Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Announcing a termination

Since the topic is currently near and dear to my heart.. [grin]

What do you expect/want to hear when your company fires someone? Should there be an announcement?

Where I was working until this morning the standard seems to be that people just vanish.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, May 01, 2003

At the last company I worked at (a rather famous dot com), they forced some people to resign and so the terminations were self-announced. I don't really see the point of this. It fools nobody.

Then one man was escorted out by a security guard. The boss said so-and-so left the company but for privacy reasons they couldn't tell us why.

After that people just disappeared with no announcements, including myself. Silly really. It can be really counterproductive if the person was in the middle of working on something.

Just to show how crappy the situation was, I got handed all the project work for one man that got laid off. Then two new people were hiring. One of the new guys didn't want to do some of his work. So guess what? I got handed to me. So I ended up doing the work of the laid-off man and the new guy.

Worse still my boss told me if I did the new guy's work then it would look good and I might be able to keep my job. I still ended up getting fired.

Bagpuss
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Well, I can tell you how *not* to do it. At my last job (web design/games place in Washington DC area), people would just disappear and you found out by word of mouth after wondering why they weren't on IM any more.

The most atrocious was when the company had their first round of layoffs (I was already gone). Not only did they not send out emails -- the people who were fired didn't even get pink slips, much less a face-to-face talk. They showed up for work and it was left to the I.T. staff to explain why they couldn't log into the network.

Not surprisingly, the company got reported for pirating software soon thereafter.

Joe Grossberg
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Hey, what's a pink slip? I didn't get one. I am UK citizen that used to work in the USA on a non-immigrant visa. I was fired and I didn't get a pink slip.

Bagpuss
Thursday, May 01, 2003

I live in the US, and I've never received an actual "pink slip". It used to be if you were fired or laid off, inside your check you got a pink piece of paper that explained it. I doubt anybody actually does this any more. It's just a euphamism now.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Yeah, I worked for a big financial and my boss called me in to his office, he and the HR person explained what happened to me, and I was ushered next door to talk to someone from an outplacement service (who gave me a seminar which did me little good).

Then I was ushered by another HR person to my desk where I was given a list of things to hand over - ID card, VPN access card (which, of course, was at home, and they never asked for it back later), etc. Asked to pack a box, and anything I couldn't carry would be shipped to me.

Then she escorted me out of the building.

I was later informed that my boss told nobody about it, and didn't make any kind of announcement. When people asked, he simply said he couldn't talk about it.

Someone else I know said this is standard procedure for companies that trade stocks or something... Just 3 years earlier someone was laid off and they gave her use of an office for a couple of months to use as a base of operations to start job hunting.

www.marktaw.com
Thursday, May 01, 2003

By the way, for those managers out there - not announcing a termination is a HUGE security hole, and if I were conducting a security audit you'd fail on that note alone.

Why?

"Hey John? Yeah, I left my access card at home - can you let me in for a second?"

Everyone should have gotten an email during my meeting with my contract agency that I was terminated and no longer authorized in the office; and if anyone sees me in the vicinity to let a manager know.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, May 01, 2003

While dealing with the actual act of termination is up to the company and open to debate, the process of notification of other staffers should be a matter of policy:

At the least, send out an email at the end of the day the termination occurs, at most hold a staff meeting and send out an email to anyone unable to attend or affected (contacts in other business areas, clients, etc).

One should clearly outline the responsibilities this person held and who will be absorbing those duties.  One need not comment on the WHY, but one needs to comment on the WHAT NOW. 

And clearly one needs to not only have an action plan for transition of responsibilities, but one also needs to talk to those who will take on those duties and clear matters with them as well.

Lou
Thursday, May 01, 2003

A friend of mine actually had a different, rather interesting experience. He was a senior technology manager at a telco.

There was a big reorganisation in which people had to reapply for their jobs, which is a clever way of sacking people.

My friend turned their polite business logic back on them. They kept pretending the reviews weren't about sacking people, so he kept politely saying he didn't really want to apply for his job. To call his bluff, they would have had to be explicit about what they were doing.

He lasted an extra 18 months and got a huge payout. A real genious.

.
Thursday, May 01, 2003

On a brighter note,

When they laid me off at schwab, I got told a month in advance, and everyone new it, I had time to line up another contract and everything. It was a beutiful experience.

Schwab was classy, they offered the permanents who had been there for a couple of years a 10,000 scholarship to coninue their education (in addition to a huge severence package)

Daniel Shchyokin
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Two methods---
#1 - Contractor -- usually they just disappear, although on two occasions I was given a farewell lunch, by employees.  Cannot argue with the logic.  I am a contractor and expect to go at the end of a gig.  I usually go around and say good bye. 

#2 - Employee -- and sometimes contractors.  Many employees "disappear" because it is the least problematic way of terminating people. "Mike was fired this morning."  Even if correct (accurate?), those are the things that get you sued. 

This is also why it is safe for people terminated to give the last company as a reference.  Most will only state "Jim worked here from 10/1/96 to 10/19/99 as a programmer. Legal has taught everyone to never confirm or deny anything.

Mike Gamerland
Thursday, May 01, 2003

The concerns about continuity are absolutely correct, but I don't expect very many civillan organizations to understand that.

The military trains you always to think continuity -- the mission must go on. I've seen it time and again where a civilian company just pulls the flush handle and people vanish, leaving all sorts of loose ends and the organization sits there dumbly -- one thumb in their mouths, the other up their butts, with the only remaining decision being when to switch thumbs.

As a manager, I happen to have access to, control of, and the records for some significant company assets in my dept. I have ensured that at least two other people, the sysadmin and my boss, know exactly where such things are and ensure continutiy is maintained on such issues and the ongoing mission before I depart on any travel. Things cannot come to a stop if my plane goes down in flames.  Obviously, the same preparations work in the event I were ever to leave the job, willingly or not.

The amount of stunningly stupid things I've seen civilian businesses do never ceases to amaze me -- so many places make money despite their best efforts at achieving ineptitude and waste. It'd be frightening how much more money such organizations would make if they'd pull their heads out of their fourth point of contact.

Back to the original point, personnel departures need to be announced and coordinated. Besides any issues of common courtesy, decency, civility, and honor, they at least need to be coordinated to ensure that person's accesses are revoked / suspended, and any special info they have is passed on (special account numbers only they may know, software licenses they may have, etc.).

anonQAguy
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Hmmm intersting, bit in most "civilian companies, the manager is not expected to know anything about his employees work.

Daniel SHchyokin
Friday, May 02, 2003

Daniel, I suggest you've got that backwards.
In the military, the Marines are the best at officers knowing their men's work, but on average an officer simply cannot know what his/her subordinates do for a living. I know in the Navy my expertise as a Surface Warfare Officer was being able to step into a position as a division officer and start leading that division, learning on the fly.

However, it seems in business there is often a fixation on hiring "from the industry"

Philo

Philo
Friday, May 02, 2003

In the computer business I've only actually been made redundant once and that by Novell, and I had a presentation and going away 'party' as normal.  To be fair on the last day of my notice Novell did come up with a job but I didn't see any future there for someone like me so I said gimme the money please.

As a consultant, ends of relationships usually dribble away for one reason or another.  I've had some long term relationships with clients for them to quietly vanish away, I've not normally been surprised by that though.  Oh apart from last year's debacle.

If management doesn't explain why someone left acceptably to the workforce then they'll make up their own minds or if they've made personal relationships, ask the person who left.

The truth may hurt (and stories differ), but open disclosure is usually better, unless there's the possibility of legal action.

Simon Lucy
Friday, May 02, 2003

Sometimes I think it's policy at big places to prevent legal action... even if it's only a remote chance.

Also, I think some managers rule by fear and they think it's good when everyone's afraid they'll get fired... especially in this economy.

www.marktaw.com
Friday, May 02, 2003

I've worked in Britain and North America, and seen layoffs in both places. The difference in approach was immense.

In Britain the layoffs were done by offering voluntary redundancy terms to selected people, with very generous payouts. This would have been very nice if it hadn't been for the fact that HR screwed up the offers massively. They made offers to the wrong people. They also told some people that they would be forced to leave, when in fact it was entirely their choice. I leave it to you to imagine the morale effect of being told you're going to be sacked and then being told it was a mistake! Practicalities asside it's a very humane approach.

In NA it was brutally efficient. You're summoned to the HR head's office, and twenty minutes later you are on the street. I have to say I think this approach rates a zero on the 'treating people like people' scale.

The strangest thing I found about the whole NA termination was the way everyone reacted while it was happening. It was like the person begin terminated had suddently acquired a communicable disease. You see this person clearing their office, you've worked with them for years, eaten lunch together, yelled at each other in meetings, and suddenly nobody goes up to them even to say 'goodbye and good luck'. Why is that? Are we really frightened that if we speak to them we'll be seen as disloyal? Or is it that the whole thing smacks of a mechanical procedure so much we're afraid we'll be caught up in it.

Of course nobody said anything about who was gone. even the bosses refused to give names when asked directly after the fact, although of course anyone can work it out by just going through the company directory. Why is that that bosses are afraid to give out the list?  Don't they realise that if they don't give out information people will always assume the worst?

Got to be anonymous this time
Friday, May 02, 2003

>You see this person clearing their office, you've worked with them for years, eaten lunch together, yelled at each other in meetings, and suddenly nobody goes up to them even to say 'goodbye and good luck'. Why is that? Are we really frightened that if we speak to them we'll be seen as disloyal?

Put yourself in their shoes, would you want to hear anything like 'good luck'? No.  You'd probably be in a pissy mood and the people around them know this, so they steer clear. 

GiorgioG
Friday, May 02, 2003

At my last job, I felt they handled layoffs well:

All those who were to be laid-off were invited to a (mandatory) meeting in a conference room.  When they were all gathered, everyone else was called to the main conference area, and told about the layoffs.  The still-employed people were then asked to leave the building, so that the laid-off people didn't have to gather their belongings while everyone else was still working (or sitting there feeling awful).

Meanwhile, in the conference room, the C.E.O. himself came in and explained that they were having to go through lay-offs, and that those in the room were the ones affected.  They had a lawyer on-hand to answer anyone's questions about H1B or such.

This was done just after lunch, so everyone had plenty of time to pack up their belongings.

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, May 02, 2003

Brent -

I agree -- that sounds like a decent, honorable way to handle the tough situation. Sounds like people at least were treated with dignity.

And, that CEO at least had a pair of 'nads to face the people. Whether people will face up to others under such circumstances is a good touchstone test as to whether the CEO (or any level manager) is a worthwhile human being. Those who don't/won't are ones to watch out for -- you can never trust them, with anything.

my complements to whatever company that was, and to that CEO.

anonQAguy
Friday, May 02, 2003

Re: Accidental firings

I heard a rumor in 1993 or 94 (I forget exactly when) that Borland had two guys working for them who had the same name. The HR person accidentally pink-slipped the wrong person. He happened to be the chief architect of their C++ compiler. He was a Microsoft employee by the end of the day.

Not sure if it's true or not, but it's plausible enough to give you second thoughts about making sure you're doing the right thing. :)

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Friday, May 02, 2003

Addendum:  That C.E.O. looked physically ill as he made that presentation.  It was nice to know that he was feeling this along with us.  And it wasn't just a "misery loves company" feeling; he obviously wasn't blithely firing people with no thought or care.

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, May 02, 2003

We call it the "Goon Squad."  People in our organization just vanish, and you're not to be caught mentioning those people again.  Unless the person leaving is visible enough to make it impossible not to refer to them again - Then they go on a "Leave of Absence" or "Hiatus" for long enough for them to become low enough visibility for them to be vanished.

Unfocused Focused
Friday, May 02, 2003

Is it just me, or do American corporations sound more like Stalinist regimes than places for people to cooperate together in creating something which sells for enough money to keep everyone involved busy and happy.

Simon Lucy
Friday, May 02, 2003

When I moved from working in Britain to Canada, one of the questions I got frequently was something like "I heard that British companies are much more structured and less friendly than North Americans. Don't you have to call your boss 'Sir' and wear jackets?"

The practice, from my point of view, is that North American workplaces are less tolerant of dissent, require more unquestioning loyalty and more toeing of the company line. I always felt more free to question a management decision in Britain, and always got a better response when I did. I found British companies more respectful of worker's dignity than North Americans. That applies to many areas; termination procedures is an obvious one, but pay is another. It's an unquestioned principle that if you don't have to pay a particular kind of worker more money you don't.

To be fair about the termination procedures, it's mostly driven by fear on the part of the employer. They read a few stories about disgruntled employees trashing source directories or emailing secrets to competitors and suddenly insurance companies start insisting that no sacked employee is allowed to do anything unescorted

What really doesn't go down well over here is the 'cheerfully cynical' attitude of the British worker, where you can badmouth the company in private as much as you like, as long as you still do a good job. Here that gets you marked as 'disloyal'.

AnonyBrit
Friday, May 02, 2003

My favorite (didn't experience it, as I had departed a couple months before) was the invitation to a meeting to discuss the company reorganization.

The meeting announcement was sent the day before the layoffs...

...and only to the people who were going to still be around to attend the meeting.

Danil
Friday, May 02, 2003

I don't get this whole "US companies like to torture babies" attitude. Given the millions of different companies in this country that employ hundreds of millions of people, generalizations are totally meaningless.

I've survived layoffs and I've been laid off. Some companies did it well, others terribly. Company culture matters much more than nationality.

jason

JasonB
Friday, May 02, 2003

Simon:  *Some* American companies resemble Stalinist regimes.  You're only hearing the gripes, which skews one's perspective.

I've worked for good companies before (and work for one now), where developers develop and managers support them and everything's reasonably healthy.

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, May 02, 2003

Company culture is important, and so is national culture. In one company I worked for, the same round of terminations were handled very differently in Europe and in North America. European ones were voluntary and taking a couple of weeks, with time to finish up. The North American ones were twenty minutes from ''knock on the door' to 'on the street'.

AnonyBrit
Friday, May 02, 2003

Echo your last, Brent! Always easy to bitch about the bad stuff, but doesn't mean it's all bad stuff.

anonQAguy
Friday, May 02, 2003

AnonyBrit,

I think it's much more a legal issue than culture issue (although obviously laws reflect culture). No one over here likes those kinds of layoffs. I doubt the people involved in them like them, for that matter. As has been cited before, companies fear sabotage and lawsuits. Better to be a little mean than have it come back to bite you in the ass (not that I prefer such an approach).

jason

JasonB
Friday, May 02, 2003

It also depends on the size.

Large corporations tend to be more evil in these ways, probably because the decision makers are so many levels above the people who they are sacking, and those at the top don't have to feel the pain because they'll collect either an ever-increasing bonus or a golden parachute.

Small companies usually want to get large, so when they start laying off, it's after the company is really hurting and the higher-ups have already begun to feel the pain -- not something they do for sport while collecting a bigger bonus.

T. Norman
Friday, May 02, 2003

"Better to be a little mean than have it come back to bite you in the ass (not that I prefer such an approach)."

On the other hand, if they use a dignified approach, people would be less angry and have less motivation for biting them in the ass.

T. Norman
Friday, May 02, 2003

On the subject of British vs. American companies, one subtle thing that struck me when I visited London some years ago, was how the signs and advertisements read, "Company X are pleased to...". In the U.S. the same signs are invariably "Company Y is please to...".

The common use of British English reinforces the idea that companies are groups of people working toward a common goal, and the common American English usage does not.

Devil's Advocate
Friday, May 02, 2003

You could also interpret that, Devil, to say that American companies display more unity of purpose than British companies. All in all, I can't say I put much stock in it.

jason

JasonB
Saturday, May 03, 2003

At a former employer several rounds of terminations were done. In the first, and most major one they sacked roughly 1/3 of the employees. We saw it coming from a mile away.

First you had the weekly emails with topics like "A word from the CEO" and "The state of things" and such. Then they announced that meetings should be held, with each department. You could see each departments meeting location in the email - and who would run the meeting.

3 or so departments had their meetings run by the CEO, and the second and third guy. All the other departments had their meetings run by their respective department heads. So everybody figured out where the worst news were about to be announced.

2 of the 3 departments were completely closed, and the third took a major hit.

I my oppinion when you do terminations at this magnitude you need quick replace the upper management people responsible for the layoffs. This were not done in time, and the same upper management people would then try to motivate the remaining staff. Needless to say, people that were not laid off started looking for new jobs, and the company never recovered.

So announcing terminations clumsily can be as bad as not announcing anything.

Patrik
Saturday, May 03, 2003

I don't get it - don't you, folks, should receive a one-month beforehand notice ?
That should be a common practice, I think. At least, that what normally happens in Israel.

Genie
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

In the UK, the law says every employee must get 7 days notice either in lieu or not. Most UK employment contracts go above that and say either side must give 4 weeks notice after the employee has stayed there 6 - 12 months.

In the USA, there is at-will employment. This means either side no notice on either side, with or without reason.

When I got booted out of Amazon.com, I got 0 days explicit notice. Not nice at all. My last months were filled with pager duty and being woken up at midnight and 6am to fix the website after somebody else had messed something up. I was shown no gratitude whatsover.

Bagpuss
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

While several countries have termination periods, even running up to a year or more form long term employees, this does not change the fact that in most IT cases once you are told you will be terminated, you are escorted out of the building with all your entrance and system access rights revoked. You wil be paid during those months, but you can spend them at home in front of the telly for all they care.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, May 07, 2003

I got 0 days severance from Amazon.com after 0 days explicit notice. This is at-will employment.

Bagpuss
Wednesday, May 07, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home