The warfare of divorce from work

I've heard this type of scenario many times.  Employee is performing well, enjoys the job, and is apparently delivering on all expectations set by "The Company".

Then whammy.  HR calls them to a meeting, tells them their job is redundant, effective immediately.  The employee is offered a cheque in return for their silence and some signed indemnity paperwork, and is walked out the door.   The Company has met all its legal obligations and the now-former employee has the benefit of some unexpected cash and freedom.

In reality though, the employee is invariably left shocked, dismayed, hurt, and utterly bewildered.  Devastation wipes out any "benefit" from this ambush approach, and whilst some can quickly dust themselves off and continue with great career success elsewhere, there are many that cannot, with far reaching consequences.

Of course there are many countries or industries where this scenario is unthinkable; where unions and works councils just don't allow an environment for a redundancy ambush.  But in the UK, Australia, the USA and more, it is absolutely possible, and is not uncommon practice.

And it's got me thinking.  As HR professionals, why do we ever take this approach, given the impact it has on a person's personal life, career, and general well-being?  What message are we sending to the remaining employees from whom we expect loyalty?  What is the impact on a company's consumer brand?  Where is the common decency and courtesy and professional respect in this methodology?  What is the up-side exactly?

I hear some of you protesting, that all you can do is act upon the demands set by The Company and/or the business leaders you support.  That you may not like doing the "terminator" deed but you have no choice under pressures coming from above.  That this is the "cleanest" approach to avoid protracted hassle and to mitigate litigation risk.

But taking such a cold hearted approach, surely makes a mockery of our personal and professional values.  And as for corporate values - whilst "The Company" may have met its legal obligations, is there not a moral obligation for a little humanity and care that should be also applied?  

Ask yourself now - do you really and truly understand the full impact of this approach on the employee you're about to exit?  And on the message it sends to everyone around them, and around you?  Do you remember how it felt if it happened to you or someone you're close to?  Have you ever made the effort to seek out someone who has been ambushed with redundancy, to gain an inkling of its impact on their life?

I know a HR leader who has effected countless restructures and layoffs over too many countries and too many years within his multi national employer.  Many thousands of redundancies.  He is adamant that all redundant employees be treated respectfully at all times and that the layoffs happen with no surprises; and has convinced all of his business leaders of the benefits of strong advance communication of the company's intent.  Despite an environment with aggressive works councils and unions in place, he and his team have been able to manage these processes with minimal cost and time.  They have maximised dignity and "face saving" for the exiting employees, and avoided shredding the company brand.  Kudos to him for showing that redundancies can be handled well.

I say shame on those HR professionals who allow, tolerate and effect those redundancy ambushes on employees who have lived up to their part of the employment contract.  Even more shame on them when the events are timed right before key holiday periods like Christmas.    And further shame for blaming their actions on the intangible will of "The Company" rather than because of the decisions of (real people) business leaders.

Shame, shame, shame.