Saturday, January 31, 2009

You're Fired!

Firing people is the most difficult part of my job. Managing affordable health insurance for the hundreds of people who count on me to do so is creeping in behind as close second. I hate to fire people and while it evolves and becomes different with time and experience, it never becomes easier. The only good part of that responsibility is that I am the one doing the firing versus being the employee on the receiving end. That is my wanna-be optimist, keeping the glass half-full.

I initially considered titling this post, “Firing people in the local community since 2000”, while accurate, sends the message that I am proud of that statement, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The problem with firing people in the local community for nine years is that while they are multiplying in numbers, the town isn't getting any larger. Over the course of the past month, I have repeatedly run into many of these “former employees”. It is an epidemic. Did they start a club? Are they strategically aligning their positions to correspond with my weekly errands? These situations are the epitome of social awkwardness.

It starts when I realize that someone is innocuously giving me the Don’t I Know Her From Somewhere Look. You know the look I am referring to, repeated glances in your direction, small smiles, and desperate grappling for anything that would indicate mutual recognition. I can see the wheels churning as they play the mental game of trying to place me in the sitcom of their personal history, the syndicated version. What role did she play dammit? I am sure the ratty clothes, lack of make-up, tennis shoes, and toddler affixed to my leg throws them for a loop, providing me a substantial witness-protection-program type of advantage. Despite that, suddenly, over bins of fresh produce, I realize that they succeeded at making the connection. Next comes that uncomfortable moment of minimizing eye contact and politely nodding their head.

I nod and move on, pushing my cart, hoping that they aren’t compelled to address me. Panic. What would I say, “How are you doing?”, “Sorry about that job thing”, or “I’d reconsider continuing to have potential employers contact me – especially financial institutions if you catch my drift.” While they are busy sizing me up, my mind is racing as I am trying to remember just how horrible their termination was, and the speed at which I should be headed in the opposite direction.

Simultaneously, I am trying to place them. Wait, were you the one who showed up to work drunk and proceeded to engage in a verbal altercation with me regarding the technical degree of your intoxication? Perhaps you were the one who locked yourself in your work area and refused to leave the premises. How about the one who fell asleep, only to be awaken when the next shift employee arrived? No? Okay, hold on, I’ll place you too.

When a relationship ends, a well known phrase intended to soften the blow is, “It isn’t you, it’s me.” In each of these awkward past-employee situations, I have to resist the urge to politely say, “I’m sorry, it wasn’t me. It was definitely you.”

10 comments:

Call Me Cate said...

I've never thought about it from your side. During the dotcom crash, I was laid off from a large company in the area. And I somehow manage to cross paths with the guy that did the laying off on a fairly regular basis.

Thing is, I didn't like him BEFORE he laid me off so I don't think I go out of my way to avoid him because he "fired" me.

Still, you're right. Very awkard for both parties.

Word Verification:
unmandep - the firing dept

Comedy Goddess said...

Stay strong!
BTW, I will use that last phrase alot. When talking to my ex husband.

Janie said...

Still, girl, I bet that's hard to do...

Rachel Cotterill said...

And this is why I don't want a business with employees, thank you very much! :)

C. Beth said...

Ooh, yeah, I love that last phrase!

Jeanne said...

I've only had to fire someone once (other than contractors, and they don't count) and, maybe a month later, I ran into him and his wife at Kroger. Unfortunately, he recognized me (that bitch who fired him) before I made the connection about who he was (the guy who missed a ton of work, and then pretended to come in over the weekend to make it up). It was still pretty awful, so you have my empathy. (And treat it as a precious resource, because all those personality tests HR makes me take says I don't have much!)

E. Sloane Cannon said...

Maybe if they confront you/attack you say "I've learned that you can always learn from difficult obstacles..." and then dodge their punch ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well I am glad that you never had to fire me! Phew!

Steph

Petunia said...

I have had to fire a fair number of people over the years and I finally got to a place where I could just say the words without any dicusssion and little explaination. It's always best if you might get sued by the loser in front of you to make it short and sweet. When said person was gone, I would shake, think about throwing up then wonder if they might come back to stalk me. A few did. I always wished I could have said "oh yeah, it's ALL about you. And by the way, you suck for making me do this."

WPMomOf2 (jen) said...

I once managed a girl who called me a "bitch" and then cried when I fired her a week later!?!?