Fired over the phone *&()%^$

I’m talking about the CEO of Yahoo – Carol Bartz. Read the email she sent out to her staff  informing them of her departure, here.

I had heard of people breaking up over the phone, people getting dumped by way of text messages, but this is new to me. Fired over the phone??

A couple of years ago when the recession was at its peak, the theaters saw the release of a film called “Up in the Air”. It belonged to the comedy drama genre and starred a suave George Clooney who worked for a company that helped organizations with mass lay-offs. So, this gentleman travels over 350 days a year, laying people off across the United States. He comforts them, motivates them and tries to take the sting out off being laid off.

I have been laid off a couple of times and I can tell you, it is one of the worst feelings ever. That one minute when the news is given to you lasts an eternity. You feel small, useless and while people keep telling you, it’s just a business decision, it had nothing to do with your performance, you cannot help but wonder where it is you went wrong. Nothing, nothing can make this difficult situation easier. In my case, it helped that my manager, I had worked closely with was the one laying me off and as politically incorrect as it sounds to cry at the workplace, cry, I did.

So, coming back to Up in The Air, it was a great movie, or so I’d heard. I made an attempt to watch it but stopped when one of the characters in the movie – she’s an MBA from an ivy league school – suggests that people should be laid off via video conferencing, in an attempt to improve the organization’s bottom line. After all, all your employees travelling 350 days a year cannot mean good things for your profit statement.

Post that scene where this Ivy League graduate made this ridiculous suggestion, I wondered, if any organization would be callous enough to implement this suggestion. How unfeeling must an organization be to do something like this? And what does this do to the goodwill of the organization in the market? Post this mini argument in my head, I concluded, things weren’t quite that bad in the real world.

Sure, there will be stupid teens who will break up over the phone or via IM or a text but companies that hire experts and image consultants would never commit such  a blunder.

Turns out, I was wrong. Companies can be just that stupid and cold and unfeeling. To do this to any employee requires a special kind of stupidity.  How do you justify giving this devastating piece of news over the phone? One may argue that being fired is not the same as being let go. People generally do get fired for non-performance. Even, in case of the latter, why is it impossible to invite the said person to your office, explain why they’re being fired, cross all your legal t’s and dot all your i’s and lend the unfortunate situation some dignity?

I am also sure that a number of people will say Carol Bartz got what she deserved. After all, she did lay off  a number of Yahoo employees and managers. Still, that’s no excuse for firing her over the phone. If she had laid off one of Yahoo’s employees over the phone, she should have been fired with immediate effect. Even then, I would say, she SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN FIRED OVER THE PHONE.

I’m prepared to bet, that Yahoo will spend a big number of dollars trying to undo the damage that this piece of news will cause them. It would have been far cheaper to have let Carol Bartz know she was being fired over a cup of coffee.

What do you think? Do you think Yahoo did the right thing?

Edited to Add: I’m jubilant that a number of people think the way I do….. Check the comments section on this article.


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