Video streaming technology has been around for a number of years, although its use has certainly exploded during the pandemic. Many people, I included, have touted the potential benefit of streaming video as a communication platform and to expand the availability of medical services. However, it is not a panacea. There is potential for abuse and misuse. We wrote about one such example a few years ago, when a California hospital used a remote video device to have a doctor tell a patient and his family that he was dying. Another poor choice surfaced this week, when a company CEO terminated 900 employees during a Zoom call; an act that is now available online for all the world to see.
The employees, who worked for the digital mortgage company Better.com, had been invited to a Zoom meeting without knowing the purpose of the gathering. They were told on the call, which appears to have taken all of 2 minutes and 33 seconds, that the market is changing, and “we have to move with it in order to survive.” They were then told that the company was laying off 15% of its workforce, and “if you’re on this call, then you are part of the unlucky group being laid off.”
Not exactly The Price is Right. More like “Up in The Air” (apologies for the obscure movie reference). I suppose it could have been worse. Jeffrey Toobin could have been on the call.
Prior to disclosing the purpose of the call, CEO Vishal Garg told the assembled that he had “not great news.” He said this was the second time in his career he had to do this, and he this time he would “try not to cry.” He said that it was his decision, and he wanted them to hear the news from him. We can respect that but terminating employees en masse via video is probably not the best thing for your corporate image. The fact that it occurred 21 days before Christmas doesn’t exactly help, either.
Terminating people’s employment is never an enjoyable thing. No executive in their right mind looks forward to terminating someone’s livelihood. I have had to do it numerous times through a varied career, and no matter the situation, it must be conducted with dignity and respect. That is not to say they always go well. Once, when I was in human resources for an international software company, I had to travel to Atlanta for the express purpose of terminating a 20-year employee for a temper that was viewed as potentially threatening behavior. I did not have full control of that process, instead guiding the man’s supervisor through the process. Unfortunately, the company had just finished a reorganization, and the man had never met the two bosses involved (or me). One supervisor, who was remote on a speakerphone, thoroughly botched the task at hand. It did not go as well as it should have. While today it is now a funny story, it was pretty appalling at the time.
Even though they are unavoidable at times, perhaps that is why I have such disdain for remote terminations.
There has to be a better way; a more personal and respectful way to terminate 900 people. It is ironic that the same video technologies may now be utilized to show the world how it occurred. If you are not careful, your good corporate reputation may also find itself on the chopping block.