Monday, March 23, 2009

Unkind Cut

Firing a staff is never ever easy to do. I have only ever fired 2 people in my working life so far. The first one, being the first one, I didn't handle well at all. The second one I left it to my superiors, because the case involved theft.

Because I messed up the first one, the whole department turned against me. Before, they had been more than kind to me, leaving me little things on my table, like some food, for me to enjoy. I also always joined them for lunch, where lunch was in the factory as many did not want to venture the long distance to the nearest foodstall. So to all intents and purposes, I had a good thing going with my department. Until my superior called me in and told me about the bad times and that I should 'release' one staff from my department. Who it was going to be he left up to me to decide. Yeah, he wasn't going to hold the blood soaked knife, I had been volunteered to do it.

The choice was a difficult one since all of them had been as hardworking as the other. Some were absolutely essential as they operated key systems. Thinking back, I couldn't work out rationally who should go. It was entirely arbitrary, really. There wasn't an issue about favouritism. Call it a roll of the dice if you would. One went. She wasn't shown the door immediately. She was informed, and during the notice period, I notice knife-edged stares everyday I showed up for work. It was uncomfortable, to say the least.

In restrospect, I should have protected my staff more. And even if a staff had to be fired, I should have shown more concern about the staff's future plans. And I should have talked to the rest of the department to seek their understanding and not kept quiet about it all. It was the worst way to release a staff, particularly one who has worked there for more than 10 years.

Needless to say, I never ate with them anymore. I left voluntarily not long after. But this incident still haunts me to this day. I hope that people do not repeat my mistakes. In this retrenchment 'season', let the one in charge show greater compassion and sensitivity. It's somebody's life, livelihood and family we are talking about.

10 ways to be a good manager during recessions
Gilbert Goh's Letter in Today's (23 Marh 09) Voices section (page 18)

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