In recent months, there have been several companies that are terminating the contracts of large numbers of employees via group video calls or other virtual communications. In December 2021, US mortgage company Better.com fired 900 workers over Zoom. Shortly thereafter, US used-car company Carvana let 2,500 workers go in a similar manner, some during group Zoom calls, others via email. Certain companies see group layoffs as an efficient way to deliver bad news to a large number of workers – but these virtual layoffs may generate negative publicity for the business concerned.
Why is it important?
Job cuts are part and parcel of running a business. “But,” says Rachel Suff of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, “how they go about it and the humanity they approach it with can have a fundamental impact on how people deal with that shocking news.” In this post-Covid world where many are still working remotely, new HR practices such as this may arise. It makes some sense then that in this remote-work world, those who are hired and work virtually may also get fired virtually. However this may come off as lacking compassion. Group firings rob affected workers of the individual touch, says Johnny C Taylor Jr, CEO of the US-based Society for Human Resource Management as employees are unable to respond individually compared to in-person firing.
What can businesses do about it?
An alternative solution for group virtual layoffs should be sought especially when companies are widely being advised to adopt a more human-centric approach to management. If however you feel the best solution for your needs is virtual then try to limit the group size to make it more personal and provide room for a one-on-one conversation afterwards. Reassure staff that they will be contacted over the next few hours for their questions to be answered. Companies will need to develop processes so that workers feel they are humane. At the same time, be mindful that online meetings can be recorded so it is advisable to stick to a script to avoid potential litigation. Virtual firing may become normalised as the remote and hybrid ways of working become more entrenched. However, in the meanwhile, companies should proceed with caution and use empathy and compassion.
By Faeeza Khan
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