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How Not To Fire People

By October 15, 20153 Comments

Surprisingly, and perhaps disappointingly, I’ve never been fired from a job. Surprising, given that a good proportion of my day-to-day behaviour isn’t appropriate for the workplace. Disappointing, given that being the narcissist that my ex-girlfriend describes me as, I like to place myself centre-stage for all my blogs. However, I have been a walk-on extra for a few dismissals, so hopefully I’ll get to indulge my borderline sociopathic tendencies in today’s Whiteboard…

My favourite litter tray lining ran a story this week regarding Bart Teeuwisse, a senior software engineer for Twitter, who found out he’d been sacked when he was prevented from logging onto his work email account from home. This is all part of Twitter’s 336 person cull to get the social network back on track. As always, the story is slightly sensationalist, given that his paymasters had try to call him prior to this. However, unless you have the emotional intelligence of Pol Pot, I think we’d all agree that there’s a classier way to do these things. This reminded me of an article recently sent to me by your usual blogger. To summarise, the manager of a Bosnian Premier League Football team recently found out that he’d soon be waking at 11am, only to masturbate to the shopping channel, via a status update from the club’s official Facebook page announcing his dismissal. All credit to the manager for being so socially engaged I say. My mum hasn’t managed to upload a profile photo yet.

Sacking people via non-traditional means isn’t a new phenomenon however. I remember many years ago, a year before Facebook was even launched in fact, a UK firm sacking over 2,000 people via a bulk text message. Full credit for embracing emerging technologies, and good to see that treating people like shit has a rich historical tradition.

So how do we do it in recruitment? Well, through regular one-on-ones, structured performance reviews, clear metrics and KPIs, and extended consultation periods, we manage non-performers out of the business whilst guiding them into more suitable employment environments. Right guys?


Like most sales-driven industries, we’re typically bad at sacking people. We prefer people to “get the message” and leave on their own accord. The candidate is then free to tell prospective future employers that “I was doing well, but culturally, it just wasn’t for me”. Some managers, priding themselves on being the Don Corleone of manipulation, take it to the next level. I once received a call from one such people puppeteer;

Client: “Sean, I’ve got a non-performer on my team. Me and her have had the conversations, and we’ve both agreed that it’s time to look elsewhere. Could you give her a call and…y’know…hurry her along a bit? Oh, and best not to mention this conversation eh?”

Now morally, I don’t object to helping someone find a new role. It all seemed above board. The client was a good one, and the candidate may genuinely fit better elsewhere. The conversation with the candidate, after the initial approach, went as follows;

Me: “I’m working on a few interesting opportunities currently and wondered if you wanted to catch up for a coffee?”

Candidate: “Thanks Sean, but things are going really well here right now, and I’d be crazy to leave. And Sean….”

Me: “Yes”

Candidate: “I think it quite unprofessional that you’re headhunting from one of your own clients. I won’t say anything to my boss this time, but honestly, it’s not doing your reputation any favours”

Sometimes, like an English National Sports team, you just can’t win.

The truth is, in an industry where we live and die by our billing figures, removing people from the business is easier than most. And in my experience, hanging on to someone who simply isn’t in the right job is detrimental to both parties. There’s a good chance someone, somewhere, reading this right now is in this situation. If you’re the manager, have the conversation, be open, be honest, be compassionate. If your on the receiving end and have had your desk inexplicably moved from the window-view to underneath the dripping air conditioning unit, then maybe it’s time to find a boss who treats you with more transparency and respect.

Have a good Friday everyone and try not to get sacked. This is the last blog from me for a while. Your slightly more sensible blogger will be returning next week.



On the subject of losing your job, RHUB returns to NZ next week, with the ever-generous Phil Tusing offering something special for those “between jobs” wanting to attend. Click here to find out more. Rumour has it, there’s also a few tickets left for Wednesday’s session, so I’ll hopefully be seeing a few Whiteboard readers there.


Jonathan Rice

Director of New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice & Co, co-founder of freelance recruiter platform JOYN, and people-centric technology firm superHUMAN Software. Recruitment innovator, agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Nutty 99 says:

    She also described you as a ‘Prepper’. Lol 🙂

  • Rob says:

    I love that you linked your ex. Nice one mate 🙂

  • Kirsty Hunt says:

    You a narcissist – nooooo!

    I found out I was fired, when I took sick leave and my role was advertised that same day in Trademe – great they are getting someone to help me manage the crazy workload – no sorry you’ve been “made redundant” – class act that lot!