F*** Empathy: Resign, or You’re Fired!

Posted on Posted in Management

Interesting choice for a title, don’t you think? I just heard a clip doing rounds on the social media currently. A person from the Human Resources is giving a choice to an Employee; resign by tomorrow 10 AM or get terminated! The dialogue in the clip hit so many ‘don’t dos’ on its way to fame, that I had to write about it.

Tell me, is this the first time that we are hearing about somebody being asked to move on? This is corporate; every time the tide turns, events like this happen. Sometimes you hire people, and sometimes you ask them to leave. Even if things are well, the Bell Curve is used to ask the low performers to move on. I’ll leave that topic alone since I have already put my views on the ineptness of the method.

Then why the outrage? I’ve seen these things happen multiple times over my career. I’ve seen very senior people being called to non-office locations and being handed their dues and a pink slip. I’ve seen middle managers being let off for non-performance. I’ve seen workers being laid off because of strategic changes. But in all those cases, there has been some semblance of dignity with which a person is being allowed to leave.

Let me tell you what went wrong here. Everything, from the word, go.

  • 24 Hours: Resign in 24, or you’ll be terminated! Where did the HR rep learn this line from? Is that a line from a Hollywood blockbuster?
  • Coercion: Resign OR. No benefits, experience letter, etc. Excuse me; I’ll always take my experience with me, letter or not. I just don’t want to take this experience with me anywhere.
  • BS Reason: Cost Cutting? Wow, I mean, the dog ate my homework sounds better than this.
  • No Dialogue: Ma’am, I have given the organisation three years of my time. And you’re not giving me even three days to decide? At least, hear me out. Let us have a dialogue.
  • Wrong Approach: World being what it is today, a Human Resource personnel is trained to handle objections from aggressive, sometimes violent employees. That, however, should not be the norm. Treat them like people, and reserve aggressive objective handling for the rarest of the rare scenarios.
  • No Empathy: Self-explanatory.

Can we handle it better? Sure, it just takes a little more time, money, effort and humanity.

If you reverse all the negative handling instances given above, the right path will be crystal clear. I’m not elaborating. Rather, let us go into a different direction; why does this situation come to fore? Isn’t that a more practical approach? Cure the disease, not the symptoms. Where is the disease, you ask me? Here goes.

Let me cut through the song and dance here. Despite our best intentions, we cannot predict the future. We look at the current trend and then envision a future. Then we work towards it. There is no more to ‘Strategy’ than that. The future changes constantly, and there are times when one really needs to cut back. Many times, though, this is not the case.

In all organisations, we have an ambitious breed called the ‘Managers’. They dream of making it big. They do not want to wait for nature to take its course. They make their future. They provide a rosy picture to their manager. Here is how the conversation goes like;

‘Next fiscal, I will get you 50% more revenue.’ The Ambitious One (AO) throws the hook in the water.

‘Ok.’ Says his manager, even more Ambitious than him.

‘There is just one problem.’


‘There needs to be some change in the structure, and ya, I’ll need some more resources.’


‘Don’t worry Boss, with a 20% increase in resources; I’ll get you a 75% revenue increase.’ Bait!!!

‘OK, I’ll get it approved. But you better deliver.’ Hook, line, and sinker. Gone.

When the times are good, these AOs pull all the strings possible to increase their power and empire. This approach goes to the top, believe me. And therein lies the big problem: exuberance and ambition beyond reason. Do some basic web research and you will find that most of the organizations work in this fashion. Plan for growth that is backed by hard data created through a ‘back of the envelope’ reasoning. Remember housing bubble? Or IT bubble?

Newton’s Law: Action and Reaction are equal and opposite.

When the tide goes against them, their forecasts proved wrong; then they come to a big realisation. ‘Oh, God! How did we not see this coming?’ Right! You were just trying to jaywalk a NY street during rush hour, blindfolded. I’m sure you did not see it coming.

Time for another conversation. This one is initiated by the AO’s Manager and goes like this;

‘Your forecasts were wrong dammit.’ AO’s Manager.

‘Not really, I mean, this scenario was not factored in while we calculated the figures.’

Note: ‘This scenario’ ranges from competitors dumping price, newer product making the existing one obsolete, government changes, policy lacunae, Trump in White House, GST, or plain and straightforward Act of God. Take your pick; there are various options to bank upon. You may also note that the AO used ‘We’ while his Manager used ‘Your’.

‘I’ve been asked to present a Salvage Scenario tomorrow morning. Give me your inputs right away.’

‘I need more time.’

‘You have until evening.’

‘Sir, I think we are a bit heavy on the resource side.’ Bait!!!

‘You think so? How much will that get me?’

‘Will need to check Sir. But ballpark, we can shave off 15%.’

‘Done. I’ll get it approved.’ Hook, line, sinker. Gone.

You might notice, that in both cases, AO will be lined up for promotion. Exemplary service. Problem solver. Go getter. No nonsense Man.

This is a vicious circle to come out of and can be a great case for Agency-Agent Conflict of Interest. But then, I have not said anything new, is it?

I know what some of you are currently mumbling.

‘Ya ya, we know all that. All you Armchair Management Consultants are the same! Problems, problems, you’ll never give any solutions. Sit in our chair and then let’s see what you can do. Tell me what would do instead?’

I’ve heard this often enough. So let me tell you, what I will do if in your position.

  • Build in checks and balances to counteract Managerial Exuberance. Don’t hire when happy, and don’t fire when sad.
  • Hold the Manager’s responsible for the resource. They will go before the resource does. Take a pay cut, Man! The salaries that we work at can sustain 100’s of employees below us.
  • There will be days when despite our best intention, we will need to downsize. If it comes to that; get a competent person to hand hold an employee during that rough phase.
  • Better still, let the person who has made the decision, sit in the meeting to explain, apologise, and humanise the workplace.
  • Give the outgoing employee a respectable ouster; some financial benefits, a good letter explaining to a future employer of the reasons for letting him go, proper reference, a coffee while telling, a few kind words.

P.S: Bit Sorry about the F word. But as Employers and Human Resource Managers, we also lack the F many times. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the term. It’s called Finesse. Look it up sometime, it’ll help you!

Leave a Reply