Dear India Inc, here’s how not to fire people during a crisis

Dear India Inc, here’s how not to fire people during a crisis


Two weeks back 30-year-old home-loan salesperson Kushal Jain (name changed) working with a private housing finance company (HFC) got a call from a human resource official of the firm informing him that he “needed to resign” or would face the “consequences”.

But what bothered Jain most was the fact that his direct reporting manager did not even make a courtesy call to inform him of the decision nor was any official communication sent.

He was among the 350 other employees who were called over the messaging platform mandating them to resign or be liable to lose separation payouts along with withholding of the relieving letter. Using WhatsApp for calling employees meant that the conversation could not be recorded and hence the individual would have no proof of this discussion.

The coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent slowdown has led to a spate of job cuts across companies, with the sales staff across sectors being the worst hit. But, this situation has brought forth the issue of ‘ethical’ sacking and how companies must be open about decisions pertaining to cost cutting.

However, since several companies in India seem to a bit clueless about how to go about implementing job cuts, here are some of tips that could come handy:

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Don’t make sly calls to staff

Letting go of people is a tough exercise for any HR manager. The least that can be done is to follow rules. Send a proper written communication over email/physical letter informing the staff member of the decision. Brushing matters under the carpet by making sly calls to staff is only going to make things worse.

Whatever be the reason, keep the communication open and transparent. Using scare tactics is easy but will delay the laying-off process and worse, you as an employer could get sued. A simple letter/email would do the job.

Another 47-year-old employee at the housing finance firm quoted above told Moneycontrol that he would have quit only if his sales manager made a formal call and told him there is a crisis.

“There was a certain level of respect that I had for my senior and would accept any management decision merely on his word and assurance. But he disappointed me and refused to even answer my phone calls,” he said.

Don’t resort to unnecessary threats

Just to reiterate, the role of a human resource manager in a company is workforce management and threatening employees may not necessarily be part of the key result area (KRA).

‘You better put in your papers’ may scare off a few people but those who have been longer in the system know that this could very well be an empty threat. If an employee is asked to resign or warned of ‘dire consequences’ if resignation is not submitted, the separation process is bound to get delayed.

Whatever separation benefits and final settlements/dues that an employee is entitled to, must be paid at the earliest. This would ensure that even a decision of layoff does not lead to a bitter engagement between an outgoing employee and a company.

The ‘all press is good press’ may not necessary hold true in case a large group of employees decide to sue the company for unethical HR practices and non-payment of dues.

Don’t beat around the bush; cut to the point

In several companies, letting go of an employee is never communicated as a direct decision. It is usually a demotion, an unwanted transfer, or a sudden job-role change.

Rather than beating around the bush by offering a sudden transfer to another location with a reduced pay to an employee, simply inform that they are being fired. It will be a tough conversation but at least you aren’t giving false hopes.

Also Read: Ola to lay off 1,400 employees 

Financial sector firms use the role-change tactic repeatedly to give ‘subtle’ indications to employees that it is time for them to quit. So, someone in an administrative role would be suddenly shifted to technical operations or sales where he/she may not have any expertise or interest. Or be told that they are being shifted out to a different city and new team ‘mandatorily’ in a week.

But why make professional life worse for this employee? Instead of giving weak signals, just be direct.

Employees are not broken furniture

Once you as a company have decided to let go off an employee, the best would be to give them time to absorb this information. Multiple cases emerge of companies handing over a pink-slip and demanding the individual leave the office premises ‘within the next 30 minutes’.

Is this some sort of a race where companies literally throwing employees out of the workplace win accolades? Is it to ensure that outgoing staff don’t call ‘influential politicians’ to their rescue? Or is it just to stop him/her from bad-mouthing the company to his colleagues?

Whatever be the reason, an employee who may have worked at an office for a significant period (be it one month, one year or even 10 years) cannot be treated as a piece of broken furniture thrown out when not required. Communicate the decision and give employees at least one week for them to gather their belongings and complete exit formalities.

It is best to not spring a job-cut surprise

Picture this. There are festivities at the workplace during Christmas and staff members are expecting presents as part of a gift-exchange initiative. Being called to the boardroom and handed a pink-slip wouldn’t exactly be the gift your employee envisioned.

Instead of springing such nasty surprises, employees need to be informed of any possible employment loss depending on business outcomes. If an employee is mentally prepared, it would be easier to communicate a job-cut decision.

Almost every company in India is going through a crisis right now. In the midst of a pandemic, probably the last thing on a company’s wish-list would be a permanent scar on the brand reputation due to bad human resource practices. Act wise.

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