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Worst ways to get fired
No one expects companies to be the warmest, fuzziest creatures. But some of their behaviors can be stunningly (and, you might argue, stupidly) cold.
By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- You probably have never done a perp walk, been suspected of stealing or been treated as if you were a toxic agent.

Yet you may feel like you have if you ever are laid off by a company that practices some of the moves ripped straight from The Corporate Guide to Crazy.

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1. Have you ratcheted up your career skills? Have you learned something new in the past 90 days (mastery of a piece of software, an accounting formula, a foreign language, etc.)?

The list of dehumanized moves is long and not likely to get shorter in an age where speed, telecommuting, cost cutting, efficiency and assets rather than human capital are king.

"The things that get done in the name of expediency are quite shocking," said Dale Klamfoth, senior vice president at WJM Associates, an executive and organizational development firm.

Just last week we were treated to news of 400 employees at Radio Shack who were laid off by e-mail.

Before that we heard of money-saving tips offered to newly laid-off employees at Northwest. The list includes helpful advice like "Don't be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash" and that ever-useful tip when you lose a job: "Bicycle to work."

Based on conversations with several human resource experts, here are some examples of companies that followed the advice in the Corporate Guide chapter "Layoffs: Six Easy Strategies."

Strategy 1: It can be extremely taxing to ruin people's day face to face, so create a little breathing room.

Besides e-mail, companies have been known to fire people by FedEx, registered letter, text message, voice mail and conference call.

Strategy 2: Consider the cattle call. It can build team spirit.

One company herded employees into an auditorium and gave them one of two color-coded information packets. Those with the same color packets sat together. The two groups were then escorted out of the auditorium through different exits. One led back to the office, which meant that group of employees could stay. The other led to the street, which meant the workers should file for unemployment.

Strategy 3: There is no such thing as "too low." So don't be afraid to test bottom. One option is to let employees figure things out for themselves.

One company deliberately left a new organizational chart on the photocopy machines. Some employees were left off entirely, and others were moved to new positions.

Strategy 4: Remember, no one is ever too old to play musical chairs.

Some companies in the middle of a merger have asked all employees to resign and reapply for jobs. The goal: to disengage from the old and reinvent the organizational structure - with fewer employees.

Strategy 5: It can be a nice touch when you offer the newly fired a ride home.

It actually can be, unless you've organized the corporate equivalent of a funeral procession. One company had cabs lined up around the block before alerting employees on the layoff list of their new jobless status.

Strategy 6: You know what they say: it's always the quiet ones. So make sure the meek don't go ballistic.

During a layoff, it's perfectly reasonable for a company to want to protect its computer files, other property and the remaining employees. But bringing in armed guards, as some companies have done, can be completely dehumanizing. An inconspicuously placed plainclothes security person is far preferable, said Lee Miller, a negotiations expert who used to run HR divisions at three companies.

Potential fallout for the companies

Laying off employees by remote indicates a very low emotional intelligence on the part of management, said workplace stress expert Al Siebert, director of the Resiliency Center.

So, too, does creating an atmosphere where the outgoing employees are treated like potential criminals or are otherwise embarrassed.

The problem isn't just that it's an affront to the dignity of the employees - although it is, and research has shown that workers who have been through a poorly managed layoff take longer to find new work, Klamfoth said.

"Companies should consider who is watching," he said.

Customers who see companies treat their employees poorly may be less likely to do business with them.

Potential future hires may be less likely to want to work there.

And a new round of voluntary turnover may occur among remaining employees who quit because they don't trust the company and don't want to be around the next time the ax falls.


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Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for For comments on this column or suggestions for future ones, please e-mail her at Top of page

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