Up in the Air

by Evil HR Lady on April 26, 2010

So, I finally saw this movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s probably supposed to be this deep movie about life choices and blah, blah, blah. But, what it really was about was firing people.

This is something I know about.

If you want to see it and don’t want any spoilers, stop reading. Oh, I’m not going to share the big plot twists, I’m just going to talk about firing.

I liked some of the dialogue used in the firings, but this line

Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it’s *because* they sat there that they were able to do it.

really grated on my nerves. Yes, many people that have been laid off end up better off in the long run. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But, that line will not go over well.

And the whole sending in a consultant to give the news is really lousy. Yes, firing someone is hard. I’ve done management trainings where we have the managers practice what they are going to say and some of them can’t even get the words out of their mouth when it is just practicing. It’s a really, really, really hard thing to do. And if you hire a consulting firm to come in and give the news then I’ll come over and fire you for doing such a thing. Laying someone off is a manager’s job, and if you don’t have the guts to do it yourself then you need to go back to being an individual contributor because you don’t have what it takes.

Further more, this Evil HR Lady won’t do it for you either. Yes, I’ll sit in there with you (always have a witness!), and I’ll even jump in to rescue you if need be, but the words of “your position has been eliminated and today is your last day,” better darn well come out of the direct supervisor’s lips. (I’ll settle for your boss’s boss in a pinch, but it better be someone in the direct chain.)

And (spoiler alert!) I’m glad that they gave up on the internet firing. Talk about an awful idea. I do give Natalie credit though, she was young and dumb and thought it was a great idea. I liked her character.

What are your thoughts on firing?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Sabrina April 26, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Geek alert time. There's this book series by George R.R. Martin, Song of Fire and Ice, and in it one of the Kings, Ned, believes that if you're going to sentence someone to death, you owe them the courage to do it yourself. Kind of the same thing. Sort of.

One of the things I found most interesting was that this guy lives in Omaha and travels 322 days a year. I live in Omaha and I can see the appeal of not wanting to be here. :)

Reply

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I just rented this yesterday and watched it. Good movie, very depressing. I can see why a manager would love getting someone else to do their dirty work, but very demoralizing from an employee point of view.

I've been laid off once. Since I worked in a remote site, I had never met my manager, but she flew in to do it face-to-face. Very classy lady. It wasn't a surprise since our site had been targeted to close, but I appreciated the effort she took to do it as humanely as possible.

Reply

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I haven't seen this movie, but when they closed our facility down, they hired a consultant to come let everyone go. Our boss came out to our facility about 4 or 5 times in 8 years, but sent someone who had never been there to do the dirty work.

Reply

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I'm an HR Lady and agree with you. Loved the Natalie character, liked the movie, but what a cop out to outsource layoffs!

It isn't HR's decision or responsibility to term employment for people.

Most wholeheartedly I agree with the statement that people usually are better off in the end. It helps me sleep a bit better after being part of such an ugly part business.

But I wouldn't give it up. I love HR.

Reply

Jensational April 26, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I also hated that line. I think I would have thrown the packet at someone if they told me that. I think like anything difficult thing in life, you find a "New normal" and you get through it. You try to tell yourself it was for the best but the truth is, for most people it's a huge financial kick in the ass. My family has struggled through 2 layoffs and we are OK now but I wouldn't necessarily say it was "for the better". We had a tough financial road and we could have a house by now or another child but we don't. We learned lessons and we fought a lot and had some very hard times that honestly I'd rather not have gone through.

Reply

Evil HR Lady April 26, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Jensational–I think you are right about the "new normal." I also don't want to leave the impression that everybody ends up better off after a layoff. A lot of people do–it's the kick in the pants they need. But, certainly not everyone.

And whether or not you are better off in the long run, in the short run it really, really, really stinks.

Reply

Ask a Manager April 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I am SO GLAD you posted about this! I finally watched the movie a few weeks ago and really didn't like it, to my great surprise. I thought the layoff stuff was unrealistic to the point of ruining the movie for me, which maybe is a hazard of the profession. But George Clooney was supposed to come across as inspirational and motivational to those employees, when in reality what he was saying to them would have been completely condescending, offensive, and inappropriate in real life.

Reply

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I haven't seen the movie yet but saw a show ( think it was Oprah) where they had some of the "actors" on who were fired in the movie. They were real life people who had been fired – they improved what they said – no lines. Pretty powerful stuff.

Reply

Evil HR Lady April 26, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Was the George Clooney character supposed to come off as inspirational? I mean, I know he gave those speeches (please, can I get on that circuit? I can inspire, honest!), but I thought it was supposed to show how un-inspirational he was.

I didn't see any commercials, not living in the US, but my husband's boss insisted that we see it, so we did. I came into it without many pre-conceived notions.

Interesting movie.

Reply

Ask a Manager April 26, 2010 at 8:42 pm

I definitely thought his "motivational speaking" was indeed supposed to be horrible, but I think he was genuinely supposed to inspirational with those speeches he gave to the laid off people, or at least that his office thought he was fantastic at it!

Reply

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I'm an attorney who went to work at his best friend's law firm (he was president and we went to law school together). He fired me by email. I got it on my blackberry on a Sat. We are no longer friends, not because he fired me, but because he did it by email. If you are a president of a company, have some stones and do the hard things too.

Reply

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 11:26 pm

When I was laid off after 20+ years, my manager warned me it was coming and introduced me and my coworkers to someone on the team (whom some had met already) who would come by on the last day and take our pagers, laptops, etc. We were all telecommuters, and that seemed a fair price to pay to have had that privilege. If my manager were in town and wouldn't speak face to face, well, then I would have been upset. But as a telecommuter I thought that a sincere phone call and a stand-in was satisfactory.

Reply

Tim G April 27, 2010 at 1:14 am

I think I only tried to be inspirational during a termination one time, and that cured me. I've been through two plant closures, 4 downsizings, and more disciplinary terminations than I care to remember. I always think that karma will find me one day, and I hope the boss delivers the message him/her self. It is the right thing to do.

Reply

Lynn April 27, 2010 at 4:06 am

I haven't seen the movie so I won't comment on that and I have been fortunate to have never experienced a lay-off or dismissal myself (as the employee).

However, I have fired people (I was the direct supervisor not HR). It was hell each time. I felt like crap each time though it was the right decision.

The first time I had to fire someone I asked my Dad if I would always feel so lousy if I had to do it again. His response:

"Hopefully. Firing someone is very serious and you are taking their livelihood away from them (at least for a time).

As well, most of the time a termination is just as much the fault of the manager or company as it is the employee. You as manager or the company made a mistake somewhere – in hiring, in training, in supporting this person, in earlier corrective efforts. It's not just the person being dismissed that has something to learn at this time.

Since dismissal is so serious. It should never be easy for you as a manager. The instant that it is – you should step down."

Reply

Charles April 29, 2010 at 5:07 am

Having been laid-off ("downsized", "rightsized", or what ever the most current PC term is) from most of my jobs I can tell you from an employee's point of view it is never easy. Never. No matter what the one doing the firing says.

It should go without saying that the boss (or as Evil HR Lady says "someone in the direct chain") should be the one to do it.

No manager can "make it easy." it is a tough task and needs to be done properly. When a company (or manager) tries to take the easy road they usually make it worse.

For all of my layoffs there was one thing that really just made me want to smack the person across the mouth each time (really, I am not a violent person and would, of course, never do such a thing!). Almost all of those doing the layoff told me "this is so hard to do", "it's what I hate about my job", etc. I takes all of my professionalism to not talk back and tell them to just shut the eff up! It's hard on YOU? Really? How about me!? You will still be getting a paycheck next week I won't! So, I really don't want to hear about how hard this layoff is on YOU!

Doing the unpleasant tasks is one of the reason why the boss is paid more than the employees.

P.S. I have been in a managerial position and decide that the pay wasn't worth the hard tasks so I stepped down to being a trainer instead.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: