You’ve Been Deleted Firing by E-mail

By John Hollon

Sep. 8, 2006

No matter where you work today, take comfort in the fact that you aren’t working for Radio­Shack.

    What’s that? You say you DO work for Radio­Shack? Well, then you have my deepest condolences, because I can hardly imagine a worse fate than working for a company where senior management thinks it is acceptable and proper to lay off 400 people by e-mail.

    Worse yet is the response to the not-unexpected public outrage from RadioShack’s corporate PR weasels. They claim that since employees knew layoffs were coming, and, since they knew that they would first be notified electronically of the layoffs, that doing it this way was actually a marked improvement over the traditional method.

    “We wanted to treat our employees with as much dignity and respect as possible,” a Radio­Shack spokesweasel told The Dallas Morning News last month. “It’s a difficult thing to do, and everyone will have a different opinion on how to do it. To be open and have constant communication, whether you’re impacted or not, was the right thing to do.”

    The only thing that makes any sense in that statement is that “it’s a difficult thing to do.” That’s an understatement of monumental proportions. As someone who has sat on both sides of the table in this process, I can tell you with certainty that it is probably the single most difficult thing a manager ever has to do in their working life.

    And, I don’t buy for one second the notion that notifying employees electronically of job cutbacks is some huge management breakthrough. Taking away a person’s job—their livelihood—is one of the worst things you can do to another human being. People deserve, if nothing else, as much dignity and honesty as you can give them in the process. You only get that by doing it in person.

    It should also be handled that way because management should be forced to personally confront the consequences of its actions. Mass layoffs done impersonally are like carpet bombing from 35,000 feet. You avoid seeing the impact it has on real people.

    I once had an arrogant boss who bragged that he had never fired anyone. Over time, I found out that’s because he always wimped out and made somebody else do his dirty work instead. In the real world, however, managers have to do tough things from time to time. Sometimes, that means letting someone go. No one likes this part of the job, but for a manager, it comes with the territory.

    Letting people go is easy to do when you don’t have to deal personally with the people getting canned. It’s a lot harder when you have to actually give the news to some poor soul who breaks down in front of you because he has some other personal crisis going on in his life, a crisis that just increased tenfold because you took his job away.

    When you have to handle layoffs in person, you find that you are a lot less willing to consider doing it in the abstract. And that’s why doing it by e-mail is the ultimate management cop-out. It further dehumanizes a process that is pretty inhuman to begin with.

    RadioShack is a company with a lot of problems. Last winter, the company’s CEO was forced to resign after it was discovered he had lied about his education, claiming he had two degrees he never earned. The new chief executive started his tenure this summer by canceling all conference calls with financial analysts, a curious move for a company that has closed some 500 stores and would probably benefit from being more open and transparent with shareholders and the public.

    From that perspective, informing workers of layoffs by e-mail is just another in a long line of wrongheaded, coldhearted and dumb actions by a company that can’t seem to figure out which way is up. There’s a great management lesson to be learned here. Unfortunately for those working at RadioShack, they’re learning it the hard way.

Workforce Management, September 11, 2006, p. 42Subscribe Now!

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