If you’re following the news these days, you’re no doubt seeing stories about more workers being laid off, sometimes in considerable numbers. Especially in office settings, many will be subjected to some form of “exit parade,” a swift, sudden, and brutal practice, defended on grounds of maintaining security.
Kevin Kennemer of The People Group recently summarized this standard layoff protocol (link here):
When a layoff occurs, an employee is provided a short explanation, an envelope with important employment separation and benefit documents, an empty box, and time to clean out their desk and say good-bye to their friends/coworkers. The next moment the dazed employee is on the street, going home wondering what the future holds.
Oftentimes the stunned worker is escorted by a uniformed security officer, in view of colleagues and co-workers.
Primary and collateral damage
Layoffs are “a big kick in the gut to everyone involved,” notes Kennemer:
- The departing employees – definitely the hardest hit, including their families
- The surviving employees – afraid they might be next, plus the stress of doing more work with less
- The leadership team – must live with their decision that is affecting the lives of current employees, former employees and their family members
To that I would add that the manner in which people are laid off will reverberate throughout the organization. When conducted in a way that humiliates and demeans the affected workers, morale and institutional loyalty are likely to plummet.
A degradation ceremony
As I wrote in my first major law review article about workplace bullying and the law:
The likely humiliation of being paraded out of the office under guard or noticeable supervision, especially under the watch of coworkers, is, in effect, a degradation ceremony. It is similar in nature, though admittedly not in degree, to archaic military disciplinary proceedings where transgressors are marched past other soldiers under armed guard to face their punishment. Yet in the case of the dismissed employee, her sole “transgression” may have been being on the payroll at a time when profits were not high enough.
Unfortunately, this is an example of how cruelty has become commonplace. While the classic exit parade may not constitute workplace bullying as many of us have defined it, it surely ranks among the most inhumane of human resources practices.
A better way
More humane, employee-centered organizations will inform people of their last day of employment and allow them a bit of time to settle their business. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a pleasant experience, but at least an individual is not marched out of the building like a criminal.
When an employee is fired for misconduct or otherwise poses a safety risk, termination procedures may call for an added layer of security. However, when adopted as a standard protocol, variations of the exit parade only injure relations between workers and their employers. It’s a psychologically cruel practice that pours acid into a newly-inflicted wound.
Read the rest of Kevin Kennemer’s post for his ideas on how workplaces can move to a layoff-free employee relations policy.