The CEO of AOL made news – the kind he didn’t want – when he fired the creative director of Patch, the local news service AOL runs for hundreds of towns.
Oh, and did I mention, he fired Abel Lenz on a conference call with 1,000 employees. CEO Tim Armstrong was describing the planned layoffs at the under-performing Patch. More than once he tells employees they should quit the company if they think this is a “joke.”
The public firing takes place at about the 2-minute mark, in the video below, in which he stops to say, “Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you’re fired. Out!” Naturally, Twitter was on fire with comments on the hashtag #timarmstrong.
A Public Apology
The public brouhaha forced Armstrong to issue an apology to employees (which went public, of course) in which he said, “I am writing you to acknowledge the mistake I made last Friday during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz. It was an emotional response at the start of a difficult discussion dealing with many people’s careers and livelihoods… at a human level it was unfair to Abel. I’ve communicated to him directly and apologized for the way the matter was handled at the meeting.”
Is This to Way to Fire People?
This trend of firing people without regard to their feelings and their livelihoods is all too common now. Employees are often treated like criminals, with no notice of being laid off and then marched by a guard out the door in front of other employees.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently went one better. They axed 50 writers by phone. No need to waste time allowing them to return to their offices to pick up their belongings. Imagine receiving this message from management:
From approximately 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, July 31st, employees in the Editorial Department will receive a phone call notifying them that they are either being separated from employment on that date, or that they are not being separated from employment. Employees who are notified that they are not being separated should report for work at their next regularly scheduled time.
Why make all employees sweat it out for an entire day? That was great for morale – now even the employees who were lucky enough to keep their jobs are no doubt updating their resumes. They may be next. Why couldn’t the company simply write to the employees who were being let go? ‘Tis a mystery.
The fired employees were directed in the phone call to pick up their severance packages at another location. I wonder who gets to keep their personal belongings like photos of their kids? Probably they’ll be put out on the street along with the potted plants they’ve watered and nurtured
What Happened to the Human Touch?
When companies handle layoffs inhumanely, the employees who remain get the message that they are not valued. MetLife’s 2013 annual survey of employee benefits reveals that almost two-thirds of the companies surveyed feel they are very loyal to employees:
But the survey of employees tells a different story:
Employee engagement is a hot topic, with many companies recognizing that engaged employees are more productive and loyal. But it takes more than talk.
It takes walking the talk by treating employees fairly while they’re on the job and when you need to let them go.