Behind every employee at work is someone, likely lots of someones, who love them.
I was talking with a colleague the other day about a time when fired someone who cleary was underperforming in his job. The employee said to him “But what will I tell my wife and kids?”. Reminded me of a very personal time in my career.
It was fall of 2009, my kids were 13 and almost 15 and I was continuing a tumultuous 2-year run at GMAC. The mortgage meltdown started in Spring 2007, hitting the company hard, and the stock market collapse further pounded the financial services industry. During that 2-year span, I saw my marketing team and marketing budget go from 20+ and $10 million+ to 0 and 0. There was a new administration in place and I knew my long tenure of success meant nothing to them as they tried to keep the ship afloat.
In the summer of 2009, I was being recruited to be the top marketing executive at another firm. Talks progressed into early fall and I knew the job was mine. On the day of my final interview with that firm, I lost my job at GMAC. The company was hemorrhaging money, and I knew my layoff was coming…it was only a matter of time. But, despite knowing I had the other job secured and I was fully-prepared to leave GMAC, the layoff hurt. Someone made the decision that I was no longer good enough to work there, that I was of no value to them, that my years of sacrifice and success meant nothing.
I had that other job in the bag but I still drove home that afternoon from GMAC scared, worried, sad, sick to my stomach. I felt like a failure. I felt like I left my wife and kids down. I felt like I put their future in jeopardy. When I got home it was mid-afternoon and the kids were already home from school. I gave them a weak smile and a hello, walked into the kitchen and told my wife what happened and just hugged her. I did my best to fight back a tear.
I was in a fog for the rest of the day, clearly distant and not very present for my family. I went to bed early that night. The next day, my wife said to me that my daughter Emma asked her “Mom, did Dad get fired?”. And, though my job performance didn’t warrant it, I was fired. I was judged not good enough to work at GMAC anymore, and that hurt.
The next few days and weeks got better and better as I started that new job just a few weeks later and that started the greatest stretch of my career.
Eliminating someone’s job isn’t personal, it’s business, right? But it is personal, very personal. Behind every employee is someone who loves them. Remember that the next time you need to let someone go. Put yourself in their shoes. Think of what happens when they go home and walk in the door and have to share awful news with the people they love and that love them.