About a month ago, I shared 8 of my most bizarre hiring stories. Today I want to share a few stories from the other end of the spectrum … when, for whatever reason, things don’t quite work out with an employee and you need to part ways.
Donald Trump always made it look so straightforward on The Apprentice.
Decision made … “You’re Fired”.
And in Up in the Air, George Clooney playing a ‘corporate downsizing’ expert had made his career out of bringing other people’s to a grinding halt.
Of course in real life it’s never like it is on TV or in the movies.
What’s my number one piece of advice? Expect the unexpected …
Here are 8 of my most ‘bizarre’ firing stories.
1. Sticks and stones may break my bones …
It hadn’t been an easy decision at all.
I knew Barb was a single mum but like all the leadership books had said, decisions need to be made in the best interests of the business and I’d tried my best to remove the emotion.
She’d gone through half a box of tissues during our difficult conversation. She was very emotional but understood the decision wasn’t personal.
Eventually Barb had walked back out to her desk; she’d said goodbye to a few of her colleagues; she packed her personal stuff into a box and I walked her out of the building.
I’d offered to carry her box out but she’d said she was OK.
As she stepped off the last step on to the footpath, Barb totally lost her balance.
I heard Barb shriek; I heard her coffee mug smash as the box fell to the ground; and I heard breaking bones.
I helped her into a taxi and we went straight to the hospital.
Sitting in Emergency waiting for a doctor for nearly four hours next to someone you have just retrenched who has just broken her leg isn’t exactly easy.
I mean it wasn’t like I could talk about how we’d look after all her clients until she was OK to come back to work. And she didn’t exactly have any more sick leave entitlements either.
I wasn’t sure if her tears were from the pain or from the shock of the events in the office earlier.
Poor Barb was in agony. But sitting there at that moment I didn’t feel too crash hot either.
2. There’s no need to make a scene
We’d had many conversations about his attitude and the way he treated some of his colleagues. He didn’t seem to have any respect for anyone and in our last meeting he’d half-heartedly said he’d try to improve.
When I heard Gerard swear at one of the support staff I walked up to him and asked him to follow me into the boardroom.
“Are you gonna fire me?” he snapped as he slammed his chair in against his desk.
“Let’s just go into the boardroom”, I repeated.
“If you’re going do it why don’t you just do it right here!”
By now the entire office was watching.
“Go on. Fire me! This place won’t survive without me. I’ll just take every client with me. You can all go to hell!”.
He picked up his bag and he threw his security pass on to the ground as he walked out.
Within 24 hours Gerard had received all the required termination papers along with a letter from our lawyer reminding him of the restraint of trade clauses in his contract.
He returned all the signed documents and we didn’t see or hear from Gerard again.
3. I thought it was all just a bad dream
I’d noticed them. But it was her colleagues that had all come to me complaining about Charmaine’s mood swings. She was either up … or very down.
We’d had a few performance related conversations and it had come to a bit of a head one Friday afternoon when I’d noticed a box of Prozac on her desk after the receptionist had found her asleep in one of our meeting rooms earlier in the day.
Under the circumstances I couldn’t keep her in the business any more and I’d asked Charmaine’s team leader to be present in the termination meeting with me.
To say Charmaine ‘flipped out’ would be an understatement. She’d waved her arms in the air, then banged them down on the desk and started screaming when I said I was going to have to call her boyfriend to come and pick her up.
I waited with her in the boardroom while her team leader packed up her desk.
Her boyfriend arrived about 45 minutes later and we said goodbye.
You can imagine my surprise when she walked into the team meeting on the following Monday morning.
“Sorry I’m a bit late”, she said.
I stood up and took her into another meeting room and I reiterated that she no longer worked for the company.
“Really? I thought it was all just a bad dream. I thought it must have been the Prozac messing with my head”.
Her boyfriend came to pick her up again. At least I knew he now understood the situation.
4. Smile … you’re on CCTV!
I have to admit that on a few occasions I have been caught completely by surprise when someone on my team told me they were leaving.
But more often than not I would be able to detect when someone was taking their foot off the accelerator or had started to disengage and I’d raise my concerns with them in a meeting.
This was the case with Stuart. He’d started to distance himself from his colleagues; wasn’t contributing much in team meetings; and he generally seemed a bit aloof.
One Monday morning I received a call from building security to say that someone from my office had come in a few times over the weekend and on each trip had left carrying a box of files.
I went down to security and sure enough there on the CCTV footage was Stuart taking boxes of files down to the car park.
“You’ve seemed a bit distant in the last few weeks”, I said to him in our regular meeting later that afternoon. “Is everything OK?”
“I’m fine”, he said staring down at the table. “But when do you think our commission payments will be in?” he asked.
“When do you think you might return the 3 boxes of files that you took home with you over the weekend?” I asked casually.
He looked up and went pale before saying “I don’t know what you’re talking about”.
“I’ve seen the CCTV footage”.
Needless to say Stuart never got his commission since our contracts clearly stated that one had to be employed at the time the commission was due and Stuart was no longer employed as of that afternoon.
5. Tyrannosaurus Text
Recruitment consultants have targets and KPIs and if those targets and KPIs aren’t met, it usually means they will be put on to a performance management plan. If the performance doesn’t improve, well …
I’m sure you get my point.
Unfortunately Rina hadn’t met her targets for a few months and even under close performance management things hadn’t improved.
We had the final tough conversation and Rina seemed to accept the decision and she left the office.
I’m not exaggerating here when I say that for the next week I received at least 50 text messages every day … as well as hang-up calls in the middle of the night.
She didn’t even try to block her number.
They all came through from her mobile phone.
Messages ranging from “You’re going to regret what you did”, to “You’ve made a bad mistake”, “I hated working for you anyway”, and “I hope someone fires you one day”.
I never responded to any of them and after a week the messages just stopped.
Two weeks later my phone buzzed and I saw a text come through from Rina.
“Hi Paul. I’m at final interview for an internal recruitment role. It’s absolutely perfect. Could I please give them your details as a referee? Thanks … Rina x”
Yes she even had the guts to sign off with ‘x’.
I guess I’ll never know what she thought when she received my one word response.
6. I honestly didn’t think you had the guts!
I’d already had a few tough conversations with Mitchell. He clearly thought he was better than everyone else and therefore thought he should be treated differently.
He’d come late to team meetings (if he decided to show up at all); he didn’t think he needed to adhere to any of our policies and procedures; and he’s been so rude to our receptionist that she’d been reduced to tears.
He’d been given his final warning.
One afternoon I was speaking to our HR Manager in one of our meeting rooms (where to be honest the so-called ‘sound-proofing’ wasn’t world class). Somebody walked into the room next door. At first I thought he was interviewing a candidate, but when all we could hear was his voice we realised Mitchell was on a phone call.
He was clearly excited about something since he was speaking pretty loudly.
“The website’s almost done. My bonus is due in about a month so I’m just going to milk it here and when the bonus comes through we’ll be able to get that cool office space. Bring it on!”
Poor Mitchell … If only he’d made that phone call outside the office.
His manager and the HR Manager had both heard what he was up to.
I quietly knocked on the door and politely gestured to Mitchell to pop next door as soon as he was off the phone.
He looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
We made it pretty clear that his time was up.
As the HR Manager escorted him out of the office, he turned to me and said “I honestly thought you’d never have the balls to get rid of me. Believe me … this is your loss more than it is mine“.
I never saw the website he’d been talking about. So I guess he never got that ‘cool office space’ either.
Sorry, Mitchell …
7. Don’t cry for me Argentina
You could say that Stephanie had probably been expecting it.
She’d been on a formal 90-day performance management program and the 90 days were up. She’d been given some strict KPIs and they hadn’t been met … in fact unfortunately she hadn’t even come close.
We’d arranged to meet at 8:00 that morning.
“I’ve got a feeling I know what’s coming“, she said as she sat down. Her eyes were already welling up.
“It’s never easy“, I said before explaining to her that despite all her efforts, the results weren’t there and I’d been left with no option other than to let her go.
She nodded and then burst into tears. I suggested that she stay in the meeting room and then come out to say goodbye to her colleagues when she was ready.
About an hour later I realised that Stephanie hadn’t come back to her desk so I assumed she must have gone outside to get some fresh air.
She still hadn’t come back 2 hours later so I called her mobile and left a message telling her I hoped she was OK.
I had a really busy day and it was only at about 4:00pm that I realised I hadn’t heard back from Stephanie.
I saw that the door to the room we’d met in was closed and I could hear someone crying behind the door. I opened the door gently and she looked up at me … her eyes now totally bloodshot. There were hundreds of tissues scrunched up all over the table.
“Are you OK?“, I asked (stupidly).
“I just can’t stop crying so I thought I’d wait until everyone went home and then just leave if that’s OK“.
Apparently she’d been crying non-stop since 8am … eight hours earlier.
We both waited until everyone had left the office and I helped her pack up. She was still sobbing at 6:00pm when she finally said goodbye.
The next day I received a hamper filled with wine, fruit and chocolates. The card said “Thank you for taking the weight of the world off my shoulders. You’ll always be my favourite boss. Sorry about being such a cry baby yesterday. I’m feeling a lot better today. Steph xox”
8. Can I still come to the Christmas party?
Sally had always been a really vibrant member of the team. But from time to time she had a tendency to get rather obnoxious at certain social events if she’d had a few too many drinks.
We had an alcohol (and drug) policy in our employee handbook and after one particular client function when “inappropriate” wouldn’t even come close to describing Sally’s behaviour, I had to issue her with a final warning since she had been extremely offensive.
I told her that I was still happy for her to attend various networking events as long as she went along with a colleague. But that I could no longer permit her to drink any alcohol since the result was a very poor reflection on our company brand.
I was left with no alternative when that same week I learned from one of our clients that Sally had in fact fallen off a table on to the floor at an industry function.
Our HR Manager actually led the final conversation where we terminated Sally’s employment. It was early December.
“Do you have any final questions, Sally?”
“Just one. Do you think I could still come to the Christmas party on Friday night?”