Friday, October 30, 2009

Pink Slip

While it no longer makes the headlines, every day thousands of people across America are losing their jobs. Some get the news by an email, others in a mass conference, or, a breaking news story may alert them of impending doom. I imagine a few companies still use the proverbial "pink slip".

For the benefit of unemployment benefits, none of us in the field of broadcasting have ever been fired. We have, however, been laid off. We've been laid off because of the budget, declining revenue, a change in direction or whatever cliche is in vogue at the time.

Once, when a manager told me he was "changing direction", I asked if I could change with him. "No" he replied, "I don't think so". I wondered how he could know without giving me a try. After all, I'd been with the station for 7 years; he'd been with it for two weeks.

It seems telling people they've lost their job has become a lost art. Not that I'd ever want to be proficient in this skill-set. I've seen managers walk the hallways after a dismissal telling remaining employees how difficult it was to make the decision, only to invite the staff to a reception that evening for a new employee. I've seen memos wishing the former employee "all the best" while in the next paragraph announcing his/her replacement. Saving a tree, I suppose.

Some companies don't like to fire people. They "re-purpose" them. Personally, I hate that expression. Maybe if management used the "F" word they would be more reluctant to use it. Years ago, I saw a fellow employee leave the boss's office looking confused. When I asked if everything was alright, he said "I think I just got fired". I'm guessing that manager didn't spend much time thinking about how to handle the conversation. Probably too busy planning the reception.

Over the years I've had to fire people. I usually spent the night before our conversation trying to find words that would leave the employee with some dignity and hope. I would take 30 minutes to explain why a change was being made, how he or she could be successful elsewhere, and suggest a few places to call to enquire about openings. Losing your job is tough enough. There's no reason to lose your dignity, as well. I was actually reprimanded for that. My manager told me I spent too much time on the dismissal. He wasn't worried about my productivity, he was worried about me saying something that could expose the company to a lawsuit. I was pretty sure our mission statement said that "people were the company's most important asset". Apparently, the statute of limitation on the asset ends prior to dismissal.

Years ago, after working with a fabulous manager for more than six years, he was transferred and a new manager was hired. Three weeks later, due to budget issues, I was laid off. The manager and I spent about 30 minutes together. It was the longest conversation we had in those three weeks. The last time I was laid off the conversation lasted 30 seconds. Maybe the boss was late for a meeting.

It could be worse. I remember the story of a manager walking into someones office with a Polaroid camera (anyone remember those?). He took a picture of the worker, handed it to him and said, "I thought you'd like a picture of your last day with the company". I think Polaroids took about 60 seconds to develop.

Apparently, that was long enough to say what needed to be said.

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