because if someone outside the organization come back in and analyze why you let this person go, I think if you had allowed something to go on for a long, long time, and then you took a swift action, perhaps you needed to have thought about giving them some time to fix whatever the issue was.
Another question I like to ask is…How long has the person been with you? And what is their track record? Is this the first time that there’s been something that had gone awry? And/or is it something that this has just been building over a long period of time?
Right. And I think, too, as I know you know, Susan, the answer to that question wouldn’t necessarily determine whether or not they should let them go. In other words, the person might have been there for two months or 20 years, and it still might be the right time to let them go.
But asking that question about their length and their track record, specifically from a compliance standpoint and from legal standards, you know, what have you done and have you let this go on for a long time, but the longer people are there, I think the harder it is to let them go, and it still might be time.
Right. Right, no, I agree. I also like to know, did the employee have written performance objectives? And the reason for that is I want to know, is it clear to the individual that they’re not meeting those objectives? Now, surely, if it’s a company policy or harassment or something like that, you know, there’s a “should have known” type of, you know, lens I would use. But if it’s performance, I really do want to understand, will the employee be surprised when you tell them that they’re not meeting your expectations?
Yeah. And that’s always an interesting one, too. I know I can think of one person in particular that we let go from an organization that I was with who came to talk to me later and said, “I had no idea. I had not received any feedback. I had no idea I wasn’t meeting objectives.” However, I had been through their file, and I…to me, it was very clear that they were not meeting objectives, and I still, to this day, I’m not sure if that was a sort of a barrier they built up on that particular day, you know, to say they didn’t get it, or if it…if they truly felt that way, but what what seemed obvious to me was…was definitely not obvious to them.
You know, what’s so interesting is I have worked with employees who have come to me and said, “I can’t believe this, that they would let me go over…” you know, such and such. And when I’ve sat down with them, I’ve said, “Now, have you ever been coached on this?” “Oh, sure. The manager was always nagging me about doing…” such and such. But they didn’t see it as they were being put on notice, that they were unsatisfactory. So I think…I think that’s important, and that’s one of the reasons why with the corrective action, we so often encourage employers, if you’re putting somebody on notice that they’re not performing well, have them sign a document. Something about signing that document makes it…for some people who don’t…are not very intuitive, realizing, oh, my gosh, my might be in real trouble here,
Right. I think, too, sometimes when someone gets let go, and especially if it’s the day of an event, and they think, “Really? You’re terminating me for this instance or this particular action?” and they equate it to that one individual event, where again, like in your case, you might go back and there were numerous conversations about this issue and they didn’t get it and they’re blaming it on the one that happened that day.
Yeah, very true. I also like to understand what type of training did the individual receive to do this job. And it may be that you hired someone fully experienced, fully capable, that your expectation would be reasonable that they should prevail to perform. But there are situations where you have to really train employees, that perhaps they’re not catching on as quickly, maybe for some reason your training was not…was abbreviated, and they didn’t get the same type of training as other people. So I do want to understand that. I’m really trying to help the business understand their defensibility for a wrongful discharge claim, but I also want to make sure that if there’s opportunities to retrain someone and really help equip them to be successful, that we think about that before cutting the cord and terminating.
Right, right. Especially if you have an employee who has a very good attitude, very good attendance, they’re doing a lot of the right things, but maybe are…are struggling with one particular issue that is trainable.
I also like to understand, is there anything unusual going on that the manager or the employer is aware of, maybe in the person’s personal life or in the company dynamics at the moment? Did we recently put them on a new team? Is there anything that, other than them just not wanting to or not able to do the job, that might be contributing to this unsatisfactory performance? JoDee, have you ever seen where something’s been going on in someone’s life and an otherwise wonderful productive person all of a sudden is not performing?
Yes, as a matter of fact, we had a manager one time who had been really, overall, a superstar employee. And I started to say all of a sudden, but it really had gone on over the course of several months, that all of a sudden there was a lot of conversation about him not being able to keep up and not getting things done and not being responsive. And there were numerous conversations with him, and quite honestly, about him, and whether or not we would need to let him go. Coincidentally, we had our annual wellness exams going on at that same time and found out that the person had a very low thyroid and was put on thyroid medication and turned around almost immediately and became a superstar employee again. So he was struggling with a health issue that he didn’t even realize he was struggling with. And thankfully, that…the timing worked out that we were able to assist him through the wellness program and getting back on track. So.
That’s terrific. It does make you wonder how often maybe something’s going on undiagnosed…
…where performance falls apart. And of course, we…we’re very careful. We don’t ask people about their medical conditions, but…
…when something surfaces or comes to light that they’re willing to share with you, it…or, you know, sometimes it’s just personal relationships may be falling apart in their personal life or something else is going on that…I…I really do encourage employers to think about the investment they’ve made in this person. They’re going through a rough patch, you know, what can we do to help wrap our arms around them before you make that decision they have to leave.
I should clarify, too, that the employee is the one who came back to us…
…to share his wellness results and his thyroid problem. We didn’t find out about it…
…for…through the wellness company. But I think, too, you know, recommending an EAP and coaching or how can you help this employee, those can be very difficult, because you might appreciate that someone’s going through a difficult time. On the other hand, when the work is not getting done and their team is suffering or other people are making up for it….so yeah, finding that balance of how you can help them get through it and also keeping the overall performance of the team at the level needed.
I’ve seen a best practice with a fairly large global employer on every one of their corrective action forms. When someone goes on written warning or final written warning, they will have at the bottom the EAP phone number, you know, first of all, because maybe there’s something going on, maybe there’s not, but sometimes just getting on corrective action can be something difficult to deal with. So I do like that idea.
I love that.
I think it reflects the culture that they have.
So really, then, the last thing that I do ask employers…and this is not always feasible, and certainly, when I worked in a really large organization where most of our HR consulting advice was all virtual, it probably could never have happened. But in a smaller firm, if the HR person has an opportunity to ever talk to the employee, it, I think, can really help add some balance. You know, in any situation, there’s one side, there’s another side, and somewhere in the middle is the truth, and sometimes having a third party just take a look at a situation, depending on what it is, to see what might be happening, it can sometimes help the manager make a better decision. It can also sometimes help the employee understand better what they need to do and can help be that bridge.
So when we get to the point that we absolutely know that the employee is going to need to fix their performance, I really am a believer…I’m a firm believer in progressive corrective action. I think it’s really important in a JoyPowered® workspace to demonstrate to outside agencies that you are really fair, but also that you live the values of your company and that you don’t just get rid of people the first sign of a problem.
How about you, JoDee? Do you normally advise corrective action in companies that are just building out their HR policies?
I do. And the key to that is understanding exactly what isn’t working. You know, so many times when I’m having these conversations, people will, or managers or leaders will say, “This employee’s not working out. They don’t seem to be engaged. They don’t seem to be effective. They’re not performing at the same level,” you know, some vague responses that make it very difficult to create a plan, corrective action plan for them, because they cannot articulate what the issues might be. So I think that’s really important for the the manager, the leader, whoever to be able to key in on when performance is a problem. What is it that they’re doing? What…what part of the process is failing? And to be as specific as possible to enable the person to learn from the corrective action plan.
Good. Well, I’ve seen examples of where progressive corrective action was done very well, and I’ve seen places where it has not been done well. One example I have of where I thought it was really well done was a gentleman I worked with in Ohio, and he had a fairly large staff and he really, truly cared about his employees, and many of them were in sales-related positions, and so the employees generally knew when they weren’t bringing in the numbers that they weren’t doing well. And this particular manager, John, was always very supportive, always looking for the bright side of things, but when he realized he had somebody not performing well, he would, you know, obviously coach them and try to coach up not out. And then sometimes, he had to move to putting people on warning, and then when things were still not working well, the next step, usually, was final written warning, or some organizations will call that probation, or whatever. John would really sit down with the individual, take them out for coffee, and say, “Listen, we’re at the point now we’re ready to move to the next level, and I don’t want to put you through that unless you feel like this is what you want to do. Instead, I’d like to spend a little time just talking about…are you happy in this job? Or is this fulfilling? Is this where you want to be and what you want to do?” I want to tell you, 90% of the time, the individual would just do a sigh of relief and say, “No, this isn’t what I want to do. I don’t like not being successful.” And then John would say, “Let’s talk about…where do we go from here?” He really would work with them, and I would then help them on a transition plan of what other roles might be…either in the organization or outside, and how do we help equip him so he can go out and get a job where he will be successful.
Right. And so much better for all involved, right, for the employee to be able to come to that conclusion on their own, really, and asking some questions about their strengths and talents, right? Are they able to use their strengths on their job more than 50% of their day? I mean, if that answer is no, how might we find a way to help them use their strengths more than 50% of the day? Or is it time for them to move on outside of the company or in even into a different role within the company?
That’s good. Well, on the other side of that spectrum is where I’ve seen managers who will inherit a, you know, a mediocre employee, somebody who’s performing, on good days, average. And maybe that person has been in the organization for what, maybe 16, 17 years. The new manager comes in and says, you know, this person isn’t the caliber I need. They’ll move through that corrective action of coaching and written and maybe whatever you call your final written warning in three weeks, and how could that person turn things around and really be successful in three weeks? So that’s where I really get the opportunity to say, “Hey, I don’t think we’re approaching it as humanely and fairly as we should.” Well, let’s give some tips, JoDee, on maybe how to handle performance partings – when someone is not performing where they need to be – humanely. I’d say the first one is really creating a culture where corrective action is not viewed as a one-way ticket out. And I have worked with some managers where they believe, “I put someone a corrective action. Alright, I’m doing step one, Susan, when can I do step two?” And I try to say to them, this isn’t about moving through the steps to terminating someone. It’s about step one, let’s make sure they understand it, what’s not working. How do we help them turn it around? So it’s not a one-way ticket.
Right. Exactly. And I do think that some companies have that culture of, okay, we have to document this process of corrective action so that we can move them out of the organization. It’s as if the decision has been made to terminate them from the beginning, and it’s a documentation process as opposed to truly helping the employee work through it.
I’ve said to those managers, this is not a three-step termination process.
We call it corrective action for a reason.
Good. The second tip I like to give is, make sure you keep it as private as possible throughout. And, you know, it can really be damaging from a confidentiality standpoint, but also from just an employee morale standpoint, if other people learn that somebody is on corrective action.
Yeah, I think, too, I’ve seen…worked in organizations where we’ve tried to move people, as they say, since I referenced the book “Good to Great” earlier, about moving people to different seats on the bus. And sometimes I’ve seen that work wonderfully and seen that fail miserably. But if people know that someone is on a corrective action plan, the chances of them being successful in a new seat on the bus are not always positive. And it might truly mean that that new seat on the bus could better use their strengths and talents, but if they come in with a bad perspective from the beginning, it might never work.
I like to tell managers, hate the performance, not the person. And so it…I have seen where people who are on some type of disciplinary action, that all of a sudden the manager doesn’t…stops talking to them, kind of avoids them, or their…the frustration level has been heightened. It’s really important if you’re trying to help that person get better that you be even more present and you be even more supportive. So partner with the employee on trying to make the situation better.
Another tip I give is keep yourself balanced, calm, and in control. Be supportive, but not overly sympathetic. If you’ve drawn the line about what the performance expectations are, and you are supportive to help them, but you can’t let that slide, you can’t let performance slide. You’ve got to stay accountable and make sure the employee stays accountable.
I also mention that despite what management may want, no public firings. JoDee, have you…have you ever had to actually, legitimately, and fairly terminate someone over something that’s occurred and executive leadership says, “I want everyone to know what that person did that caused them to get fired so nobody else repeats it.”?
Right. Right. I have, and it didn’t work well.
No, not…not the best practice. I’d love your opinion. Sometimes when you’re working with someone and the performance isn’t there, and they say, “Listen, I just want to resign.” Or maybe they’ve broken a company policy or something else, and they just want to resign. JoDee, what is your normal response to that?
Well, my first go-to on that, right or wrong, is always thinking about unemployment. And not…not always just from the company perspective, but from the individual perspective, as well, too, that if they resign, typically, unemployment will not be an option for them, which can be good for the company, but not so good for them. So I try to lay that out so that they understand the process of unemployment before they make that decision. So.
I’ve also I’ve seen them…companies where they, if it’s a major policy violation, they want it recorded on their technology system that the person was terminated for cause.
So if someone resigns, it might water it down, and my fear is that the person will come back into the organization. So I’ve seen that be an issue. But, you know, the good news is, I mean, there’s situations where it may be very appropriate that someone needs to…they want to resign, you don’t have a problem with it, they’re not worried about the unemployment. So I think you have to take it case by case.
I always do caution folks, though. There’s people who say that, you know what, I don’t ever have to fire somebody, by the time I get in a room with them, they’re going to quit before this meeting is over. You have to be careful of constructive discharge claims, and that is where you actually make the environment so uncomfortable or so threatening to an individual that they say they had no other option but to resign. And what…if you do that, then you really are putting yourself in potential claim area.
Right. Susan, a…another one that I’ve been involved in, years ago, I remember being so uncomfortable when a department was asked to terminate a group of people, I think there were maybe five of them. It was partially due to the recession, but quite honestly, it was also about performance at the same time, and the leader in that department felt like it would be easier for them if we let them go as a group so that they would understand that they weren’t the only one. I was very uncomfortable with that and felt like they should be handled individually. I know sometimes, when there’s a massive layoff or shut down and, you know, it’s important to get the word out all at one time so everyone hears it straight from the horse’s mouth, if you will, but I was uncomfortable in a group situation like that. Have you ever had that or have any thoughts?
I…sadly, I still have nightmares of large group layoff meetings that I’ve been to. I would have to say one of the very worst was a group of salespeople, and it was in the financial institutions arena, that they were all called into a room, and I was the HR person helping the manager deliver the message, and I had done this a number of times for various component parts and pieces of the organization, but never in a situation where the people were told they had to exit that room and had to exit the building, upstairs – because they were on a higher level floor – management personnel were packing all of their belongings, personal belongings, and they were going to be available at 5 pm that afternoon at the curb. It was just…it was just…first of all, the trauma of people hearing it in the room. I’m trying to think…there’s probably, maybe, 40 to 50 people in the room. You can imagine the shock. You go…we went through the whole Kubler-Ross grieving curve really fast. Some people in the room were in shock, some were…went right to anger, others went to denial, thinking, I don’t think I was supposed to be in this meeting.
And the others, trying to bargain, saying, you know, can I least go back up and get my phone, can I at least go up and get my purse, so on and so forth, I don’t have the keys to my car. I mean, it was just…it was ill-conceived, and we…the…some people just went to a bar until five o’clock, came back to pick up their personal belongings. That was really probably the worst. Yeah.
That…I have many a time in organizations been asked to walk a person to the door or to go back to their desk and let them pack up their things and then walk them to the door, which is so uncomfortable. For them and for me, quite honestly. It’s…
Definitely wasn’t about me, it…I was worried about the person, but I was asked to stand there and watch them pack up, which is very awkward.
So, I think to your point, I…truly given a choice, I think people deserve to hear their job is ending individually.
I understand when…I’ve been in situations where it was actually people all over the country getting the news at the same time, and we coordinated the time because they knew that, in that particular job function, that everyone was either losing their job, the business was being sold, whatever it is. So there’s going to be times you can’t, but where possible, I think people deserve to hear it one-on-one. I think they deserve to hear it from their boss.
And not from HR, not from somebody sent in. Not George Clooney who flies in.
Remember that movie? I think they deserve to hear that.
Right. I totally agree.
And then the packing up of personal belongings…I know there’s areas that are high security and technology related and they’re terrified that there’s going to be some type of, you know, revenge action taken. To the extent that you can, give people the respect to go back to their desk and have your technology people turn off the system somewhere in another…behind the scenes, do it.
And letting people say goodbye. I just…I just think all those things are really important to doing it humanely.
Well, you know, we’ve talked a little bit about performance issues, and we started to touch on RIFs, which I would like to get back to. But before we leave the different types of terminations, I would like to spend a few minutes, JoDee, just talking about when someone does something that is so heinous, that is a company policy violation that’s so important that the company says, you know, you can’t work here if you violate this policy, it’s a condition of employment that you never hit another employee, for example, or it’s a condition of employment that you cannot come into work under the influence of alcohol, whatever it is. I think that those terminations are a little different than either being laid off because of the job going away or because of performance. Let’s talk about those for a few moments. What are some of the…besides maybe coming to work inebriated, hitting somebody…what are some other kind of cross the line on these types of policies that you’re aware of that people could be terminated for?
Well, certainly harassment. As you mentioned, hitting, I would say lots of different kinds of harassment. So those…sometimes that means an investigation needs to happen first, too, so they couldn’t necessarily be terminated immediately without an investigation, but may be suspended or asked to leave immediately until the situation has been investigated to be worked through.
That’s a great point. I cannot think of anything anybody would do in the workplace that you wouldn’t want to at least investigate to make sure you have all the facts, right? And suspending someone, and I usually suggest with pay, since we don’t we don’t know for a fact until the investigation is done if that is the right answer, to terminate, is extremely important.
Right. Interestingly for you since you grew up in the banking industry, I did get a call one time from a client who said that one of their employees had robbed a bank over the weekend, and they were…wanted my advice on what to do. And it was an interesting situation, because although they had been caught red handed, they had not been, you know, officially proven guilty in a court of law, so the question of the day was…do they suspend them with or without pay? And I said that was certainly a first, that I had not had that situation before, someone robbed a bank. And they were not the bank. I mean, they were a different organization.
Interestingly, when I worked for a very large company, it would not be unusual that someone would not show for work, and then they would find out that the person’s in jail, and they either haven’t gotten bond yet, or they’re in jail, and there’s not…there’s not going to be any bond until the trial came up based on the seriousness of it. Those types of things cause you to write your policy in a way so that there’s a time limit, usually, that you want to instill in your policy so that you’re not hanging on, because people are innocent until proven guilty for sure, but you as an employer may not want to take the onus of – even if it’s unpaid suspension – for something that’s unreasonable, that’s going to impact your your business.
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JoDee, let’s revisit layoffs. And I’d like to go in a little more detail, because I imagine some of our listeners probably run businesses or are HR people in businesses where from time to time, they do have to reduce their workforce. And certainly, we want to make sure that you’re thinking about…how do I do it humanely? And I think that we should really start with, you know, how do you decide who goes and who stays. And so the first thing that I usually recommend is figuring out what are the key jobs that are absolutely essential, and if you know that those jobs, you need to keep all the incumbents, that’s kind of an easy decision. What isn’t easy is when we know we…all of our jobs are critical, but we need to reduce workforce maybe by 10%. Have you ever worked on situations where you helped guide businesses on if you had to get rid of 10% of any population, how you approach it?
Not specifically. Or I…well, I was trying to think back in my own personal career where we had “downsizing,” I think was our term of the day at that time, but it was pretty…it was at an organization where I felt like there were some people struggling with performance that should have…it was an excuse to terminate some people, in other words, as opposed…so it wasn’t totally a matter of having to figure out who goes and who stays, so.
Well, the first recommendation that I normally make to a business is, are you open to a VSP, a voluntary separation program? If we know we have to go down by 10%, perhaps there’s people who have been thinking about leaving, They might do it if we can induce…you know, if we can make it a…sweeten the pot, right? Maybe there’s people thinking about retirement. Are there things that we could do to maybe bridge health insurance or whatever would be attractive? You know, would you be open to doing it? And that way, people raise their hand. I’ve had clients who have said, no, Susan, I know just who will raise their hand and I cannot afford to let them go. So I think I like to start there, because if we can do it with a VSP, I feel the humanity is still there. When we can’t, I normally suggest that we put together a decision matrix. And JoDee, your point of, let’s look at who’s performing well and who isn’t, that is definitely a component on the matrix. How well someone’s performing should be one of the factors, but there’s a lot of other factors you could put in there. Perhaps you want to put job tenure in your company, your culture, values, length of service…some companies, that’s not an issue, but for those that are, certainly, I would make that a factor. Perhaps you want to put in their potential, if you’re doing a talent management program and you’ve assessed the individual, and based on certain skills that they have that you think might be usable to future roles that you might want to evaluate people. The important thing about a selection matrix is you want to make sure that you put it together for good, sound reasoning, and that you uniformly apply it to everyone in that population, in that particular job, so that you’re not just picking John because everybody likes John and you’re excluding Mary because people don’t like Mary. You want to bring a sense of fairness to it. Once you do your selection matrix and you come up with, okay, this…if we’re gonna have to reduce 10%, here’s who the people would be, based on how they scored on the selection matrix, you want to make sure you do an adverse impact analysis. Because if you find that, well, it turns out you selected all the people that are in a protected class, and everyone else who is not in that protected class survived, then you may have something wrong with your selection matrix. You want to go back and challenge yourselves to see…or you might decide that, no, based on what we really need and based on this…the factors we included, these answers are justifiable, but you just want to make sure you go through that and you feel confident and comfortable that that’s true. Now if you happen to…to be in a union environment, nevermind, who gets laid off will be in the contract. It’ll have a formula and a process that will make that very simple. What we’ve been talking about would be certainly in a non-union environment. So, with RIFs – or reductions in forces – or layoffs, there are things that we do want to think about, about the timing of doing it. Remember how I had mentioned that I had been in that horrible meeting where everyone had to leave that moment.
It doesn’t mean the the pay ended that day. The fact is…I think in another podcast of ours, we talked about the WARN Act. The WARN Act requires employers, if you are eliminating a certain percentage of jobs in a location that has a certain number of employees, that you have to give them advanced warning. And the purpose of it is not only for those individuals, but also for the local community. You have to notify the mayor, the local employment office, and several other places so that community can absorb that crush of employees. And so it could be…in most cases, 45 days, but there could be reasons that it’s 60 days. And you want to make sure that as you figure out your timeline to lay people off that you give them that advanced warning. Doesn’t mean you have to keep them in your…coming in to work every day, but they’re still your employees.
I think it’s a good practice, anyway.
Yes, I do, too. And I think as soon as you can inform people who are the ones that will be released is…is important. I think when you make that announcement, then everyone wonders if it’s them.
…or not them. And I have to think that productivity goes pretty low during that time. I just last week actually had a friend of mine tell me her daughter was in a school system and the principal announced to all the teachers that he had to eliminate five positions for the next school year and that he’d be in touch within the next 60 days. Those 60 days were a nightmare to many of those teachers.
Yes, yeah. Oh my gosh, yeah, I think that’s, in some ways, kind of cruel.
Right, right, right.
I think that when you’re getting ready to do a RIF, you do want to think about not only the timing of when you’re going to tell the impacted employees, but you really should kind of back it up and decide who are all the people that need to know and how should I tell them. In chronological or seq…in sequential order? I think you have to start with your board. The board may be directing it, but you do want the owners of the company to be aware and understand it, embrace it, and endorse it before you go forward. I think depending on the business you’re in, you may also want to let your regulators know so that they’re not surprised. Your customers…I wouldn’t let your customers know, necessarily, until I told my employees. I would have a plan for how are we going to let the customers know, especially if they’re going to be someone that they’ve been dealing with at your company, the face of the company is no longer going to be there. And it’s important if your employees are going to work for a period of time when they know they’re going away, to help script them on how to answer questions, because their customers are going to care about them and you want to make sure they feel good about how they’re being treated, and what they’re going to say. Certainly, if you’re occupying a building, you’ve got other owners, make sure the real estate people know, all of the vendors, suppliers. And you want…want to think about a press release if it’s a large enough number of people or it’s going to be impactful in your community, getting ahead of it and being well…well scripted on this.
So how about talking about some other layoff best practices?
Yeah. I’m a fan of severance agreements, for sure, but I have always recommended to our clients and in positions that I’ve held myself not to establish a policy. I can’t tell you the number of times organizations have asked me about what should our severance policy be and my recommendation has always been not to. Have a plan in your back…in your back pocket, if you will, but not to establish a policy that holds you accountable to that or that then that all employees who might be terminated for whatever reason make the assumption that they will be receiving one. But I…certainly when, you know, there’s a layoff or when key people who are let go that you want to continue to have a relationship with, are important in the community, and have a voice to speak out, you want to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible. So offering a severance package can help to smooth that. Now, granted, the return for the company is that typically they’re getting a signed agreement that says they’re not going to sue for the termination, as well, but it can be a win-win on both sides.
I think that public accounting firms have been very good at that.
Because they may very well end up working with someone they’ve let go at a client. So I think they’ve figured that out. And I think a lot of other businesses, you know, really should take note. Other things. I think when you’re in the process of doing a downsizing or rightsizing, whatever you choose to call it, is that you’ve got to do a lot of communication. You can’t pull the trigger and then…especially for employees who have advance notice and are going to need to be working for you for a while, you’ve got to be really high touch. I think the leaders need to be very present in the workplace appreciating every day that they’re there, and I think they ought to be offering outplacement assistance.
So let’s talk a little bit about outplacement. I know that Purple Ink offers these services as do a number of other large organizations.
Yeah, outplacement services is different than it used to be back in the day or even, you know, certainly 10, 15 years ago where many outplacement firms had rooms with computers and where people would walk in and work side by side with someone who would help them create a resume. But now we’re doing we’re doing more and more of this type of work at Purple Ink, where we’re helping people with resumes, with their LinkedIn profile, offering a Strong Inventory assessment if they’re…if they’re looking for a new or different type of career. Maybe they’re…they were an accountant and now they don’t want to be in accounting, they…they’re looking for a new or different skill set or ways to utilize their skills in a different type of role. Helping people with the job boards, where…where they should be looking. It’s overwhelming to people to start the process, because there’s so much information out there about available positions and where should they focus and spend their time. It’s no joke when people say it’s a full time job to find a job. Working on networking skills and interviewing skills and getting help on salary negotiations and…and going through this process. So a lot…the companies that are able to offer outplacement services to their employees, it’s a huge benefit.
Absolutely. The…part of my practice, JoDee, is doing career coaching, and I have to tell you that the placement rate is so much higher and so much quicker. And isn’t that…when a departing employee actually has a career coach or has an outplacement counselor, and when you’re trying to let people go humanely and you want to have that brand or that culture that you’ve developed in a company, you want it to end as well as can be for people. So I’m just a big fan of offering outplacement. Other things that companies should do in the time of outplacement is, they should be ready and willing to give references, and it should be an easy process. I know a lot of companies are frightened to give references for fear someone will hire somebody that ends up not doing well, but this is the situation where you want to make it easy on your employees. You want them back at work somewhere else very quickly.
I’ve seen a lot of companies do on-site job fairs, where just because they’re laying off staff, they have been able to turn to other people in their communities and say, we’d love you to come into our organization, we’ve got a lot of talented people that we’re sad to see go, we’d love for you to come in and talk about your jobs with them. And people get placed right there in their workplace to go work for another company. You can also bring in the local unemployment office to explain how do you apply for jobs. People who get laid off, they are…I’ve never seen an instance where they weren’t eligible to actually receive unemployment, but sometimes they get bogged down in understanding how to do it online. So it’s nice to bring them on site and make that easy as possible.
What do you…Susan, we talked earlier about us both having experiences in walking people out the door. Have you seen companies be successful when they’ve informed people that their position is ending, but that they still can work there for another two weeks or a month or two months or until they find something new?
I have. In fact, a number of times, in the large financial institution I worked for, we would give people really advanced knowledge. And depending on the time, and depending on the other businesses in the community we were in, we really had great success at getting people into other jobs, either within our organization, because we’d have natural turnover, or at local employers. Now, there were some times where we were afraid that people would jump sooner than we needed them to. We gave them advanced warning, but we really needed them to work, because we were selling off a portfolio, we were doing various things. And so those were the unique times that we would offer retention bonuses. We would say to a…usually not everyone, but to those that we thought could be very detrimental to us that they left to go work somewhere else quicker than we could allow them to go, we would give them a retention bonus to say, if you’ll stay through the close date of this transaction or through the end of this period, we will give you a bonus, that retention bonus. And we found that to be very effective. Unfortunately, we did it so many times that when we would do a layoff, everyone in the room would raise their hand and say, are there any retention bonuses eligible? So it wasn’t so quiet, but…
It was effective.
Set an expectation. Yeah. And I, too, I do appreciate that sometimes in whatever the position or whatever the organization, it’s necessary for people to physically leave right away, even if you continue to pay them, or sometimes it works well to keep people on. I’m not sure there’s…there’s a right answer of the perfect process for that. But I think being as…as humane as…as possible and helping people through the transition, but at the same time, if employees are going to continue to be there every day, they need to be productive and engaged in their work.
And if they’re not, they could, you know, if there’s severance at the end of this, they could be jeopardizing it. So that’s the only thing you really have to hold over somebody.
To keep them engaged. Well, gosh, JoDee, as we wrap up the topic of involuntary terminations, what I’d like to recommend any of our listeners, if you don’t have an in-house HR team, who has a lot of experience doing this, we encourage you to consult with your labor law attorney or consider using an outside HR consultant or make use of the many, many books written on this topic.
The shrm.org library has some really good ones and…as well, and you can also take a look on amazon.com to see some good resources. If it’s the right thing to do to separate someone from your company, you want to do it the most humane way you can.
Hey, we…we’ve got a listener question today, JoDee.
Here’s the question that we received from Bernadette in the DC area. “I’m interviewing for a new job. At the end of my last interview, the hiring manager wanted to know if I had any questions. I didn’t, and he seemed disappointed. Did I mess up? What kind of questions are they looking for?”
Well, I don’t think you necessarily messed up, Bernadette. But I think interviewers are looking to see that you’re well-prepared and that you’ve thought about the position and what it is you want to know. And I think not so many interviews are held face-to-face anymore, at least in the early stages, but even just…I love it when I’m interviewing someone who shows up with a notepad and I can see that they have questions written down. Sometimes they’re able to ask those questions throughout the process of the interview, so when we get to the end, and I…I always ask that question, if they have questions, as well. And many times they’ll say, you know, I did, but I answered them all throughout. But I think not having any questions, to me, does show, maybe, a lack of preparation if you haven’t had any the entire process. So.
I agree. And I…when I have a career coaching client ask me what kind of questions should I ask, I say, well, in the conversation, naturally, some things may come up that you’ll want to ask, but when you write down those, you know, three to four that you have at the ready, one of them that I think is really helpful to you, and I think will demonstrate how much you want this job is…please share with me, what would you like to see me achieve in the first 30, 60, or 90 days if I get this role? What…what would be success? And I want to know, so if I get the job, what is it that I want to focus my first, you know, 2…1, 2, 3 months on, because that’s what they really want this person to achieve.
Good. Well, thank you. Well, hey, it’s time for in the news. March 1, 2018 Wall Street Journal article reported that PwC – PricewaterhouseCoopers – is embroiled in a lawsuit in a San Francisco District Court, and the plaintiffs are men over the age of 40 who applied dozens of times to PwC and were not selected. What they’re trying to do now is actually turn it into a class action suit, and the judge in this case has been asked to add 14,000 older workers who were similarly disadvantaged by PwC’s emphasis on campus recruiting.
A PwC spokesman said that one half of the company’s full time hires in 2018 will come from campus recruiting efforts. The Wall Street Journal says a ruling on whether a bias for young recruits via campus recruiting programs prevent older applicants from getting jobs at PwC and similar Fortune 500 companies could be years away. This could really be a huge game changer, JoDee, if the court takes the position that campus recruiting as the primary source of your recruiting efforts is intended to hire younger and not older people. I know. Stay tuned.
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