Can we please just fire people?

Every week I get two or three emails like this one: "I was just told, I must resign by October 1st, due to a policy change. Can they actually do that even if I haven't seen the new policy hand book? Will I be able to file for unemployment? They've even written up a resignation letter for me to sign."

Why do I get any of these emails? Because this is sleazy, slimy behavior, and it is things like this that give managers and HR their well earned reputation for being untrustworthy, underhanded and mean. I am sure there is more to the story than this. A policy change such as, "all employees must be available for all shifts" (dumb, but I don't put that past stores) could require someone who is in school part time to leave because she won't be available 24 hours a day, every day. But, instead of explaining, they say, "New handbook coming you, you need to resign!"

But, I suspect it's not something like this. I suspect that there is something with this employee that is causing a problem and no one wants to deal with it, so instead of facing the problems head on, they say, "You must resign."

Good leaders don't do this. Good leaders address problems straight on. If the problems are not solvable (and heaven knows some employees will never turn around, no matter how much you coach them), then you fire someone. Preferably with severance.

If you want someone to not work for you any more, the proper thing to say is, "You are fired." If there is truly a situation where you want the person gone and the employee wants to leave, the term is "mutual consent." But, in this case, the consent isn't mutual. The employee is being forced out and her manager is offering a pat on the head and saying, "Oh, you have to resign! It will be better than getting fired!"

For some reason, rather than having the guts to fire a mediocre employee, bad leaders and bad HR manipulate employees so they "resign." Why? Well, for one, if you can argue that the employee actually resigned, then you don't get dinged for unemployment. Which also means that the (former) employee doesn't get unemployment payments. The company decides to terminate the employment relationship, manipulates the employee into signing a resignation letter, then opposes unemployment. Nice.

In addition, bad managers something that they know is a blatant lie--it will look better on applications if you can say you resigned, rather than were fired. Sounds good and employees believe it, but we do the hiring as well and when someone has a resignation without another job lined up, we question that resignation and will find out that it was a "forced" resignation anyway. I do, concede, that if the person lands a new job, and a good deal of time has passed, it does look better to have a resignation on the application for an older job. But it won't help them get the next job. Anybody who does hiring knows that.

Instead, let's try for new policy of firing people we no longer want to work for us. If not, then at least offer severance, agree not to oppose unemployment, and be honest about what we'll say if called for a reference. Part of being a leader is to do the unpleasant tasks. Sometimes this involves firing. Let's be honest and straightforward about it when we do.

Published on: Sep 5, 2014