The layoff confrontation is difficult for everyone. There’s something utterly humiliating about trying to fight back tears while someone from HR talks you through severance paperwork. Or in my case, sobbing uncontrollably while they hand you tissues. It can’t be pleasant for middle management either. After all, sometimes they are just the messenger.
Yes, it is an awkward conversation. And there really isn’t a nice way to do it. But when it comes to poorly managed downsizing, cyber-firing definitely takes the cake.
So imagine my horror at finding out that a friend of mine in the UK was recently laid off – get this – by SMS! WTF? A phone call is bad enough. A letter or email is pushing it. A text message is inhumane. Looks like he’s back to trying to avoid dying in a gutter playing online slot machines on his computer – while he can still afford the internet. Risk of ruin is not just a theoretical concept at this point in the game.
I’d never heard of anything like this before. A quick Google search, however, uncovered several instances of this practice, mostly outside of the US. Even dating as far back as 2002, unsuspecting employees in places like the UK and Canada have been receiving rude awakenings on their handsets.
To me, it seems like a practice that is not just insensitive – it’s also kind of risky. Text messages are not fool proof. I can’t tell you how many times my own have been lost in the ether (almost as many times as I claim they have). What if the message never gets through, and the person shows up to work the following day?
“Didn’t you get my text message?”
“Oh. Well, you’ve been let go. Sorry.”
Talk about awkward.
The only reasons for a company to do such a thing – the only reasons I can think of anyway – are efficiency and cowardice. I guess laying off 400+ employees face-to-face is a lot of work. I know you’ve probably had it with the relationship analogies, but please, indulge me one last time – it’s sort of like breaking up with someone via text message. Sure, it’s more efficient, and eliminates the inevitable awkwardness. But could you live with yourself afterward? Probably not. Clearly, some upper managers have less of a conscience.
I guess I should be grateful that no matter how terrible my layoff experience was, my managers were at least kind enough to humor me with an explanation, and to pass me the box of Kleenex.