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Every firing paints a brutal picture

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in The Savvy Office Manager

9:23 a.m.
Jeff’s phone rings on his desk and the name “Stacey” appears in the little LED window. His boss is brief. “Can you come to my office please?” All his mistakes, shortcomings and Stacey’s warnings swirl in his head. “This is it,” Jeff thinks. His heart lunges, his jaw tightens and the objects in his office that once gave him a sense of purpose and comfort are now surreal and insignificant.

9:25 a.m.
With his index finger knuckle, Jeff gives three soft courtesy taps on Stacey’s door frame as if gentleness can buy a second chance. “Good morning,” Stacey says, without using his name. “Close the door please.” Her voice is curiously polite, but businesslike in a rehearsed way. “Have a seat.” Jeff’s scalp tingles and his arms hang numb, as if they belong to somebody else. “Jeff, we’re letting you go.” It is cold, quick and hard. A snowball with a rock in it.

9:33 a.m.
The walk down the hallway with Stacey to the HR office is dreamlike, confusing, out-of-body. In his mind are questions racing too fast for the answers: “What do I do?” “How do I tell Liz?” “What will she say, think, scream?” “Is this really happening?”

9:53 a.m.
Stacey returns to her office, exhausted. It was her second firing, but not any easier. On her wall is a framed picture of Jim, her husband, with a Hollywood smile, thick hair and eyes that lock with yours no matter who you are or where you stand in the room. He’s hugging Trevor, their black lab.

Jeff gathers his belongings from his office; the HR director watches. Most of the stuff either doesn’t belong to him or he has no use for it now. On his corkboard is a glossy photo of Liz with a pushpin hole in it. He takes it down. She, too, has a Hollywood smile. He took the picture of her when they went to St. Louis seven summers ago. The Arch rises above her and the sky is blue.

10:02 a.m.
Stacey types up an all-staff memo, as per company policy: “Jeff is no longer working for us. We wish him well in his endeavors.” She taps Send.

10:10 a.m.
Jeff leaves the building and the sun makes him squint. It’s a long walk to his car, a late model Subaru with high mileage, the color of an overcast sky. He and Liz bought it just four months ago and still owe a lot of money on it. They owe money on a lot of things.

10:45 a.m.
Co-workers gather in the breakroom discussing the absurdity of the email … “we wish him well?” Who’s going to pick up Jeff’s work? … Not me. And is the company in a firing mode? … Who’s next? One person says Jeff had it coming and another cracks a joke about it. In a few weeks, he’ll fade. Workplaces are like that.

11:11 a.m.
Jeff takes the long way home, wondering how he’s going to tell Liz. She’s at work. At the next red light he’ll call and just blurt it out. He fiddles with the radio and lands on the Seals and Crofts classic, “Summer Breeze.” “… And I come home from a hard day’s work, and you’re waiting there, not a care in the world,” one of them sings. He lowers the volume and calls Liz. “Honey, they’re letting me go.” He doesn’t know why he said it that way. “Letting you go where?” she asks. Jeff inhales deeply and looks down at a plastic cup lid with a straw lanced through it on the passenger-side floor. Looking up, he sees just how filthy the car windows are.

 

Cal Butera is the editor of Business Management Daily’s Office Manager Today, Manager’s Legal Bulletin, Managing People at Work and Communication Briefings newsletters. He has been with Business Management Daily since 2007 and worked 22 years for midsize daily newspapers as sports writer, news reporter, layout and design editor, copy editor and city editor.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

The Manager February 25, 2015 at 10:23 am

I think this is the most factual rendering that I ever read. Starting with “All his mistakes, shortcomings and Stacey’s warnings swirl in his head. “This is it,” Jeff thinks.”

I know that there are a lot of rotten managers, bosses, ____ fill in the blank but there are many who are no more that decent hardworking people themselves. It is really hard when we’ve warned someone consistently of problems, the same problems, new problems and employees are either unable (the babysitter is always late and I cant afford childcare), incapable (I know you told me about my lateness but is traffic my fault?!) unwilling (It’s just the way I am.) We finally get to a point where we say we just can’t do this anymore. I tell myself, I don’t fire employees, they fire themselves. If I’ve told you several times, stop coming in late and you are still doing it, and you don’t come to me to say “hey boss I am having a problem what can we do?” Then don’t be surprised when I say I am letting you go as of today.

Reply

Robert February 23, 2015 at 4:17 pm

This really is the way it is… it’s a tough moment for both parties and it makes you stop and think about the human factor, which often gets glossed over in the quest for the company’s goal of protecting itself legally. It reminds you that a life is irrevocably changed when someone is fired. Nice snapshot of the current state of things in the workplace, for better or for worse.

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Jennifer February 23, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Getting fired is rarely a good experience and firing someone is never easy. I do believe however a bit more humanity, than what is depicted in this text, can make it a bit less brutal for the departing employee. Even with 20 years experience in an HR role with various companies, I have not found a less painful method than making the termination meeting short, provide clear ‘next step’ information in writing and walking the person to the door.

Reply

Caye February 23, 2015 at 11:03 am

This article is definitely short-story worthy. However, I too, like Many Hats and Lorraine, felt that there was something missing at the end. When I scrolled down and realized this was it, I was momentarily left with determining the point of the article. Then I looked at the title again.

Plan to share it with my boss and co-workers. Thanks!

Reply

Many Hats February 23, 2015 at 10:14 am

I have to agree with Lorraine. This “article” had the flavor of a riveting short story, perhaps a novel. I scanned down quickly to see the rest of it, and there wasn’t any. You write well, and I cared about the people, but how does this rate my employer’s time for me to read it?

Reply

Lorraine February 23, 2015 at 10:04 am

Cal, I normally enjoy your articles, but what is the intent of this one? Firing is hard on all parties? Of course it is…. and…. so? There is nothing here to make it any easier or handle it better.

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