There is a statistical approach to almost every aspect of life. If you take the plane often enough, chances are higher that at some point you might lose your luggage. If you look long enough you might see a shooting star. And if you live and work in different countries and thus have different jobs at some point you might get laid off. Ok, is not ONLY statistics. But the more you put yourself out there the more likely something can happen.
It is one thing to be able to rationalize this and see it as an inevitable part of the panoply of human experiences, a little like breaking a bone: nothing you intend to happen, of course – but if it does, well you just handle it. Still, when it DOES happen, at least when it happened to me, I felt entirely unprepared.
Both times it happened, it came completely out of the blue. And both times I felt like a rabid dog kicked out on the street. While I may be slightly biased on the situation, I felt and still feel that, if I had been given a little warning, any indication or sign really to know that I was on some kind of probation, or not meeting the expectations (especially not the unspoken ones, of which there are aplenty it seems), I would have fought tooth and nail to improve. I did not get the chance. So I was shocked and confused.
And it was not the fear and anxiety that comes with the fact that I was the sole breadwinner of the family (with 2 small children), not the immediate mental countdown that gave me an almost to-the-hour point of no return where savings would run out and bills could not be paid anymore. It was not even the array of mental tricks, courtesy of over 20 years of coaching, that got triggered (anything from „everything happens for a reason“ to „try to see the positive in every situation“) and made me feel powerless. What got to me, what truly got to me, was how little the people who let me go cared. Especially not the ones that go under the umbrella of „HR“. Human relations….but does human not also mean caring? At least a little? Some form of empathy maybe?
Maybe I got unlucky, and the experience is normally different. But when I asked around, a sad reality emerged. It reminded me a little about the (non-)conversations around miscarriage, or abuse. It seems like you are the only one this happened to, and so you do not say anything, you feel ashamed, guilty, and weak – but once you address it, other people start speaking up and saying: it happened to me too, and it was not ok how it happened.
It is NOT ok to just call someone in the office and tell him/her to return the laptop and phone and leave the premises within the next 10 minutes (and forbidding you to even say goodbye to your colleagues).
It is not ok to call someone via Teams from the car (!) to fire them and then ask the other colleague present on the call: „You finish with this, I have other stuff to do“.
Have we gone so far into the consumer mindset that we dispose of employees like old clothes or toys? Or are we just so incapable of dealing with the emotions that come with the knowledge that you are potentially bringing a person and their family to the brink of financial existence that we shut all emotions off? Or do we truly not care no more?
Call me weird, but I think if there is one person, at least, that should care, it is the HR person. I remember sitting in that room and looking that person in the eye. And she stared right through me. I was still hoping later for at least a hushed „I am sorry“ or maybe a message of „Are you ok?“. Nothing. Sign this paper. Leave. That´s all folks. Next item on today`s list?
There should be more. If we have truly lost the ability to care, to understand that people are people and not just resources, then there is something wrong. That people want to do their best and it is your job in HR to help them do that. Or is it like in the comic, that the HR stands for humor?
The beauty and curse of social media are that you tend to come across people from your past, now and then. So here and there the face of that HR person tends to show up in my feed. And every time I see her profile pop up in a post I still feel the ghost of that feeling of shock. Irony maybe, her tagline is that she wants to bring the „human back in HR“. So maybe even she knows that HR how we do it sometimes, and how she did it, is a bad joke. Maybe I will ask her one day.