Could we fire people in a more compassionate way?

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Here’s a new article on “a more humane approach to firing people,” and I just want to point you towards a section near the bottom:

As mentioned, employees who feel they can be blindsided by a termination at any time are chronically a bit anxious. In my experience, they respond to the persistent threat they feel by being more self-promotional and political, avoiding disagreement with their managers, and avoiding innovation because failing feels so risky. Employees who feel safe from the threat of unexpected termination tend to be happier, more creative, and less likely to preemptively leave.

This may seem paradoxical: the reality of work for many is that you can be blindsided by a termination at any time, usually. The last full-time gig I had, I got fired at 2pm on a Friday as I was thinking about getting a late lunch. Life happens, you know?

But because organizations are often run entirely on cost-cutting measures, layoffs are a reality. They’re not going anywhere.

This article above is arguing for something called “transparent termination” or some such, which sounds like complete bullshit. It should remind everyone of Paltrow and Martin breaking up as a “conscious uncoupling.” No. You broke up. You’re going to sleep with other celebrities and humans. It’s OK.

But follow this bouncing ball for a second:

It’s easier to get a job when you have one

There’s a ton of bias around unemployed candidates. We all know that.

Manager-employee relationships can be messy

In fact, you could equate them to slavery.

What happens when you’re constantly in fear of losing a job

You behave in a way where you kiss ass and don’t take risks. That’s not good for your career or the company overall.

Here’s how we solve this (maybe)

Most companies do revenue forecasting and projections, and have an idea of their sales pipelines and what quarters tend to be good for their industry.

In short, a lot of times you know that “Hey, eventually we probably need to slice Operations from 50 headcount to 38 headcount.”

Or at the very least, you should.

If you know this a couple of months out, be transparent with employees. The conversational breakdown is basically:

  • “Hey, you are going to get fired in a few months.”
  • “I know it’s terrible and this is why it happened. It was generally a numbers thing.”
  • “But we know it’s easier to get a job when you have one, so start looking.”
  • “I will be a reference and generally do whatever I can, as will other managers here.”
  • “Let me know how else I can help.”

This would solve about 19,237 different problems with work — relationships, transparency, the ease of getting a job when you’re shit-canned, etc.

Could it ever happen, though?

In some organizations and with some managers, sure. In most places? No. Not a chance.

You need to remember much of the human condition is driven by “in-group” and “out-group.” That’s extremely true at work. The attitude towards most terminations by managers is “Well, now you are no longer part of this group. You are gone. Goodbye.” There’s no compassion or empathy in the process, and you can make a case that there doesn’t even need to be.

One of the big objections from most managers would probably be “Well, if it takes them three months to find a job, they won’t be productive for me for those three months. I need my numbers hit.”

The reality is: if they’re a candidate for firing, they’re not productive or well-liked anyway. It’s better they’ll be gone. Three months is one quarter. You can rebound from that.

Since empathy kind of underscores the entire human condition at some level, it would be nice if we had empathy in how we hire — we don’t there either — and how we fire.


A job is important to people in the first world. It determines the quality of life you can have and/or provide. If you lose it in an instant, that creates a lot of turmoil. I rebounded OK from getting fired, but the initial weeks and months were very hard. There’s almost a straight line from there to me getting divorced at some level.

So why not fire in a more compassionate way? Don’t we owe it someone we just spent revenue money on in the form of their salary?

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